Each year I read a lot of books. Narrowing down a "best book of the year" is hard enough but what about a Writer of the Year? I decided to try to pick mine from 2000 - 2010. I had a couple of rules: I had to pick one - no ties; there would be one alternate in case whomever I picked was unable to fulfill their duties. There were a few other criteria (people could win for the number of their books I read and enjoyed that year, or simply because they wrote one or two of the best books I read that year, or their books could have impacted me profoundly). Without further ado, my Writers of the Year, through the years.
2000 / 2001: Clive Cussler
Why: Clive Cussler dominated my early adulthood reading through his combination of staggering action and historically-driven plots. Stating that he writes page turners is like saying Russians know a little bit about ballet. During this period I devoured his Dirk Pitt prime from Raise the Titanic - Atlantis Found. Truly no other author I have yet found has ever had such a great succession of novels. As a tribute to Cussler and his impact on my reading habits there are no alternates.
2002: Robert Ludlum
Why: Pick up his Bourne Trilogy and you will understand how great a writer Ludlum was. This is before the franchise was picked apart by second rate-writer carry-oners. It is emminently readable, profoundly complex and dark. Really, the only thing the movies have in common with the books is the idea of an amnesiac main character who was used as a spy / assassin. The main thrust of the trilogy is Bourne's battles with (the infamous and real) Carlos the Jackal. Yep...they forgot that little point when they made the movies. The books however, are all the better for it. Another great Ludlum book for those interested - The Materese Circle a taut spy and conspiracy thriller you will be unable to put down.
2003: Sanika Shakur aka Monster Kody Scott
Why: Shakur's Monster was one of the first inside looks at LA's Crips and a searing portrait of inner city gangs and why young men are inevitably drawn towards them. Shakur does not shy away from his increasing prison time, nor his conversion to African-American activist. He grew up when the Crips became one of the most powerful forces in Los Angeles and his ascent...or is it descent? into his role as Crip leader and feared presence on the streets is fantastic. Gripping, horrifying and life changing, this was Autobiography of Malcolm X for the Crip generation.
2004: Jon Krakauer
Why: Jon Krakauer is a non-fiction writing god and this is when I first discovered his best works: Under the Banner of Heaven, Into Thin Air, Into the Wild. He releases a book once every 4 years and they are always worthwhile reads. Krakauer deeply researches his topics and then goes out and writes the hell out of them. He dares you to put down his books, and secretly knows you will be unable to do so. Additionally, he is really willing to get into his topic - he freaking climbed Mount Everest during one of the worst seasons in history! A true legend.
2005: Robert Kurson
Why: One reason only: Shadow Divers. Quite simply one of the finest books I have ever read. I passed this one on to everyone I know - they all loved it. My grandmother, who has read roughly 10,000 books in her lifetime called it the best book she has read. It is a non-fiction masterpiece and Kurson is one of the best writers ever, if you have not read it you are in for a serious treat.
Alternate: Nathanial Philbrick for his masterful works In the Heart of the Ocean and Sea of Glory.
2006: Dennis Lehane
Why: His Patrick Kenzie / Angie Gennero books are awesome, Mystic River is one of the richest novels of the 2000's and Shutter Island blew my mind. Do you need any more reasons? Okay, try this one: Darkness Take My Hand is the best serial killer book I have read and an incredible meditation on violence in our society and its propensity to swallow us all.
2007: Philip Kerr
Why: Kerr wrote the unbelievable Berlin Noir trilogy which follows a private detective, Bernie Gunther, in Germany during the Nazi era. They are among the most hard-boiled books I have read and the characters pop right off the page. As I finished the three books (which come to a twisty albeit sound conclusion) I discovered that after a 17 year hiatus Kerr had returned to write a new Bernie Gunther book that was easily his best work yet! Not many writers get better over time, but Kerr seems to.
Alternate: Herman Wouk for his magisterial books on World War Two The Winds of War / War and Rememberance which are the best fictional books about the war. Period.
2008: George Pelecanos
Why: Like Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos owns the mantle of best crime writer of a certain city. While Lehane has claimed Boston as his territory, Pelecanos rules DC. His Nick Stefanos trilogy, followed by his DC Quartet and Derek Strange Quartet and his stand alone The Night Gardener (easily his Mystic River) cemented his place in 08. His works show the degeneration of DC after the war and the slow influx of gang crime which led to its ranking among the world's most dangerous cities. A fascinating and complex look through time which easily holds a place among the best crime fiction of all time.
Alternate: Michael Crichton - this was the year I discovered his earlier works which are all unique and all exceptional. One of my favourites: Rising Sun a page turner which makes you think and informs you down to the last page.
2009: Stephen King
Why: A shockingly tough year to pick a champ, despite the fact I read a staggering 14 books by King. He ultimately had the most impact, even though he did not write the best overall book I read that year. From his masterworks It and The Stand through his earlier novels such as Salem's Lot, King kept me more entertained than any other author. Fittingly, the last book I read in 2009 was King's latest opus epic Under the Dome.
Alternate: James Ellroy's American Tabloid was without a doubt the best book I read in 2009. In fact, it may be my favourite fictional book ever. His follow up The Cold Six Thousand was very nearly the equivelent. Awesome fictional accounts of the Kennedy conspiracies (and beyond!) these books are must reads for anyone interested in the noirish side of American history written by someone with a vendetta against any unecessary words. Powerful stuff.
2010: Bill Simmons
Why: So far, this year there are two possibilities for my writer of the year. However, when the full impact of reading (not only books but also weekly columns) is factored in there is no other choice but Simmons. His epic The Book of Basketball not only reignited a love of sports books for me, but also made me a huge basketball fan. Before I could take it or leave it, now, I cannot get enough. Thanks Bill for being so hilarious and such a pop culture master that your book literally had me laughing so hard I could not continue for long stretches due to serious stomach pains.
Alternate: David Peace whose Red Riding Quartet was the most literary work I read this year. Each of the four books ties so beautifully together that only when Peace's full vision is recognized does the reader understand the full, brutal impact of the journey. Haunting, harrowing and among the best crime fiction has ever offered.
Grandmaster Award - James Lee Burke
Burke really could have dominated in any given year due to the sheer volume of his works and the overall quality of each one. In 2007 I read three of his books; 2008 saw five go down; during 2009 I crushed four more; currently in 2010 I have made my way through three more. His works are incredible tributes to the Lousiana with all its seedy, mob-driven darkness and quiet almost mythical beauty. His books are not read but fully experienced. Pick up any one of the 15ish Dave Robicheaux novels and you will see what I am talking about.