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My picks

Here are the best books I read in 2009. After I compiled the list it struck me that the books fall almost entirely into two categories – historical fiction and memoirs of motherhood. I don’t think I would ever have listed those as my two favorite genres, but there it is.

The best historical fiction, in my mind, is that which compels you to go out and read more about the period in question. I followed up my reading of most of these novels with at least one non-fiction book about their subjects (none of which were as good as the novels, of course):

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard – about the “lost” son of Marie Antoinette. Bayard is fantastic; I also loved his Mr Timothy (about a grown-up Tiny Tim) and The Pale Blue Eye (about Edgar Allen Poe).

The Terror by Dan Simmons – about the doomed Franklin Expedition, which I wrote about earlier this year. His fictional account of the disaster does a better job of tying together the evidence into a coherent whole than any non-fiction account I’ve read.

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin – about a woman physician in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, the subsequent books in Franklin’s series weren’t nearly as good.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – I’m actually still reading this one, but I’m in no hurry for it to end. It’s about Thomas Cromwell and the years Henry VIII spent trying to divorce his first wife.

The motherhood memoirs, all of which I discovered through motherhood blogs:

This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman -- about extreme prematurity

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken – about stillbirth

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen – about an unexpected, and complicated, pregnancy

The others:

The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn – which I wrote about here.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris – it's a "workplace" novel, but it's much more than that. This is the only book on this list that I felt compelled to read twice.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – a ghost story set in post-WW II England

And here the books I liked the least in 2009, all of which took really good premises but then ruined them with bad writing or bad pacing or thoroughly unlikable characters.

Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf


aimee said…
Thanks. I will have to read those historical fiction novels. I am a big fan also.

Did you enjoy your Kindle?
Karen said…
I read the Physick Book...Dane and liked it. I think that one reason that I liked it was because I had taught The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible for so many years that it gave another perspective on that time period. I have written the others down to try this year. Thanks for the list.
Krista said…
Aimee, I cannot express how much I love my Kindle. It's my favorite thing in the world.

Mom, I liked about the first two-thirds of The Physick Book...there was something about the end that bothered me. Now I can't remember specifically what, but I know I was disappointed by it somewhere along the way.

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