Giving 1 to 5 stars to a book seems a bit arbitrary given the whims of the moment, my mood on any given day and various other considerations, but I did exactly that this year. A five star "Excellent" book would be one of the ones I would go out of my way to pack if I were given one suitcase on the way to a desert island and told I could fill it with books. A five star book needs to be read by anybody who likes books and trusts my judgment (oh, come on, take a flier!). Anything with 4 or 4.5 stars I would heartily recommend to friends or others to read. 3 or 3.5 are good books, but there are better...
5 stars - Excellent
- One Foot in Eden, Ron Rash (2002). My favorite book of the year, which following on his Serena last year, makes two years in a row he has written my favorite book read in the year.
- American Rust, Philipp Meyer (2009). Book #2 of the year
- Girls, Frederick Busch (1997). Tied for #3.
- The Song is You, Arthur Phillips (2009). Tied for #3.
- Waiting for the Barbarians, JM Coetzee (1980). A classic for good reason.
- Rescue Missions (Stories), Frederick Busch (2006). The last book by one of my favorite authors, published soon after he died.
4.5 stars - Almost Excellent
- That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo (2009). For some reason, in my early forties, books about mid-life angst seem to resonate a little more than they used to, and this is a good one.
- Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead (2009).
- The Jump-Off Creek, Molly Gloss (1989).
4 stars - Very Good
- Saints at the River, Ron Rash (2004).
- The World Made Straight, Ron Rash (2006). There's a pattern here...
- Half in Love (Stories), Maile Meloy (2002).
- The Messiah of Stockholm, Cynthia Ozick (1987).
- That Night, Alice McDermott (1987).
- Nobody Move, Denis Johnson (2009).
- Last Night in Twisted River, John Irving (2009). Big book; should count as two...
- A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick (2009).
- Isn't It Romantic, Ron Hansen (2003).
- Slow Man, JM Coetzee (2005).
- Going to See the Elephant, Rodes Fishburne (2009).
- Hotel du Lac, Anita Brookner (1984).
- Wartime Lies, Louis Begley (1991).
- Waveland, Frederick Barthelme (2009).
3.5 stars - Almost Very Good
- Miles From Nowhere, Nami Mun (2009). Too dark for my tastes to be rated higher. And I don't mind dark, so this must have been dark.
- All the Living, CE Morgan (2009).
- Amsterdam, Ian McEwan (1998). Very good book until the predictable and silly ending torpedo'ed it. In retrospect, this might be a 3...
- The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuna, Dagoberto Gilb (1994).
3 stars - Good but Nothing Special
- The Humbling, Philip Roth (2009). Middle of the road effort from a great author. Sort of seemed to me like he mailed this one in, but has so much talent that it was good anyway.
- Enchanted Night, Steven Millhauser (1999). I have read a few different things by Millhauser and I never quite know what to think. That may be a good thing, I'm not sure.
- The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker (2009). Went to my alma mater.
- Second Marriage, Frederick Barthelme (1984).
Nothing I read rated lower than 3 stars which means one of two things - I am an easy grader or I do my homework on books and authors and read stuff with a high probability of it being good. Or both. Now that I think of it there were a few books I got part way into, lost interest and stopped reading. Hmm. I should keep track of those too.
Factoids on the year's Reading:
- I read 31 books.
- I bought 126 books for a total of $926.83, or $7.36 per book, or $77 per month (books are my crack habit). Most are hardcovers and many were bought at used book stores and book fairs cheaply and in big bunches. I also do an excellent job of finding bargains in Amazon shops and trolling for low-bids on eBay.
- I incurred a deficit of 95 more books purchased than books read. Not that this is a bad thing.
- My library of modern literature is up to approximately 677 books, of which I have read all or part of only about 170.
- The 31 books read in 2009 broke out as follows: six from the 1980's, five from the 1990's, and the remaining 20 from the 2000's (13 of which were from 2009 alone).
- Only two of the 31 were story collections, which is much less than in prior years (although 3 half-finished collections are on the night stand and will show up in 2010 totals).
- 14 of these books were by authors I had not read before.
So I did a very good job of keeping current on reading some of the better books of the year as they were hot off the presses, and I did a good job of reading different authors. I hope to keep that up this year.