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The Best Books of 2009

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Hey, when did Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong (on the PW list) come out? I've been waiting for it.

EDIT: Ah, it releases Dec. 2 for mere mortals like us.

Edited by Christian

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Scott Cairns' The End of Suffering is the most rewarding book I read this year, and it immediately became my favorite work on dealing with pain and suffering. I was there at the Glen Workshop when Scott gave the address that he later adapted and expanded into this book; it was thrilling then, and it's even better now. It's a poetic, beautiful little book, and I'm so glad Paraclete Press published it.

The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Our Pain

Scott Cairns (Paraclete)

Ask a poet—please—why God permits suffering, and you get a meditative fresh breath of a response, the beauty of which, like the great biblical reflections, provides sympathy and a tiny bit of relief.

Edited by Overstreet

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I just finished Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply, which is on the PW list, and cannot recommend it highly enough. It reminds me of the best works by DeLillo or Thomas H. Cook.

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I just finished Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply, which is on the PW list, and cannot recommend it highly enough. It reminds me of the best works by DeLillo or Thomas H. Cook.

I just got a copy of it and Pete Dexter's Spooner in the mail, both to review. I can't wait to read either.

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I just finished Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply, which is on the PW list, and cannot recommend it highly enough. It reminds me of the best works by DeLillo or Thomas H. Cook.

I just got a copy of it and Pete Dexter's Spooner in the mail, both to review. I can't wait to read either.

Where do your reviews appear, Jason?

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www.pop-damage.com

My friends Nate and Rima run the site, something they started as a labor of love after they graduated college.

I also post reviews on various public sites as I can when I get advance copies from Library Thing.

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Looking forward to your review of the Chaon novel, Jason. I read a ton of novels and while I enjoy nearly all of them, some resonate long after I've finished them in a way that most do not. It demands another reading where I'm not thinking about the mysteries of the plot. Sorry to all for overhyping this book, which I normally try to avoid.

Spooner sounds interesting as well. Train is the only thing of Dexter's I've read so far and Spooner seems as if it will be quite a departure.

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Looking forward to your review of the Chaon novel, Jason. I read a ton of novels and while I enjoy nearly all of them, some resonate long after I've finished them in a way that most do not. It demands another reading where I'm not thinking about the mysteries of the plot. Sorry to all for overhyping this book, which I normally try to avoid.

I've finished about a third of the novel and it's fantastic. There's a sheen of Lovecraftian dread seeped into the bones of the novel, even though it's nothing like a Lovecraft story.

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I've finished about a third of the novel and it's fantastic. There's a sheen of Lovecraftian dread seeped into the bones of the novel, even though it's nothing like a Lovecraft story.

I think you've nailed it with the word dread. I have not read any Lovecraft, though now I want to.

I associate that dread primarily with the novels of Thomas H. Cook, most notably Breakheart Hill. I don't know why I like this stuff like I do.

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Just finished Chaon's book. Wow. It was fantastic, and definitely deserves its own thread.

The library has the audiobook! I'm number 5 in the Holds queue.

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The New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2009, defined thusly:

The Book Review has made these selections from books reviewed since Dec. 7, 2008, when we published our previous Notables list. It was not easy picking the winners, and we doubtless made mistakes. To the authors who made the list: congratulations. To the equally deserving ones who did not: our apologies.

The ever expanding literary universe resists generalizing, but one heartening development has been the resurgence of the short story — and of the short-story writer. Twelve collections made our fiction list, and four biographies of short-story masters are on the nonfiction list.

Also, the three major Times book reviewers have their 10 best lists up, with this introductory, explanatory text:

We’ve seen certain patterns emerging. It’s been a bit of an off year, and the must-read milestones have been rare. There are fewer towering histories and biographies than usual. There’s more attention to a subject of newly urgent interest: finance. And if it’s been a disappointing year for certain major novelists, it has also brought a couple of unexpected, career-capping accomplishments from fiction writers in the mainstream.

Here's Michiko Kakutani's 10 Best list, (Terry Teachout's Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong makes her list!) Janet Maslin's list (including Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply, and Stephen King's latest) and Dwight Garner's list (which has Novella Carpenter's Farm City, a book I thoroughly enjoyed).

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I finished Yiyun Li's The Vagrants the other day, and was quite impressed. The novel tells the story of a beginnings of a rebellion in a small Chinese town that eventually led (according to the dust jacket) to the Tianenmen demonstrations. Li tells the story from multiple perspectives, but the characters are all distinctive and detailed, so it doesn't get confusing or boring. The insights she gives into how Communist society works were very interesting, too.

