Writers are passionate and opinionated readers, and the Hartford (Conn.) Courant has asked authors to recommend their favorite books of the year. What follows is a selection of their responses.
"The Webster Chronicle"
On the surface, "My Mother's Ghost" by Fergus M. Bordewich is the memoir of a man who appears to have killed his mother. The book soon reveals itself as a great deal more, both as the psychological biography of a remarkable woman and as a stunning demonstration of how one death could blast a hole in another person's life. It would be hard to name another personal account that combines prose this powerful with such imaginative, fruitful reportage.
I had two favorite books this year, both nonfiction. First was Ryszard Kapuscinski's "The Shadow of the Sun," a collection of personal accounts of his time in Africa between 1957 and the late '90s. It's georgeously written--taut, poetic, kinetic, personal, and almost every piece has the dramatic shape and the emotional punch of the best short stories. Kapuscinski is one of the best writers in the world, and a man who writes about obliterated peoples and social injustices most of us ignore. Second was Wayne Koestenbaum's "Andy Warhol" a Penguin Lives biography of Andy Warhol. What new could be said about Warhol, I thought--an artist who has never interested me? It's a wonderfully--weirdly--focused and idiosyncratic book, and proof positive that great writing and daring thinking are what make books great.
JT Leroy's "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things" is a collection of chronological stories told by the same narrator. It's just really genuine writing, and as we all know, Leroy knows what of he speaks. He calls it "autobiographical fiction." Many others, including Leroy, will tell you that "Sarah," which he wrote after this collection but published first, is a better book, and maybe it is. But I loved "The Heart." Read it and weep.
"Phone Calls From the Dead"
"Jeremy Thrane" by Kate Christensen is about a young gay man in New York City weathering dramatic turns in his personal and professional lives. He is surrounded by unforgettable characters: his heroin-addict Southern-debutante best friend, his poetess mother, his closeted movie-star ex-boyfriend. His voice and story are addictive, the writing intimate, funny, gritty and lyrical. The book is by turns gossipy, satirical and heartbreakingly enlightening without ever feeling heavy.
"Selling Ben Cheever"
This year's virtuoso performance was T. Coraghessan Boyle's "After the Plague: And Other Stories." "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hillenbrand was just plain fun. Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" gives me hope that a vision of justice can survive in this most commercial of all possible worlds.
I reread Evelyn Waugh's "A Handful of Dust" this year and was once again stunned by its coldly poignant, pitch-dark brilliance. It's the story of the fate of a well-intentioned, ordinary Englishman who wants nothing more than a happy little life, and it has one of the most perversely, horribly great endings I've ever read.
"Banvard's Folly: Tales of
Renowned Obscurity, Famous
Anonymity and Rotten Luck"
The painter Mine Okubo passed away this year, and her obituary led me to her 1946 book "Citizen 13660." It's a clear-eyed account of her life in Japanese American internment camps during World War II, and as a graphic memoir, it ranks with Art Spiegelman's "Maus"; six decades later, her pen-and-ink drawing style still looks shockingly current.
"All Families Are Psychotic"
In "Ghostwritten," David Mitchell braids together--in an astonishing way--the lives of people who on the surface couldn't be more disparate: a sullen young male Tokyo jazz store clerk; a middle-age female Irish scientist; a cocky and doomed English banker working in Hong Kong; and an aging female survivor of the Maoist purges now negotiating the globalizing world. In some senses, "Ghostwritten" is a blend of Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" and a metaphysical Economist magazine planetary end-of-year survey, yet with an ending that's quite flooring.
"Look At Me"