This has been a great year for books; and in the spirit of Amazon.com issuing their Best of 2009 already, I decided to get on the bandwagon and release mine. I have read some great books this year and I have read some not so great books. Here are the good, the bad and the 5 best books I have read this year.
The Clive Cussler Award (The "I Could Not Put it Down" Award):
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
This book was a masterful thriller that twisted, turned and finally had the reader spinning in complete circles. It keeps you from truly placing a label on it by being so many different books crammed into one thrilling package - a thriller, a serial killer mystery, industrial espionage and a straight up whodunnit. Terrific writing, and I have heard the second in the series is as good, if not better.
The David Simon Award (The "Smartest Book" Award):
The Things they Carried by Tim O'Brien
A masterful blend of fact and fiction that plays off the darkness of Vietnam while also taking a metaphysical view on storytelling itself. Not to mention the fact it makes you want to keep reading it incessantly...without any pause. A personal favorite portion - when O'Brien tells you about war stories; how they are never heroic and how a true war story makes you feel sick afterwards. Compelling, vivid and the rare book that truly deserves the handle: masterpiece.
The James Patterson Award (The "Worst Book I read this Year" Award):
Thug Life by Sanyika Shakur
To be honest I only read 100 pages but you can get a sense of a book in 100 pages. I loved Monster by Shakur, it was a book that changed my life. Unfortunately, lightening only struck once for this reformed gangbanger. Atrocious does not begin to describe this text. Not only was this the worst book I attempted to read this year, it definitely falls into my top ten worst books I have read in my life. It was that bad. Not recommended.
The Rick Reilly Award (The "Best Written Line of the Year" Award):
Tim O'Brien - The Things They Carried pg. 68
"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue."
Michael Paterniti - "Never Forget" the opening of a haunting article about the shattered remenants left behind by the brutal Khmer Rouge.
"Once upon a time - 1975, actually, in Cambodia - there was a regime so evil that it created an antisociety where torture was currency and music, books and love were abolished. This regime ruled for four years and murdered nearly 2 million of its citizens, a quarter of the population. The pervasion was so extreme, the acts so savage, that three decades later, the country still finds itself reeling. Now, as the surviving leaders of the regime go to trial and unimaginable past rises again, we're left with this question: What took us so long to remember?"
The Top 5ish Book of the Year
5. Travels by Michael Crichton - Given that Crichton died recently, I figured he deserved a place on the list with one of his lesser known books. This book challenges the way you look at the world and is written as well as any of his previous thrillers. An autobiographical look at the world and the things in it we do not understand.
5A. A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr - The fifth book in Kerr's series about former Nazi Bernie Gunther took the character to Argentina in 1950. As usual, he uncovers a trail of death and destruction he is powerless to stop. Powerfully written, haunting, hilarious, stunning and with twists that literally take your breath away, this is one of the best of the series and without a doubt one of the best written books of the year.
4. The Way of the Dog by Don Winslow - As I recently wrote, this examination of the growth of the Mexican drug cartels spirals into an epic saga wrought with the consequences of revenge. Expanding outward and yet intently focused inward, this book was quite simply incredible.
3. The Stand by Stephen King - Given our fears about H1N1 this book is very topical...except for that fact it was originally written in 1978 and revised/added to in 1990. King mentions swine flu and creates a horrific picture of a world devestated by a superflu and the battle of the survivors against an even worse evil. Thematic, allegorical and a triumph of modern literature, this is the best book King has written and, will likely ever write.
2. Generation Kill by Evan Wright - Firstly, any book in which I can draw parallels from HBO's The Wire is tops in my list. Secondly, this book forced me to completely reexamine my position on the Iraq conflict. I tried to ignore the books about the war that weighed down the history section but this book changed that for me. It takes the chaotic first few weeks of the conflict and shatters all you thought you knew about it. The author's final stand that we have abandoned a generation we sent off to do our dirty work is one of the most profound - and important - things I read this year.
1. American Tabloid by James Ellroy - For me, only one book could be number one this year. James Ellroy has created a book that is completely unlike any other out there. He strips language down to its brutal base and crafts a machine-gun style that spits out evocative prose that peppers the reader and says more with less. That is only the praise of his writing style. Plot wise, Ellroy takes the magnificently large canvass of American History in the Kennedy years...before he takes a sawed-off shotgun to it. His history turns on the dark undercurrents and goings on behind the scenes in the tumultuous times. His characters rise and fall along Shakespearean arcs that are indelibly complex and perfectly crafted. When each of the three main characters turns on the Kennedy Brothers, you know where Ellroy is headed...Novemember 22, 1963. This book also boasts one of my all-time favorite characters in print "Big" Pete Bondurant, a sadistic, ex-LAPD, mob killer who works tirelessly to create the invasion of Cuba - while also serving the CIA, Jimmy Hoffa and working as a Howard Hughes goon. Without a doubt this one of the best books I have ever read.