A Year in Reading: The Elegant Variation

December 13, 2006 | 13 books mentioned 8 2 min read

Mark Sarvas, proprietor of The Elegant Variation, takes some time to share the books he read in 2006 that he found, shall we say, most to his liking.

First off, the more I think about it, the less I care for the whole “Best of” formulation. It offends me on a number of levels, not the least of which is by the assumption that one has read enough of what’s on offer in a year to be able to decide what’s “Best”. (And this is no knock on this inestimable blog; rather, it’s a systemic crankiness that’s afflicting me this year.) So I’m going to come instead from the perspective of “My Favorites of the Year,” which seems more inherently more defensible. (And, in an open note to newspaper editors everywhere, why not opt for the more modest construction “Editor’s Choice” or “Editor’s Favorite”? It seems preferable to the untenably pompous “Best of” declarations that have become
de rigeur.)

OK. End of my mini-rant. A list, in alphabetical order, of books that
struck me as being of particular note in 2006:

coverAmphigorey Again by Edward Gorey: What will probably be the last collection from a master.

Black Swan Green: David Mitchell proves he can do “human” as well as “clever” with a breakthrough novel.

Christine Falls: It will only be available in the US next year, but John Banville’s first thriller as Benjamin Black is drawing deserved praise for
its UK release.

Dead Fish Museum by Charles D’Ambrosio: The best short story collection we’ve read in years. Breathtaking.

coverThe End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas: Flawed but exuberant, it’s a Foucault’s Pendulum for the iPod generation.

Everything that Rises: Lawrence Weschler’s brilliant John Berger-esque collection of essays on unlikely visual convergences.

coverFun Home by Alison Bechdel: The graphic novel that finally won me over to the form.

The Lost: Daniel Mendelsohn’s brilliantly written memoir answers those who ask if there’s anything left to write about the Holocaust.

The Mystery Guest by Gregoire Bouillier, translated by Lorin Stein: A delicious Gallic treat, depicting the party from hell and explaining what every man should know about turtleneck sweaters.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris: OK, this one is a cheat – it’s not out until March of next year but this hilarious and gorgeously written novel might just change my mind about MFAs.

Ticknor by Sheila Heti: If there’s a favorite of the year, this bitter comedy of envy and failure would be the one.

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon: It’s not from this year but I only just caught up with it and can see what the fuss was about.

Thanks Mark!

, blogger and author of the novel Harry, Revised, is at work on his second novel. He's had a rough year.


  1. Must say I agree with Mark's mini-rant. I think the only thing any sane person can state is these are the best of those that I've read.

    Looking back, I wish I too had remembered to include the Bechdel novel – it was a truly great read.

  2. I agree as well. Those "best of" lists can be very tiresome, which is a big reason why, for the "Year in Reading" series, I ask people to talk about the books they read, regardless of publication date.

    So few people actually read all the latest new releases that best book lists don't work as well as, say, best movie lists (though those can be equally annoying.)

    I think it's much more interesting to hear that somebody has discovered an old gem, like Mark did with Wonder Boys or Andrew did with Flaubert. These instances are more true to the actual reading habits of real readers.

  3. I rather like 'top ____' lists… otherwise how do you know what stands the test of time? Especially with all the crap thrown our way by pop culture, I'd rather know that a book has been considered 'great' by people for 10+ years before I waste my time on some flash-in-the-pan.

    BTW, the random word below for verification is "prkvot" – sounds russian.

  4. I would totally agree with adding Sheila Heti's "Ticknor" to the list, as it's one of my favourites of the last few years, except that it came out in early 2005 (I know this because it's sitting on my desk, and stuffed inside the book is the receipt from the bookstore where I purchased it, and that bookstore happens to be situated in a city I haven't set foot in since April of 2005).

  5. I'm pretty sure Ticknor came out in April of this year, but it's a moot point. I asked people to name their favorites from among the books they read this year, regardless of publication date, so, 2005, 2006, it doesn't matter to me.

  6. Maybe it's just the US edition that came out late; I bought (and read) mine while living in Sudbury, a city that I left for good in late April 2005 (2005 is also the publication date on the copyright page of my edition).

    It's definitely an excellent book, though. I'm a very big fan of hers, and I actually found out about the novel a few days after she finished the final draft, as I was trying to interview her for a journal I used to run (the interview never came off), and I spent months in agonized anticipation.

  7. All are correct – it came out in 2005 in Canada from House of Anansi, and in 2006 in the US from FSG. Being a Yank, I included it here …

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