I was reviewing the list of books I read for pleasure this year, and these are the ones I loved the most. In chronological order:
The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow
Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John Le Carre
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilentz
Sophie's Choice by William Styron
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John F. Harris
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
and, the book I am currently reading, which is phenomenal and a great finish to the year:
Look At Me by Jennifer Egan
There's a lot to be said about each of these books. The Budnitz collection has some of the creepiest and most unnerving short fiction I've ever read. The Le Carre helped me get through that godawful pre-marriage Catholic retreat weekend upstate. The Wilentz memoir was my companion through an amazing few days in Utah and Nevada with James. The Smith and Ford novels reminded me of the gifts and power of two of the best people writing today.
All in all, I think Sophie's Choice was the best book I read all year. The scope of this book astounded me: from the Auschwitz to post-war Brooklyn to my beloved Virginia. At times I felt the narrator, a young man, was me. Styron created characters with such depth, so many layers... the book was ambitious and precise and humane, I loved it.
William Styron died this year, a couple of months after I read the book. I read his other big book, The Confessions of Nat Turner, in 2002 and was similarly dazzled. Now I can't wait to read his other work, especially Lie Down in Darkness and Darkness Visible. On to 2007!
Coming soon: top songs of the year. And believe me, I have been thinking about this selection for a long time.