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2009 reading list

Here’s what I read in 2009, with links to reviews where I have them. (Actually, I’ve commented at least a wee bit on most of what I read this year.)

  1. Letting Go of the Words
    by Janice (Ginny) Redish

  2. The Scream
    by Rohinton Mistry

  3. Great Expectations
    by Charles Dickens

  4. Catching the Big Fish
    Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity
    by David Lynch

  5. Soucouyant
    by David Chariandy

  6. The Importance of Music to Girls
    by Lavinia Greenlaw

  7. Old City Hall
    by Robert Rotenberg

  8. The Other End of the Leash
    by Patricia B. McConnell

  9. Sideways
    by Rex Pickett

  10. 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa
    by Stephanie Nolen

  11. Northanger Abbey
    by Jane Austen

  12. Master of Reality
    by John Darnielle

  13. Crabwise to the Hounds
    by Jeramy Dodds

  14. Margaret Lives in the Basement
    by Michelle Berry

  15. Revolver
    by Kevin Connolly

  16. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
    by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

  17. Rising, Falling, Hovering
    by CD Wright

  18. The Book of Negroes
    by Lawrence Hill

  19. The Family Man
    by Elinor Lipman

  20. Primitive Mentor
    by Dean Young

  21. In the Land of Long Fingernails
    A Gravedigger’s Memoir
    by Charles Wilkins

  22. The Sentinel
    by AF Moritz

  23. What the Body Remembers
    by Shauna Singh Baldwin

  24. The Dog That Pitched a No-Hitter
    by Matt Christopher

  25. go-go dancing for Elvis
    by Leslie Greentree

  26. The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh
    by AA Milne

  27. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
    by Jonathan Safran Foer

  28. Middlemarch
    by George Eliot

  29. Brooklyn
    by Colm Toibin

  30. The Dangerous Book for Dogs
    by Rex & Sparky

  31. The Winter Vault
    by Anne Michaels

  32. Stripmalling
    by Jon Paul Fiorentino

  33. The Cure for Death by Lightning
    by Gail Anderson Dargatz

  34. Then We Came to the End
    by Joshua Ferris

  35. Blackouts
    by Craig Boyko

  36. Homesick
    by Guy Vanderhaeghe

  37. The Cellist of Sarajevo
    by Steven Galloway

  38. Solomon Gursky Was Here
    by Mordecai Richler

  39. The Incident Report
    by Martha Baillie

  40. A Bend in the River
    by VS Naipaul

  41. This Shape We’re In
    by Jonathan Lethem

  42. The Grandmothers
    by Doris Lessing

  43. Frozen in Time
    Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition
    by Owen Beattie and John Geiger

  44. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
    by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

  45. A Gate at the Stairs
    by Lorrie Moore

  46. Paper Radio
    by Damian Rogers

  47. Negotiating With the Dead
    A Writer on Writing
    by Margaret Atwood

  48. The Disappeared
    by Kim Echlin

  49. February
    by Lisa Moore

  50. You Don’t Love Me Yet
    by Jonathan Lethem

  51. The Journals of Susanna Moodie
    by Margaret Atwood and Charles Pachter

  52. The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out
    by Rosemary Sullivan

Bestivus, a “best of” list for the rest of us

As 2009 comes to an end, many publications and pundits are offering their assessments of the best whatevers of the decade just past. Inspired by the best books of the decade list from Salon magazine, I’ve listed those from their list with which I agree, and I’ve added my own. These are the books that left the greatest impressions on me as a reader, through the authors’ craft, imagination and that magical je ne sais quoi that makes for a memorable reading experience.

The best books of the decade
A tribute to the fact and fiction we wouldn’t stop talking about in the 2000s
By Laura Miller

From the Salon list, here are the ones I’ve read that I agree are “best of” the last decade:

  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
  • The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathem Lethem

Additionally, here are other books I’ve read since 2000 that I think are “best of’s”, including links to previous reviews on this blog. (I’ll aim to add reviews for the others in, well, the next decade.)

Darkmans, by Nicola Barker


Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and Email Overload, by Mark Hurst

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and Email Overload, by Mark Hurst

Mark Hurst waxes exuberantly optimistic on the promise of simple bit literate habits to make every computer user more productive and savvy. I think he underestimates how ingrained people’s habits are, coupled with their fear of the “mystique” of technology and their dependence on specific applications. His contention, though, that bits should be independent of a given company’s software or platforms makes very good sense. Even if you just develop a few of his suggested habits, you’ll be more in control of your digital world … and, whether we admit it or not, we all *do* have a digital world nowadays.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein

Overall, I feel like I learned a lot, as I did with “No Logo”. I’m also filled with even more admiration for Klein’s intellect and tenacity with complex, thorny, overwhelming subject matter. Unlike “No Logo”, however, “Shock Doctrine” left me feeling pretty bleak, hopeless and powerless. It wasn’t until mere pages from the end that Klein starts to give examples of people rising up against and finding ways to resist being shocked into accepting the Freidmanesque privatization of government and social services – almost as if she is pretty weary and despairing of the subject, too.

Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing, by Margaret Atwood

Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing, by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood made me get teary-eyed on the subway while reading this book.

“Negotiating With the Dead” is a reflection on the roles of writers and their readers, adapted and somewhat expanded from the Empson Lectures which Margaret Atwood delivered at Cambridge University in 2000. It is breathtakingly erudite and eclectic, but is also interwoven with very personal and down-to-earth recollections and episodes from Atwood’s own journey as both a writer and a reader. It was a sweet reminiscence about the person whom she considered to be her first reader – and who she later paid tribute to with an appearance in one of her novels – that brought on my moved and appreciative tears. It also drove home that the audience and the individual reader are critical figures in the symbiosis of the writer’s creative process.

This book brims with examples from the classical to the contemporary of the multifaceted and sometimes conflicted roles, challenges and opportunities of the writer. At the same time, much of it has a conversational tone that undoubtedly stems from both its origin as a series of lectures, but also Atwood’s strong and singular voice. Some might count that as a flaw of this work, in that the overall voice is somewhat inconsistent, but I think that’s part of its charm and makes the subject matter that much more approachable, digestible and memorable.

Canada Reads 2012

Negotiating With the Dead is one of the Canadian non-fiction titles I’ve recommended for Canada Reads 2012: True Stories. If you’d like to support this book as a possible Canada Reads finalist, you can vote for it here, as well as perusing some other great recommendations.

1978, by Daniel Jones

1978, by Daniel Jones

Towards the end of the book, the story tries too literally to layer one shock on top of another, to the point that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. I guess the reader is made to care a little bit because of what happened to the author, but nothing in the book makes you care about any of the sorry, tedious characters.