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12.31.2006

Best Books of 2006



It had to be done. One of those end-of-the-year "best of" thingies. Because despite their over-abundance in our culture, I love lists. And being both a writer and a librarian, my list must be about books!

I keep a record of everything that I read each year. (You know, anything to keep me out of trouble.) I've looked over it, and here are the wonderful titles that I must bring to your attention:


FIRST OF ALL:

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006) — I can't rave enough about this book. It's spiritual without smacking you in the face with any one dogma. It's mouth-watering for foodies and engrossing for travelers. And, man, it's funny. Hands down, the best nonfiction I read all year. As I read it, I kept thinking: My mom needs to read this! My sister needs to read this! So-and-so needs to read this! And so-and-so's neighbor! And his dog, if he can read! No other book in recent years has moved me quite like this.

Twilight and New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (2005, 2006) — Young Adult is where it's at. For years, it's been literature's neglected baby, but that's quickly changing. Great writers are being sucked in, and lovely, interesting, edgy stuff is being written. Case in point: Twilight and its sequel, New Moon. I've heard Meyer's books described as "Vampire books for people who don't like vampire books." But I also know that many who do love vampire books are equally thrilled with this modern take. The heart of this story is a delicious romance between Edward Cullen (vampire) and Bella Swan (regular girl). As someone who craves love stories, I can say with certainty that this is one of the best out there. I couldn't put them down. I started reading as soon as I got home from work, and I didn't get out of my chair until they were over. Husband, dogs, dinner, sleep — neglected. Twilight has won many honors, including being named by Amazon as the best book written for teens in the last five years. I agree.


GREAT FICTION:

I finally read Audrey Niffeneger's The Time Traveler's Wife (2003), and all I could think afterward was, "Why did I put this off for so long?!" But after the millionth person told me that I had to read it, I finally did. And I'm so thankful. It's fresh and original, heartbreaking and heartwarming, and utterly engrossing. Henry and Clare are well-developed, well-rounded characters that I cared about. It's bursting with surprises and puzzles. And despite skipping around chronologically like nothing I've ever read, it's easy to follow and a quick read.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948) — I cry. A lot. But for some reason, I rarely cry when I read novels. This is one of the exceptions. The main character was so real, and I was genuinely concerned for her. What a beautiful book. It has the wit and heart and plotting of Jane Austen, but with kookier characters and a less-easy (but not unhappy) ending.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (2005) — The best children's novel I read this year (not to mention a National Book Award winner!). It's warm and fuzzy and feels like a classic. The action is low-key, the characters are charming, and the setting is marvelous. It will make you crave gingerbread in the summer. A real winner.

Other great fiction reads: Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005) — Swashbuckling fun from one of our greatest living novelists. Shug by Jenny Han (2006) — A children's novel about first love by a first time author. Sweet and touching and memorable.


GREAT NONFICTION:

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (2003) — Creepy, creepy, creepy. My favorite quote on the back of this book is something along the lines of, "How could I have never heard about this before?" About America's first real serial killer, the Chicago World's Fair, and architecture. A surprisingly satisfying and fascinating combo.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (2005) — Hilarious history. Vowell takes a look at presidential assassinations and along the way, you learn some freaky cool stuff, like Lincoln's son being present at Lincoln, Garfield, AND McKinley's assassinations. I recommend everything Vowell has done, in print and on radio. Big thanks to my brother-in-law for introducing me to her.

Other great reads this year: Piano Lessons by Noah Adams (1996) — for anyone who wants to learn a new talent, She Got Up Off The Couch by Haven Kimmel (2005) — a welcome follow up to A Girl Named Zippy, and Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs (2002) — How messed up was THAT?


SHORT LISTS:

Best Chick Lit: Anybody Out There? by Marian Keyes (2006) — Keyes is at the tip-top of the literate end of the chick lit scale, and her latest novel is her strongest. I love an author who gets better with time.

Best Graphic Novel: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) — All I have to say is that whoever thinks that a graphic novel can't be as deep as a regular novel has obviously not read this.

Best Picture Book Published in 2006: So Sleepy Story by (former Caldecott winner) Uri Shulevitz. Finally, a bedtime story as perfect as Goodnight Moon. I want to buy this for every young child I know! Though the year's best line was in Mo Willems' Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct. It goes something like this: "Everyone loved Edwina. That is, everyone except Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie." The accompanying picture of Reginald is priceless.

Two YAs I Still Think About: Chris Lynch's Inexcusable (2005) and Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now (2004). Two stories told in first person — one from an teenage boy accused of rape and one from a teenage girl caught in the middle of a new world war. Unforgettable.

Author I'm Glad I've Finally Started Reading: Gail Carson Levine, master of the fairy tale. I zipped through Ella Enchanted (1998) and Fairest (2006). Her others are stacked on my office floor, waiting to be read in 2007.

And My Most Read Author Was . . . Meg Cabot! I read ten of her novels this year, twice as many as my second place author, Diana Gabaldon. (Though Ms. Gabaldon's tomes took up considerably more of my time. Oh, how I love Jamie & Claire! And Fergus. Fergus rules!) I love Meg. She's cheerful and fun and a positive role model for girls and women everywhere. I'll read anything that she writes (including her very funny blog). She's most famous for her Princess Diaries series, but my favorite is her Mediator series. Her adult books this year, Queen of Babble and Size 12 Is Not Fat, were both great fun, and I'm looking forward to the upcoming sequels.

2 comments:

  1. Wow - all your picks sound so good!! I don't read that much but I do love to listen to books on CD. I will try and find some of your recs on CD! Happy New Year, btw! Hope you had fun on New Year's Eve & wishing you all sorts of wonderful things in 2007!

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  2. Hey Stephanie!! I got So Sleepy Story at the East Asheville library yesterday, thanks to you. I love books that others recommend, so I thank you for your list. I am ALWAYS open to good recommendations for books, especially children's books. I'd love you to compile me a list of the "top children's books" cause I'm always up for new ones to read to Clive and Van, and you are just the person to ask. I love So Sleepy Story! Clive and I have read it a few times everyday. Thanks for the other recommendations as well...I'm definitely gonnna check them out for me! Still wanna get together with you guys.
    Leslie

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