This year has a been a great year for reading. I have read some really wonderful books! When I read, I typically only read books that I get from the library (both because I have access to a terrific library and because I live on a tight budget), and if I don't like a book, I don't usually bother finishing it. Needless to say, my Goodreads account is populated by a lot of 4- and 5-star book ratings.
Here are some books that really stood out from the rest:
The Pilgrim Hawk, by Glenway Wescott
Amusingly enough, a couple months ago, I got an email from Michael Cunningham via some organization (I pay such good attention to things, don't I?) encouraging everyone to read this book. He wrote the introduction to the edition I read, and I must say, I agree with him--or at least, I think that every writer should read this book. It is one of the most careful character studies I've ever read. Not much happens in this book, but it bristles with a sense of humanity. I would never want to hang out with any of these characters, but Glenway Wescott was probably a cool guy.
The Pushcart Book of Poetry: The Best Poems from Three Decades of the Pushcart Prize, edited by Joan Murray
I'm pretty sure the subtitle tells you everything you need to know about this book. Basically every poem inside it is miraculous. I need to buy a copy so I can read and re-read them.
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum
I think everybody and their dog read this one when it came out, but it's still terrific. It's a wonderful study of the conflict between science and bureaucracy, with plenty of chemistry and gruesome details thrown in.
Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence, by Rory Miller
A riveting discussion of violence and criminal behavior by a corrections officer/search and rescue worker. It will change the way you think about both evil and self defense.
Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters
The poignant story of a young woman's fall from naive but hard-working oyster seller to spoiled, pampered mistress--and ultimate redemption. It also happens to be a wonderfully researched examination of life in 1890's England, and the steamy story of a lesbian learning to live with her sexuality. Hawt!
I did read genre fiction this year, of course! You know me: I can't go more than two weeks without checking out a good mystery or speculative fiction. Here are a few standouts:
The Terror, by Dan Simmons--based on the true story of the lost Franklin expedition, a wonderfully researched story of the terrors of Arctic exploration in the 1840s.
City of the Lost, by Stephen Blackmoore--the noir zombie novel you've been waiting for.
Snuff, by Terry Pratchett--the conflict between racism and law enforcement in Discworld. Possibly the most touching Discworld story so far.
This Dark Earth, by John Horner Jacobs--zombie apocalypse survivor story done right.
Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill--rock and roll, fast cars, and one horrible ghost. A horror classic!
And of course, I'm always looking for book recommendations. If you've noticed, my tastes tend to run to historical and horror (or, in the case of The Terror, both combined), so if you know a good example of those genres, please share!