Wrapping Up a Year in Reading 2009

December 24, 2009 | 34

With the holidays now arrived, so ends our Year in Reading series. We at The Millions would like to thank all of those who contributed to the series as well as all the helpful folks who assisted us in putting together such a great group of participants.

Though we are undoubtedly biased, we think this series, in its simple celebration of books and reading, strikes just the right combination of joyous and thoughtful and is thus a fitting year-end valedictory.

This year, we found coincidental consensus in Jonathan Lethem and Rick Moody’s praise of Padgett Powell. Likewise, both Nick Flynn and Cristina Henríquez endorsed Eula Biss. And everyone loved Stoner.

But the considerations, reflections, and recommendations weren’t limited to recently published books, we also saw our contributors rediscovering (or discovering for the first time) weighty names like Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, and Saul Bellow.

Perhaps the month’s greatest treat was the variation on offer, from the poingent squib offered by Diane Williams to Stephen Dodson’s generous recounting. Meanwhile, the eclecticism of Jesse Ball and David Shields was like a look down the rabbit hole into ever unfurling worlds of more and more and more books.

If you enjoyed reading our series as much as we enjoyed putting it together (and indeed if you’ve enjoyed The Millions all year), we ask that you support the site (there are five cheap, free, and easy ways to do so on our Support page) and help us prove that smart cultural coverage is viable online.

And as we enjoy the last few days of 2009, we invite all of you to take part in A Year in Reading by finishing this sentence in the comments or on your own blog: “The best book I read all year was…”

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. The best books I’ve read all year have, for the most part, been translations: The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi, Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge, Independent People by Halldor Laxness, and The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. And one non-translation–George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I just can’t narrow it down to one. Oh, I almost forgot–A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kis.

  2. The best books I read this year were the Europa translations of Elena Ferrantes novels, Rock Island Line by David Rhodes, and The Armies by Evelio Rosero.

    Best novel “rediscovered” this year was A Long, Long Way by Sebastian Barry.

    Happy holidays to the Millions contributors, and look forward to reading you in 2010!

  3. Not done with it yet, but Margaret Atwood’s Payback is turning out to be the most interesting book I’ve read this year. The historical, literary, anthropological, sociological, and psychological analysis of debt in essentially every meaning of the word is thought-provoking and ingenious.

  4. I am new to this blog but yet would like to post my read novels and books which I completed in the year 2009….The latest being John Grisham’s Ford County, I am happy to have ended with a thrilling short story collection…I am not a passionate reader but now with my most of the time getting consumed up on net, i prefer reading ebooks directly online from store like A1Books and purchase physical books rarely. But reading blogs like these has really aroused an interest. I hope to read more of them in the coming year 2010.

    Cheers to readers!!!

  5. The best new book I read this year was either “lowboy” by John Wray or “Chronic City” by Jonathan Lethem.

  6. The best book I read this year was hands down Amy Hempel’s Collected Stories. I haven’t gotten to too many new releases yet but Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor was also a great treat.

  7. The best “new” books (new to me, at least) that I read this year include:

    Mariette in Ecstasy — Ron Hansen
    The Transit of Venus — Shirley Hazzard
    In the Skin of a Lion — Michael Ondaatje

    Also, this was the year of James Salter. Why did it take me so long to discover his work? Dusk, Last Night, Light Years, and A Sport and a Pasttime — enthralling books, every one.

  8. Call it Sleep by Henry Roth, definitely the most beautiful novel I’ve read in a long time and one that more people should know about.

  9. Mike, I remember in the 60s when Call it Sleep got rediscovered. Time for another rediscovery.

    I want to list my best books but I am away and my book list is in my computer at home. My poor memory frustrates me, maybe this thread will still be going in a few days. Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Housekeeper and the Professor, early Coetzee (Waiting for the Barbarians and Life and Times of Michael K), rereading Natalia Ginzburg, went on an immigrant short story journey (binge)–Ha Jin, David Bezmozgis, Jumpa Lahiri, Andrei Codrescu, Isaac Rosenfeld and others.

  10. – “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates.

    – “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami

    – “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole

    – “The Master and the Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

    – “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy

    – “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

  11. “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen was the best page turner I read this year.

    I alos discovered “I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith and thought it was a lovely book.

    But my favorite that I read this year, and one that had a great impact on me, was “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson.

  12. Best books I read this year

    Kurt Vonnegut – “Slaughterhouse V”
    George R.R. Martin – “Game of Thrones”
    Stephen Fry – “Moab is my Washpot”

  13. I concur on the Henry Roth book, Call It Sleep. I read this in the early 80’s. It is a truly beautiful book. Another book I read about the same time–equally stunning and unforgettable–is Harriette Arnow’s masterpiece The Dollmaker. The Dollmaker is on a list that looks very intriguing–along with one of my favorites of the year (as well as being one of the best books I’ve ever read) Enchi’s The Waiting Years. The list is 500 Great Books by Women. Others included are Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Olive Schreiner’s Story of an African Farm. Those four alone are pretty high-calibre books. I’m sure the rest are just as wonderful.

  14. Favorite book was “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and also, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. Both were so good, I wanted to leave parties to go home and read!

  15. The best books I read all year:

    — By Night in Chile, para Bolano

    — Death in Spring, Rodoreda

    — Les Fiancailles de M. Hire, par Simenon

    — Henderson the Rain King, by Bellow (a name which should always be capitalized)

    — The Kingdom of This World, by Carpentier

  16. Best books I read all year:

    two fiction works come to mind:
    The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
    AND Jose Saramago’s Death with Interruptions.

    Nonfiction: Richard Wolffe’s book Renegade on the Obama campaign;
    Ted Kennedy’s memoir

  17. Javier Marias, Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear
    W.G. Sebald, Vertigo
    Cesar Aira, Ghosts
    Vic Glover, Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge
    Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice
    Max Geert, Europa
    George Eliot, Middlemarch
    Homer, The Odyssey (Fagles translation)
    Mary Beard, The Fires of Vesuvius

    Oops, that’s more than one.

  18. One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash
    Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurtson
    The Help by Kathryn Stockett
    Still Alice by Lisa Genova
    Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

  19. Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay, a Canadian writer. Won the ScotiaBank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious literary award. I’ve also read her novels A Student of Weather and Garbo Laughs. Elizabeth Hay ranks right up there with Alice Munro. Gave a copy of LNOA to a friend for Christmas–she thought the writing was first-rate.

  20. Forgive me everyone. I am starting Best of 2010 because I just finished the most brilliant amazing enthralling book: The Humans who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We survived by Clive Finlayson. I am reeling.

  21. The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
    Peace by Gene Wolfe
    Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace

    Best Re-Read: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

  22. Two standouts in 2009 — The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden.

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