I find most year-end lists competitive and confusing. How can something be the “best” if you haven’t read every single book that was published? If you loved 25 books, how many are you tackling annually, 500? I’m no physicist, but as someone whose only interest is reading a lot, the math seems improbable. I don’t know what’s “best,” and could do away with “favorite,” but here are 5 books from the past year that won’t leave my mind.
Unbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm. Opens on a young woman in a disappointing Paris. You think you’ve read books like this? You haven’t. The beautifully-written, surprising origin story of a femme fatale.
The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr. Karr is that one person in the world I’m scared of meeting, because I like the idea of her so much that real life could only disappoint. A master storyteller, a pistol, and your number one cheerleader. She tells us that finding her writing voice was as arduous as task as laying railroad ties, then yanks that art out of its bejeweled case so you can roll up your sleeves and hammer away until you, too, nail it down.
The Seven Good Years, by Etgar Keret. Keret is not only one of our funniest living writers, I admire how he discusses Israel without always feeling the need to expound on his cultural burden. That’s not to say we don’t feel it, but these stories, which take place between the birth of Keret’s son and the death of his father, transcend politics.
The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. I’m glad my love for space trumped my knee-jerk aversion to anything about the apocalypse. I’m ashamed to say this is my first Faber, as it is supposedly his last novel, but I can’t wait to comb through the rest of his rich catalog. Buy it in its UK hardcover version and leave it out for compliments.
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up, by Marie Kondo. Don’t scoff. I’ve moved 30some times, and owning stuff (other than books!) makes me anxious. Having stuff means keeping track of it, and taking care of it, which I find unbearably stressful. Shopping is like going to the dentist (although I enjoy going to the dentist – to clean out all that toothy stuff). Every piece of paper that comes through our door goes directly to recycling or a task pile, which is almost a flawless system except for the few times I’ve shredded my bonus check and called accounting to ask for it again again. Acquiring a baby and his endless to-do-list only made me want to get rid of every single thing we own, other than the baby. Marie Kondo has redefined me as not-crazy, and codified not only how we organize our house and lives, but how we make purchases moving forward. This book, to me, is the ultimate relaxation technique.