Saturday, December 23, 2006


This year-end top ten list reveals my ten favorite books that I read in 2006, presented this year in order of merit.

10. A Quire of Seven, Halldor Laxness. Seven short, rare tales from the Icelandic Nobel laureate which testify to the quixotic intensity of his fertile imagination and also demonstrate his concern with and insights on the mysteries of the human soul.

9. One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner, Jay Parini. This biography of Faulkner apparently got mixed reviews and may not surpass Joseph Blotner’s two-volume definitive work on the subject, but for my purposes this was one of the most illuminating and insightful books I’ve read in a long time about a writer whose brilliance will remain uncontested for all time.

8. The Stranger, Albert Camus. The French Nobel Prize-winner’s famous short novel about the existential angst of a man on trial for murdering another man for no apparent reason is as powerful and intellectually arresting as I’ve always heard it was.

7. Seeing, José Saramago. This allegorical sequel to Saramago’s well known Blindness is a blistering critique of modern democracy that surpasses its predecessor. Written with his singular wry humor and rife with his unsettling ability to powerfully illuminate the absurdities of life in ‘civilized’ nations.

6. Beloved, Toni Morrison. Devastating novel about a horrific choice made by a black woman to prevent her child from living a life in bondage, this novel is beautifully written, ingeniously structured and emotionally shattering.

5. My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk. Winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, this novel was my doorway into Pamuk’s writing, and is one of the most challenging and original novels I’ve read in a long time, a composite of a murder-mystery, a treatise on art and creativity, a history primer on the Ottoman Empire of Turkey, a literary history of that nation, and a fascinating window into Islamic culture all wrapped up in one novel. Furthermore it is fascinatingly structured and written with obvious boldness and originality.

4. The War of the End of the World, Mario Vargas Llosa. A feast for the senses, this epic novel tells a spawling but riveting story of a religious community led by a charismatic prophet named The Counselor in late 19th century Brazil that comes together to form an insurrection against a totalitarian government.

3. Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow. This famous novel about the turn of the 20th century in America is one of the most flawlessly written novels I’ve read in a long time. Every single page of this powerful story that intertwines an upper-class white family, a black family and a poor Jewish family is interesting. This is a modern classic.

2. Suite Francaise, Iréne Nemirovsky. Two small novels of a planned five written by an extraordinarily talented Russian-born Jewish woman about the devastating events of the Second World War. The most amazing thing about this book is not the truly incredible tale of its discovery by her daughter after sixty years, nor is it that the writer, who died in Auschwitz after composing the novels in hiding, had the courage and skill to write about these events as they were happening – it is the extraordinary literary quality of the writing itself.

1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy. This nearly perfect post-apocalyptic masterpiece by one of the greatest American writers working today permanently cements his status as such. It is a stunning novel about the capacity of love to endure over even the most horrific evils and is without question the best novel I read all year. (See my blog post of October 2006 in the “Archives” section for more details.)

1 comment:

Duke Altum said...

This list sets the brain on fire, and no extinguisher on earth could possibly put out the blaze... it is a virtual tour de force of reading. I scan the list and I don't find one book that is not an all-world classic (with the exception of one perhaps, but that one is about a writer of them!)... and, except for The Stranger, not one book that I don't wish I had read!

If you go back into the annals of this blog (2 years running this coming summer!) and check out Mutt's list from last year, you will find that it is of equal caliber. When it comes to reading the very best of world literature, Mutt has no equal. But as any reader of this blog knows, Mutt's main ambition outside of family life is to be a writer, and you aren't going to be a first-rate writer unless you're a first-rate reader. Barney the dinosaur can tell you that.

I'm working on my own list and it is interesting to note that once again, we will not have any common selections on our list. For two people with such similar tastes and interests, it's remarkable that our reading doesn't overlap often, at least not in the same year. We will, however, have a few writers that are common to both lists. But that's alls I'm saying for now.

Mutt is truly the literary world traveler, with Iceland, France, Portugal, Turkey, Peru/Brazil, Russia and of course, the good ol' U.S.A. represented in this list... but one must circumnavigate the globe if one is interested in the totality of the human experience... for in the end, as all of our reading attests, all we have is our human nature, our souls, with which we confront, as Hemingway memorably put it, "eternity, or the lack of it."

In Pascalian terms, my money is on the former, not the latter...