I have to say this this was one of the best books I've ever read. Not just this year, or recently, but ever. It is a beautiful book filled with hatred, strange as that may sound. The insights into people & relationships are stunning, and ring every bit as true to me today in 2008 as they must have in 1961 when the novel was published. ... At the same time as this book is truly and relentlessly sad, though, there is yet a rich undercurrent of (absolutely coal-black) comedy. Grim social satire though it may be, it certainly keeps you turning the pages and appreciating those comic touches, those amusing exaggerations that Yates sprinkles throughout. ... I loved it from beginning to terribly depressing end. It is a truly wonderful piece of fiction. Certainly the best novel I have read in a long long time.
2) The Human Stain: A Novel by Philip Roth
...The writing is just flatly phenomenal: gorgeous passages of imaginative inner monologue, powerfully thought-provoking set pieces, amazingly lengthy and convoluted sentences that read as fluidly as anything in a children’s book. It was really a continuing surprise and a joy to read this book.
3) The End of Vandalism: A Novel by Tom Drury
...once you are won over to these characters and style and pacing it is an absolutely wonderful read and ultimately very affecting... The characterizations are especially razor-sharp and always accomplished with a complete deadpan. ... No wild or wacky hilarious people in this book, only deft and quietly funny (and/or quietly tragic) people that you might know, do know, or could certainly imagine knowing. And while there IS a lot of dry humor, there's also a lot of quiet philosophy and rumination about America in general, the Midwest more specifically, the way people relate to each other, and also about a certain quiet, small way of life that may or may not be endangered at this time in the world.
4) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
..."heart wrenching" might be the best way to describe the entire experience. ... Mostly, the book was filled with elegant and elegiac stories, as well as keen insights – psychological and otherwise – into the experience of foot soldiers in Vietnam. ... I appreciated that the book – without shying away from gore and nastiness – was more about the redemptive power of writing than the actual hard, cold facts of war. .... The most fascinating part of this fascinating book is the glimpse into the mind of one writer struggling with this awful experience and controlling it, redeeming it, through the writing of this very book. It’s post-modern and strange to consider while also being very very interesting. Not to mention: sad and beautiful. ...it is a powerful book: deeply sad and troubling while, at the same time, strangely hopeful.
5) The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq by Rory Stewart
I wish everyone would read “The Prince of the Marshes.” ... The epilogue...should be five pages of required reading for everyone, everywhere. ... Stewart tells the story of his wildly convoluted dealings and efforts clearly and straightforwardly. He seems idealistic yet pragmatic in the same breath, and this balance and depth makes for fascinating reading. ...it is a story that shows, rather than tells, how fundamentally impossible the task is, in Iraq. It is also, strangely, not a despairing book, nor does it really point any fingers. The essentially apolitical nature of the book makes it twice as interesting for me... It’s depressing, and fascinating, and instructive, at the same time as it is, in some ways, the blackest of black comedies.
6) On Chesil Beach: A Novel by Ian McEwan
"On Chesil Beach" is a tight, tiny gem of a book. Almost a novella, the writing is so precise and evocative and meaningful that it takes virtually no time to read at all. ...the careful observations of two characters at an intersection in their lives, at a time of intersection and change in the world, create all the drama and tragedy one could ask for. ...an absolutely beautiful book: emotional, truthful, and as rigorous in its writing as poetry. Truly, no paragraph, sentence, or even word goes to waste. ... These felt like utterly real people, in a completely real situation, saying and doing the things I could imagine myself doing and saying in just such a scenario. It was uncanny, flawless, and truly impressive.
7) His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
The "His Dark Materials" series really picked up steam. Book one was a lot of necessary but somewhat tedious descriptive work establishing the world(s). Book two was naturally better able to hit the ground running, standing on the foundation laid by the first volume; sleeker, slimmer, more action & less talk helped the series move from an interesting jog to an exciting run. Book three took off at a full, breathless sprint, before a somewhat disappointing denouement. ...the books are exceedingly well-written and thoughtful; there are passages of great beauty and moving detail. It is a thinking persons’ fantasy story, rather than an action-packed book for a literary adrenaline fiend. I think the wild critical praise for these books might be overblown, fed by atheistic reviewers, hungry for young adult fiction with real-life philosophical applications, but the novels themselves are riveting and absorbing.
8) Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman
I enjoyed Chuck Klosterman’s "mix CD" of essays. One of the quotes on the back cover of the books touts Klosterman as "sometimes exasperating but almost always engaging." I couldn’t agree more. As thought-provoking and incisively-reasoned as "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs" is, it is also exasperating. ...Klosterman seems to want to have it both ways in many of these essays – he wants to stand outside as the coolest, smartest, snarkiest observer (he is especially obsessed with the idea of 'authenticity' vs. 'irony'), yet is also clearly very much a part of, and a loving participant in, the things he profiles and discusses and trashes! ...sometimes the "jerk factor" was overwhelming; most of the time he keeps it in check and allows his fascinating, obsessive connections to generate wonderful questions and insights. ... On the whole I liked the book a great deal and was engrossed by his hyperverbal, hyperanalytical, hyperconnective analyses...
9) Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder
An incredible and moving book about an astounding doctor. It's sad and hopeful at the same time -- it will make you feel incredibly guilty at the state and contributions of your own life, but at the same time puts Dr. Paul Farmer (to some extent) in context among other infectious disease and public health experts. My only criticism of this book is that it jumps around in time and location more than I would have liked. But while the structure felt less than focused and somewhat scattershot to me, the writing itself is elegant and powerful. Ultimately, the story of Paul Farmer and his work is compelling enough and important enough to overcome the difficulties of narrowing the tale to fit a readable, 300-page book.
10) The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama
Of course, right? Yes we can!!!
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