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Hey, when did Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong (on the PW list) come out? I've been waiting for it.

EDIT: Ah, it releases Dec. 2 for mere mortals like us.

Here's a Teachout post on the biography, which was cited as a top nonfiction book of the year by the New York Times (see link two posts above this one) a couple weeks ago, and is now named a top nonfiction book by the Book World staff at the Washington Post. Follow the link to see their top picks in several categories, including audiobooks and children's books.

Edited by Christian

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For laughs I thought I'd share my 10 favorite books that I read this year. There's fiction and non-fiction on this list, but I limited it to books published in 2009.

This is the fist year I kep a running list of the books I read--mainly because family obligations have severely limited my reading time this year so I wanted to be able to see what books I would still have time to read. I haven't gotten to the new ones from Pete Dexter, Columm McCann, Dave Zeltersman or Philip Caputo yet, so it is possible that they would knock off something listed here.

10. Bonnie Jo Campbell: American Salvage

9. Richard Lange: This Wicked World

8. Wells Tower: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

7. George Pelecanos: The Way Home

6. James Ellroy: Blood's A Rover

5. Adrian McKinty: Fifty Grand

4. Thomas H. Cook: The Fate of Katherine Carr

3. Jess Walters: The Financial Lives of the Poe

2. Joe Queenan: Closing Time

1. Dan Chaon: Await Your Reply

FWIW, any of my To 3 are good enough to be a favorite any other year.

My bent is primarily toward crime fiction, though I have Queenan's memoir and two collections of short stories on here. My biggest disappointments were the Lethem book we've discussed a bit as well as the crim fiction stabs from Thomas Pynchon and Denis Johnson.

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That's a pretty good list, Mr. Waugh. I'm still kind of scared of the Ellroy (I loved him when in my early 20s, but my taste has changed drastically since)...but I have to review it soon, so might as well get on the ball.

And, of course, good #1. Christian, have a chance to snag the audiobook yet?

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That's a pretty good list, Mr. Waugh. I'm still kind of scared of the Ellroy (I loved him when in my early 20s, but my taste has changed drastically since)...but I have to review it soon, so might as well get on the ball.

And, of course, good #1. Christian, have a chance to snag the audiobook yet?

I'm on disc 3. I like it! Not sure where it's going.

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I just realized I completely forgot about Arthur Phillips' The Song Is You, which I think is just about perfect as far as accomplishing what the author sets out to do. Or it least it was perfect for this past-his-prime pop music fan.

Jason, I went on an Ellroy bender from about the ages 18-22, and it abruptly ended upon the publication of The Cold Six Thousand. I was wary of Blood's A Rover and not really expecting to like it. This was compounded by the fact that I usually only have time to read these days after my kids go to sleep. The time I spend reading is time I am not sleeping, yet Ellroy's books don't really work unless they're read in large chunks. Thankfully, a cross-country roundtrip flight allowed me to get through it in two sittings. It's much different from what I expected as well as from his previous work. I'll be interested to hear what you think.

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A lament over the sameness of year-end lists, a call for more impassioned, personal choices, and an admission of one woman's favorite book of the year.

This author's concern can be applied to all year-end list-making -- books, movies, music.

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Hey, when did Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong (on the PW list) come out? I've been waiting for it.

EDIT: Ah, it releases Dec. 2 for mere mortals like us.

Here's a Teachout post on the biography, which was cited as a top nonfiction book of the year by the New York Times (see link two posts above this one) a couple weeks ago, and is now named a top nonfiction book by the Book World staff at the Washington Post. Follow the link to see their top picks in several categories, including audiobooks and children's books.

Tonight I finished Teachout's Pops. I'm delighted to have read it.

I don't read many biographies and am never sure what a biography should be. Teachout is pretty straightforward in telling Armstrong's story -- there are no great innovations here, nothing to make it seem like he's pushing the notion of the form. Just solid referencing of Armstrong's life and achievements. I don't know if it's the kind of book that wins literary awards, but I hope it wins a few more readers.

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Haven't read too much of what was published in 2009, but the ones I actually found better than expected from what I did read were -

Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir - by Christopher Buckley

The Death of Conservatism - by Sam Tanenhaus

and

The Football Fan's Manifesto - by Michael Tunison

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