My 2009 Top 10 Book List

With yesterday’s New York Times post on the 10 Best Books of 2009 (due out in print Sunday 12/13), plus that extra nudge from my reader friends, I figured it was time to decide on my own annual list.

One of the NYT’s picks was at the top of my list as well: A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert. This is just one example of a gem I found because of Roxanne Coady, owner of R.J. Julia, the indie bookstore I grew up with – and always make multiple stops at when I’m visiting my folks in Madison, CT. Whenever I see one of Roxanne’s  “shelf talkers” (those great handwritten cards that you only find at small, independent booksellers), I know I’ll be treated to phenomenal writing, poignant characters and relevant social commentary subtlety woven into the storyline.

Which brings me to this year’s Top 10… and the totally biased, informal and newly created criteria:

  • The writing wows me: I want to re-read sentences and wish I had written them, just like in Cleave’s Little Bee (“A scar does not form on the dying. A scar means I survived.”)
  • The characters matter: I care about their fate. They make me laugh (“I am Atomiko!” in Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North.) They frustrate me, but make me think (John William in Guterson’s The Other.) They surprise me (nearly everyone in Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil.)
  • The message outlasts the story: there’s nothing worse than being hit over the head by an author’s political or social treatise. Instead, when it comes to making a point, subtlety wins… especially in fiction. The commentary here ranges from war and immigration to relationships, marriage, addiction, materialism and feminism.
  • Creativity: for those of us who read constantly, this is a no-brainer. (On this year’s list, Shriver definitely takes this category with The Post-Birthday World.)
  • I read it this year. Yes, I know that seems obvious, but many end of year lists are pulled from what was newly released/published. Here, the list is simply pulled from what I read in 2009.


  • Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through his Son’s Addiction, David Sheff (best appreciated with the son’s own memoir, Tweak… after all, there are at least two sides to every story.) (review)
  • The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul, Patrick French


  • A Short History of Women, Kate Walsh (review)
  • Into the Beautiful North, Luis Urrea (for those who are on Twitter, Luis and his wife are very active: @urrealism)
  • Little Bee, Chris Cleave (review)
  • Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem (oldie but goodie, soon to be a movie directed by Ed Norton)
  • The Other, David Guterson (author of Snow Falling on Cedars) (review)
  • The Post-Birthday World, Lionel Shriver
  • The Wasted Vigil, Nadeem Aslam
  • The Story of a Marriage, Andrew Sean Greer (review)

Please add your own favorites to the comments below so we can keep this list growing!

And, if you need more recommendations, check out my 2008 Top 10.