Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top 10 Read Novels: 2010-2013

Regular readers of bklynbiblio know that near the end of each calendar year, I do a "Books of" post highlighting some of my favorite reads of the year. In addition to those posts, just over 3 years ago, I blogged about my Top 10 Read Novels that I had read between the years 2005 and 2009. (Yes, I am actually that neurotic, in that I not only keep track of every book I've read, but I also rate and rank them!) Since posting that in 2011, I have been gathering a few more favorites, so I thought I would write an update, highlighting my Top 10 Read Novels from 2010 to 2013. As with the last list, it's important to realize that I'm not claiming this is my list of all-time-favorite novels, or that the books on this list were published between these years. This is my 5-star ranked list of novels I read between these years. Counting down from 10 to 1...

10. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym (1953). Pym was my great author discovery, thanks to TC in TN, although I read this book in 2012 after having read Excellent Women (see below) in 2011. Yes, I have enjoyed Pym's books so much her name appears twice on this list. Few authors have been able to make me laugh aloud with their sardonic observations of everyday life. Here, friends Jane and Prudence, in post-WWII Britain, try to figure out what they truly want out of life and men, living between town and country, all leading to a charming ending.
9. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (2009, English ed.). This third book in the trilogy that began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo brings it all home in a way that not only resolves a lot of loose ends, but restored this reader's faith in what seemed to be the author's/narrator's blatant misogyny. The women rule the show in this book.
8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002). This is the story of young Susie Salmon, who has been murdered. She narrates her story from the afterlife, struggling to let her family know she's still watching over them, but also trying to help them realize who it is that killed her. There is a spiritual message here, but it's not traditionally religious, and it's surprisingly very human in the end. A touching, beautifully-composed book.
7. A Russian Affair by Anton Chekhov (1896-99). This little book is a collection of a few of the Russian author's short stories, all focusing on love, grouped together by Penguin Books as part of its "Great Loves" series. These stories amazed me with their near-perfection in short form. I'm intentionally waiting a while so I can read them and relish them again, as if it were the first time. "The Lady with the Dog" in particular will leave you swooning as much as the characters do.
6. The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt (2009). Byatt still holds a special place for me as the author of my all-time favorite novel, Possession. Here she tackles twenty+ years in the lives of a group children who grow up from the 1890s to World War I. You can read my review of the book here.
5. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (1952). This was the first Pym novel I read, and it is (so far) the best. She will have you chuckling aloud as you pour out another cup of tea, and join thirtysomething Mildred Lathbury through another seemingly boring day with her fellow church ladies and her high-strung neighbors. You will be amazed at how much adventure can come from doing nothing. I can see Pym's influence on some of my other favorite British authors, including Byatt and Ruth Rendell.
4. Howards End by E. M. Forster (1910). Of course, I saw the Merchant-Ivory film with Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins a long time ago. But having read almost all of Forster's other novels, I finally settled down for what is considered one of his best, and it did not disappoint. The Schlegel sisters are divine characters, but what amazed me most was how the individual houses all were anthropomorphized and became characters as well.
3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2008, English ed.). My thanks to PR for giving me this book. It is one of the smartest and wittiest (and tragic) books I've ever read. The dowdy, provincial concierge Renee, who works for a grand Parisian apartment building, is secretly a genius, but keeping to herself becomes more and more difficult when she inadvertently befriends both the quirky young Paloma from upstairs, who films her family because they are stupid, and a new resident in the building who sees through her disguise. My friend Shermania has blogged about the book as well and has some interesting observations.
2. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1874). I struggled as to whether this book should be number 1 on the list, and in some ways perhaps it is. The books is, truly, a masterpiece, and I think I will struggle to ever find another novel as incredibly well-written. Eliot's genius as a woman writer (using a man's name) was to make her readers realize that everyone has the capacity to think, including women (a rather new idea for Victorian men). The heroine Dorothea Brooke is so well-rounded and complex, struggling as she does to be both an intelligent and a passionate woman. But, honestly, what got to me most was the ending. I sobbed during the last few paragraphs, understanding the story's underlying message: awareness of what one's true gift to the world can and should be.
1. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875). It is rather surprising to think that Trollope's social commentary novel was published in book form just a year after Eliot's masterpiece. They are such different books, it is worth reading both of them to understand that "Victorian fiction" is most definitely not one mode of writing. Middlemarch is certainly a better-written novel and arguably a greater work of literature. But Trollope's novel is timeless in that the plot speaks as much of today's society as it did in the 1870s. Social climbing, greed, corruption, and embezzlement have not changed at all. This book can teach you a great deal about the world we live in today. It's also rather hilarious, which makes for an enjoyable read, and probably the one reason why I made it #1. You can read my pre-review I blogged about here.

1 comment:

Sherman Clarke said...

I admire your stated ability, aka obsession, to rate and rank your read books. I give lots of books maximum stars when I finish and then can't, for the life of me, remember them two weeks later. I do remember that I read The Way We Live Now about five years ago and really enjoyed it. It was not necessarily under your influence as one of my NYU colleagues was also Trolloping at that moment. But I'd still rank it up there as a good read.