Now that we've shared our best books of 2009 with you, it's time to let loose the snark. The Guardian went first with an article about the worst books of the decade earlier this month, which made me think: what was the worst book I read all year? Like many of the Guardian commenters, I found Vernon God Little (which won the Booker in 2003) completely and utterly horrible, so that might be my worst book of the decade. But 2009 was actually a pretty good year for me, with no wallbangers that I can remember. A moment while I pat myself on the back for having excellent literary taste this year . . .
Were you equally lucky? Or was there a book you loved to hate in 2009? Share your thoughts in the comments!
For a little day-after-Christmas fun, we thought you might enjoy some behind-the-scenes photos from the BookPage holiday party. A week after the festivities, we’re still recovering!
We dare you to prove that your office Christmas party is more fun.
This is pretty oddball, but I’m giving a copy of Comic Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, And Friends (Chronicle) to my teenage son who loves comic books and hopes to attend Comic Con himself one day. The book is a large-format, illustrated look at the history of the show.
My dad is a huge fan of literary fiction, so I’m giving him John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River (Random House) and E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langely (Random House). Irving and Doctorow are two of his favorite writers and I know he is excited about their new books
—Abby, Fiction Editor
I'm giving The Lacuna (HarperCollins) to my mom, who loves both Mexico and art history, and The Education of a British-Protected Child (Knopf Doubleday) by Chinua Achebe to my dad, who loves both postcolonial writers and childhood memoirs.
—Kate, Nonfiction Editor
I'm giving City of Thieves (Penguin) by David Benioff to my grandfather. This book has been a hit with everyone I've recommended it to, including my brother, who hadn't read a book in years before I loaned him my copy. My grandfather loves novels about World War II and has visited St. Petersburg, where the novel is set, so I think he'll enjoy this one.
—Trisha, Web Editor
My 18-year-old sister just started college in New York (1,300 miles away from home!), so I’m giving her a copy of Ann Packer's The Dive from Clausen's Pier (Random House). I think my sis will appreciate the story of a young woman’s search for independence—plus, Packer does great descriptions of NYC.
—Eliza, Assistant Web Editor
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Whether you're celebrating Christmas or just celebrating a couple of days off, we're betting this long weekend will contain at least a few hours of reading time for most of you. It certainly will for me. Snug in my suitcase: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark and Crash Course by Paul Ingrassia. Neither of which has any connection to Christmas, but I'm sure to be getting enough holiday spirit from other sources!
There's someone on my holiday list who would be a perfect match for this book—and she's not going to be happy that we're giving a copy away (sorry Grandma)! But in the spirit of Christmas that's exactly what we're doing. So, if you would like a charming little pocket guide to all those perplexing bird behaviors, complete with illustrations and sidebars, just leave a comment telling me what your favorite book in our science roundup is by Monday, December 28, and you could have The Bird-Watching Answer Book in your hands by the New Year.
If you need a moment to relax amidst holiday festivities, peruse these Christmas books from the BookPage archives.
Also: What are you reading over the long weekend? I’m diving into Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered (out in March 2010).
Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou
The celebrated poet first read this poem at the 2005 White House tree-lighting ceremony, and now it graces the pages of a picture book. The poem isn't an obvious choice for a children's book - it's philosophical, thought-provoking and full of big words like covenant, rancor and apprehension. Yet it is a powerful message—sermon-like—and a good one for children to hear.
The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket
A Christmas story by Lemony Snicket? For those who know Snicket's best-selling series of books, this sounds like an oxymoron. He's well-known for his funny but often bleak, Edward Gorey-like view of the world. Never fear, The Lump of Coal is a small holiday gem, a follow-up of sorts to last year's Hanukkah tale, The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming. Yes, it does have its share of grim moments—after all, it's about a lump of coal! But it's also full of humor, and it serves as a nice diversion from all the holiday schmaltz.
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
Rarely is a holiday book so lovely in every way as Kate DiCamillo's Great Joy. The story is heartwarming yet wonderfully subdued; the artwork glows. What's more, this short tale has a message that's bound to resonate with readers of all ages.
Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
The weather outside is decidedly not frightful in balmy Savannah, Georgia, where Weezie Foley is gearing up for what she hopes is her best Christmas ever. She expects her antique shop to grab first prize in the annual historical district window-decorating contest, even if the nasty new owners of the shop across the street seem hell-bent on sabotaging her victory. Even better, Weezie suspects this might be the year that her boyfriend, Daniel, finally pops the question.
Christmas Remembered by Tomie DePaola
Tomie dePaola's new book, Christmas Remembered, is billed as the renowned illustrator's first work for all ages. In 15 short chapters he describes his favorite holiday memories, starting in 1937 when he was three years old and his parents installed a fake, plug-in fireplace in their Connecticut apartment.
The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg
In Elizabeth Berg's lyrical recasting of the story of Mary and Joseph, The Handmaid and the Carpenter, we are reminded that the parents of Jesus were a startlingly young, humble couple. Deeply in love, they are struggling to understand the mystery of what visiting angels have told them: that Mary will bear the Son of God.
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
February 2010, Algonquin Books
There are no black people in Nature today. Only us.
The wind catches me at the ankles now. My socks have fallen on the climb up the stairs to this lookout point.
“No way we could get Miss Doris up to see this,” Drew says.
“There’s no way my mama wants to be out in the thick of cold climbing up stairs to see anything but the Lord himself,” Aunt Loretta says. “But if she did. . .”
Aunt Loretta doesn’t finish what she’s saying. She stares out at the falls and moves her hands in the air like she can measure what she is seeing. Like she’s framing it with her hands.
“You about done with this cold, Rachel?” Drew asks.
Aunt Loretta is leaning on the rail, looking at the waterfall now. She’s hypnotized. I think she is crying.
Drew sees that she is crying too.
Aunt Loretta cries without sound, but I can see a shudder go through her. Is it the cold wind? Drew is saying something to her. I hear in only half volume. The wind is in my good ear, and in the other a thrumming, a hum.
“I want to be that girl again,” is all I can hear of what Aunt Loretta says. Drew seems to know what she means. He leans into her, but I move away. I don’t want hands on me.
I take small steps backing off the bridge. I walk slowly and carefully. What I’m scared of I can’t explain. It’s the look in Aunt Loretta’s eyes, the way her voice sounds small and hurt. Maybe she’s measured a long icy fall.
If you're looking for something to give the literature lover in your life—the reader in the family who likes nothing more than to get lost in a big story—look no further. A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book is a masterful look at the early years of the 20th century through the lens of a large, upper-class bohemian Edwardian family.
Byatt builds her world meticulously, and the reader feels fully enveloped in a world that is in some ways before its time: full of artists, feminists, anarchists, nudists and other idealists who thought they could create utopia. What came instead was the Great War, which provides a powerful coda to this memorable story.
Read the rest of our 12 books of Christmas series.
OK, so choosing a John Irving novel for our 12 books of Christmas series isn't exactly going out on a limb—the book was one of the most anticipated releases of the fall and got some serious attention back in November, including our interview. But when Alden Mudge (who has been conducting interviews with literary luminaries for BookPage since long before my tenure here) writes that Last Night in Twisted River contains "some of the most entertaining and intellectually playful storytelling of Irving’s career," I sit up and take notice. Though it didn't make our Top 10 list for 2009, this novel would make a great gift for the guy (especially a dad) in your life who likes to read.
Read more in our 12 books of Christmas series.
Read more about John Irving on BookPage.com.
Any architecture or history buff would be pleased to find The Secret Lives of Buildings under the tree. Through the eyes of first-time author Edward Hollis, an architect who specializes in restoring historic buildings, readers will discover that iconic structures like the Parthenon, the Berlin Wall and even the Vegas Strip have led more storied lives than we realize. Hollis shares them with a fairy-tale charm, says reviewer Anne Bartlett, even going so far as to begin "most of his chapters with 'Once upon a time.' "
Still not convinced? We at BookPage enjoyed this book so much that it made it onto our list of 2009's Top 10 Nonfiction books.
You can find more great gift ideas in our holiday catalog.