Sam Sacks is an editor at the online arts and literature review Open Letters Monthly
Although there was a lot of good stuff this year (from Mailer’s grandiose A Castle in the Forest to Sydney Landon Plum’s humble nature monograph Solitary Goose), one year can never compete with two millennia of classics, and my most important reading experience came from the gravid Penguin paperback edition of Black Lamb and Gray Falcon by Rebecca West. I read this amazing book in stages over the course of months, like an exhausting and transformative migratory journey. It’s a dense, digressive travelogue interspersed with history, philosophy, current events (those of the doomed patchwork country of Yugoslavia in the 1930s and the increasingly militarized nations that bordered it), and flamboyant, fictionalized dialogue that’s virtually Shakespearean in its beauty. West is obsessed with her subject, and her obsession infects the book with a sense of euphoria and high tragedy that provide something memorable on nearly every page.