One great thing about having spent the entire year on vox (I’d started in mid-2006, man does that seem like a long time ago…) is that I was able to keep track of the books that I read last year. 22. Not bad, a little less than previous years I think. I used to read a lot in airports and airplanes when The Beloved and I lived in separate places. Now, I just read before bed most of the time. That’s a trade I’m happy to make.
Regardless, there were a number of really excellent books that I read this past year (and probably a couple of clunkers – Philip K. Dick’s very early piece “Voices From the Street” comes to mind mostly, Charles Frazier’s “Thirteen Moons” for the most disappointing acclaimed book). The ones I enjoyed the most were:
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson. This book was suggested by Janie. I don’t usually read a lot of non-fiction. I like my books to entertain me, often with a fair amount of escapism. I joked the other day when we watched the movie “The Nativity Story” that it lacked tension because I knew the ending. Well, I knew the ending here, too. I was a history minor in college and read a fair amount of Civil War. This telling of the plotting and execution of the Lincoln assassination in 1865 was absolutely gripping. Swanson does a great job of making 19th century letters and documents come alive and invest them with real personality. In many ways, Booth almost succeed despite himself. He and his accomplices weren’t exactly masterminds, but they figured out a way around the “system” to commit their crimes – and nearly got away with it. Great great read.
Girls by Frederick Busch. I’ve always liked the way that Joyce Carol Oates has been able to capture the “quiet desperation” of muddling through in the average lives of New England and New York. I had never read anything of Frederick Busch before and this story of a nearly-broken former-cop-turned-security-guard and his near obsessive investigation into the disappearance of a local girl is impressively haunting. Not really a whodunit – the investigation is almost secondary – but the book follows the protagonist's inexorable drag into obsession and its effects on him, his marriage and his life. Real and raw – and with amazing prose – this book stays with you long after finishing it. (Note: the main character appears again in North, which was FB’s last book published before he died in 2006. It was also very good, but of the two, I enjoyed Girls more.)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. In the face of almost impossible expectation, JK Rowling delivered a wonderfully entertaining book that was a fantastic finish to the Harry Potter series and contained within it a great story and surprises all its own. I’m sure Potterphiles will quibble about certain aspects or outcomes, but I devoured this book when it was released in the summer, and am looking forward to re-reading it (probably the whole series) again sometime in the future — right now, I think "Half Blood Prince" is my favorite. I’m sure that Ms. Rowling will be under immense pressure to bring the characters back again, but I hope she doesn’t. There is grace in a well-told tale – especially one that was so satisfying and surprising throughout.