I've been seeing other people's lists of top book picks for this year, and I can't believe I didn't think to do a list on my own. I've read some good stuff this year, so I figured I should put together one too. These are in no particular order, because I have a hard enough time picking favorites, let alone ranking them.
"Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson
I wanted to give this one its own post, but I just finished reading it and literally have to talk about it now. The premise is that Ursula Todd is born, and dies, and continues to be reborn and die again and again as the book shows the different trajectories one life can take. She lives many lives, in many ways, with many people. When I started the book, I kept waiting for Ursula to die, wondering what would take her this time, and how long would it be until "darkness falls" once again.
Around page 250 I realized that I had stopped waiting for Ursula to die; that I was actively hoping she wouldn't die this time, even though I knew it was probably inevitable. Some of her life trajectories gut you, and others are the ones you hope will be the ones that stick. It made me think a lot about the choices in my life that have led me to where I am, what life would look like had I made different choices, or alternatively, what if circumstances outside of my control had led me to a different existence. Very interesting thinking material.
"Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald" by Therese Anne Fowler
I spoke to a friend about this one recently because she had just read a different biography of Zelda Fitzgerald. The mystery around her and her life with husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald is fascinating, and biographers can't seem to agree to the details to pin on her. Some say that she was crazy and drove Scott to drinking and ruined his life. Others say that Scott's drinking, infidelity and insecurities drove Zelda to the brink of insanity and ruined her life. After reading this book, I'm convinced that they both played a role in ruining each other. Very good book.
"The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" by Jonas Jonasson
This one was fun. Allan Karlsson is about to celebrate his 100th birthday in the nursing home where he has been living for the past few months, and he decides he doesn't want to spend time with all these old people he doesn't like. He climbs out the window of his room and begins an adventure that has him making new friends and running from the law with a two-ton escaped circus elephant in tow. The chapters alternate between his current adventure, and his past experience as an explosives expert for some of the most prominent leaders of the 20th century. I loved its message that you don't have to give up on adventure just because you grow up.
"State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett
"The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman
My book club expressed some disappointment in this one, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a beautiful, heartbreaking story. You can see the characters dooming themselves from the start, but you can't help but wish good things for them anyway. Tom lives with his wife, Isabel, on an island off the coast of Australia where he tends the lighthouse. They are the only two people on the island, and when a lifeboat washes ashore containing a dead man and a wailing infant, Tom and Isabel have to decide whether to keep the child or find out where it came from.
"Unbearable Lightness" by Portia de Rossi
"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline
This YA-esque novel is probably not for everyone, but I found it really interesting. The world has fallen into such disrepair that everyone lives, works, plays and goes to school via avatar in a computer world, OASIS. The main character, a teenager named Wade, has long used OASIS as a means of escaping from his abusive family and the poverty that surrounds him. When the billionaire creater of OASIS suddenly dies, he states in his will that his entire fortune is to be left to the first person who can find and solve three keys that are hidden in the fantasy world. But finding these keys will be dangerous, as there are people who are willing to kill not only avatars, but the people behind them, in order to take control of the fortune and software for themselves.
"Where'd You Go Bernadette" by Maria Semple
After reading this, I really wanted to go to Antarctica. Middle-schooler Bee has been promised a trip to the southernmost continent after receiving good grades, but her agoraphobic mother, Bernadette, feels anxious about the impending trip. With the help of a virtual assistant in another country, Bernadette acquires the necessary clothing and documents for the trip, and then disappears before they are scheduled to leave. Bee makes it her mission to find out where her mom has run off to, even if she has to cross Antarctica alone.
"Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles
"By Blood" by Ellen Ullman
I read this near the beginning of the year and am still recommending it to everyone. A professor has lost his job at the university where he teaches, so he rents an office to work on his research in the hopes of getting his job back. The office next door to him houses a therapist, and when the therapist's sound machine is turned off, the professor can hear patients' conversations through the walls. Week after week, he sits in silence during the sessions of one particular patient — an adopted, lesbian Jewess who is struggling with whether or not she should find her birth family and learn about her past — and he comes to think of her as his patient and attempts to aid her in her self-discovery. Creepy, and a really good story.
What were your favorite books this year?
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