It was a difficult January. That’s my only excuse for why I’m so late with this list. But maybe now you’ve had ample time to digest everyone else’s year end lists and you can enjoy this one with a renewed voracity.
Anyway, here it is.
2 AM At The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino – Fun and unexpected and frequently charming.
I Await The Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane – An odd, intense little diary, but not as outrageous or dark as I hoped. Honestly, a bit tedious for me.
Don’t Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli – Far out of my comfort zone, with a few surprisingly delightful moments and clever lines. I expected to hate it and I didn’t. That’s all I can say.
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt – Gorgeous and multi-layered and rich. A novel for poets and artists. I loved it completely.
The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Writers, alcohol, and spoiled rich lovers. Perhaps my favorite Fitzgerald thus far!
Goodbye to All That edited by Sari Botton – I’m not sure if anyone who hasn’t lived in New York, or hasn’t loved it deeply, would enjoy this collection, but I have and I do, so I did.
The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich – I read this on a train. It was perfect.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – After I read this book, I bought about 12 other Margaret Atwood novels. I didn’t want this to end. Riveting and dark and beautifully written.
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan – I was reading this outside on a bar patio, and the man beside me said “oh hey, my old coworker wrote that book.” We talked about her for a while. It’s a fascinating memoir about the terrible power of illness and madness.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron – Somehow I didn’t expect this to be as good as it was. I devoured it in a park, stretched out on a picnic blanket. I can’t decide if I want a friend like Nora or to be her myself. I was absolutely charmed.
Tampa by Alissa Nutting – Not for the faint of heart. Not for a lot of people, actually. Stunningly dark, brilliantly shocking, made me sick to my stomach, but I tore through it anyway.
Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston – Ok, I have to admit something. I couldn’t finish this one completely. I read almost the entire thing and then gave up with 20 pages to go. For a book about voodoo, zombies, and folklore, it’s amazing it was so tiresome.
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy – Light and witty with a great deal more plot (and plot twists) than I expected. I’d like to watch it as a movie, I think. Film critics would call it a romp, I’m sure.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – I didn’t dislike the Goldfinch (although it was certainly no Secret History), but I found it unevenly paced, with long stretches of placidity and sudden bursts of action. The vast majority of its brilliance was squished into the last few pages. Still, there was some magic there.
Hood by Emma Donoghue – Not awful, just disappointing and ultimately forgettable. I love Emma Donoghue anyway.
Random Family by Adrian Nicole Leblanc – There are SO many characters in this true story, ten years in the making, but their stories are so gripping, I didn’t want to put it down. Drugs, jail, violence, welfare, and the endless cycle of poverty in the Bronx. I think about this book often.
Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn – A poetic meditation on the untimely deaths of starlets. Frank and imperfect, but I appreciate the attempt to poke holes in the Hollywood machine.
Pretty Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton – Ugh. I wanted this to be good so badly! It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure novel for adults. It was stupid, but it could have been so brilliant. Maybe I’ll write my own.
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg – An exploration of the dreary realities of the way people transform and families grow apart.
The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir – Three stories about what it means to be a woman, to be a wife, to be a mother, to get old, to go crazy, to be abandoned. Dark and honest and compelling.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – I read this in an airport, which is exactly where you should read a page-turner like this. A deliciously creepy mystery.
In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume – I started this on an airplane, which is exactly where you should not start a book about plane crashes. For all its calamity, I remember it as an oddly quiet, comfortable book about coming of age.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – An engrossing dystopian survival story. The world is so well-built and whole, so starkly real. I’m looking forward to reading the others in this trilogy, and seeing it come to life in the upcoming HBO series.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – I’ve been recommending this to everyone. I can’t imagine who wouldn’t enjoy a good old-fashioned, spooky story, taking place in a (possibly haunted) mansion, with a darkly mysterious love interest who may or may not be hiding something from his past! I loved every word.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner – Yikes. This was very unexpectedly bleak and alarming. A graphic novel based on the author’s own teenage years, it is unflinchingly honest, heart-breaking, and (for those of us with tamer teenage experiences) truly shocking.
Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion – A razor-sharp, carefully worded descent into emptiness, detachment, and the loss of oneself.
New York Stories by Edith Wharton – Tragic little moral tales with twist endings. I love the New York that exists on these pages.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – I loved one or two of these depressing interconnected stories. Others only made me tired.