I don’t know about “best,” but the funniest, saddest, most interesting, and most (oddly) inspiring book I read this year was Jonathan Coe’s Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B. S. Johnson. Johnson wrote seven extraordinary novels between 1962 and his suicide in 1972. Coe, a novelist himself, tells the story of Johnson’s life through 160 “fragments” from Johnson’s own writings. For all his flaws, Johnson’s energy, humor, and passion come blazing through. I loved this book.
Joan Silber, a finalist for the National Book Award and the Story Prize for Ideas of Heaven, teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City. Her most recent novel is The Size of the World.My two favorite books this year were a new and an old. I loved Margot Livesey’s new novel, The House on Fortune Street. Like all of Livesey’s work, it has a mystery to it that is dark and yet has elements of beauty. Here four characters tell separate tales, united by their connection to a suicide and by their own jagged family histories. I heard Livesey on NPR, just after the book came out, and she said she thought what kept people from “free will” was not “pre-destination” but what we now call “baggage,” the remnants of the past we drag with us. The fates of these characters stayed with me – it’s a haunting book.This year I also re-read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. First published in 1979, these are wild re-tellings of fairy tales, with all the blood and sex and cruelty brought to the surface. Carter got amazing mileage out of feminist re-envisionings of wolf tales and Beauty and the Beast. In all of these, the woods are dangerous, our own animal natures lie in wait, and sex is not for sissies. Carter. who died much too young at 51, forged her own path, and her boldness still sends sparks.More from A Year in Reading 2008