1. Home, by Marilynne Robinson (2008): Robinson won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for the powerful, atmospheric Gilead, which offered the reflections of Congregationalist minister John Ames on the lives of his pacifist father and radical abolitionist grandfather. Another reflection on faith and family, Home is a companion novel to Gilead, addressing the life of the aging and ailing Reverend Robert Boughton (dear friend of John Ames), his loyal daughter, and his rebellious son. According to A.O. Scott's New York Times review, Home "is a book unsparing in its acknowledgment of sin and unstinting in its belief in the possibility of grace. It is at once hard and forgiving, bitter and joyful, fanatical and serene. It is a wild, eccentric, radical work of literature that grows out of the broadest, most fertile, most familiar native literary tradition. What a strange old book it is."
2. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein (2003): Big Boy was given this children's picture book, winner of the 2004 Caldecott Medal, by his Oma. This luminous, heart-stopping book tells the story of Philippe Petit, a Frenchman who walked between the two towers of the World Trade Center on a tightrope in the summer of 1974. Reverent, but never maudlin, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers celebrates Petit's spirit of adventure and pays homage to the now fallen towers. I still get goosebumps every time I read it to my sons. If you have a child, if you know a child, treat her - and yourself - to a copy of this remarkable book.
3. The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan (2006): I came to The Omnivore's Dilemma later than many, but I nevertheless found Pollan's exploration of the industrial, organic, and local food chains fascinating. His tale is both fascinating and fluid and I eagerly joined him on his adventures through a feed lot and on a hunt for mushrooms. According to Bunny Crumpacker's review in The Washington Post, Pollan's "approach is steeped in honesty and self-awareness. His cause is just, his thinking is clear, and his writing is compelling."4. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (2006): I would not necessarily recommend reading this book while eight months pregnant and on bedrest (as I did). After all, McCarthy's 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner is perhaps the bleakest book I've ever read. Reading it made me cry out of fear, suspense, terror, and sadness. The Road presents the story of a father and son wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape searching for other "good people," but encountering mostly desolation and roving bands of cannibals. Despite the grim gravity of the novel, it is perfectly written and presents a tremendously moving and ultimately transcendent picture of parent-child love. (Please note that, despite my deep and abiding affection for Viggo Mortensen - who, in 2001 replaced Harrison Ford as my all-time celebrity crush - I do not plan to see the recently released movie version of The Road. The mental images from this particular novel, which I have not been able to shake since reading it, are more than enough for me.)
Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008): Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri is probably my favorite living author. (What was up with me and Pulitzer Prize winning authors in 2009? Hmm...) On the surface, her subject matter is the experience of Bengali immigrants and especially the intergenerational challenges between immigrants and their children. But Lahiri's milieu is far wider-ranging. Like so many Vermeers, her short stories in this collection deal with the everyday with a touch that is both deft and revelatory. With sensitivity and eloquence, she paints tales that leave me hollow and full all at the same time.
6.Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott (1993): I've written before about the impossibility of preparing for parenthood until you've actually lived it, but if there is a book that even hints at the transcendence, power, humility, rage, exhaustion, and humor that one experiences in the early days of motherhood, it is Operating Instructions. I wrote earlier this week about my newfound fondness for Anne Lamott, and here her discerning eye and truth-o-scope are in full effect. I believe this book should be required reading for all prospective parents - and all new parents who wish to feel validated, encouraged, and heard.
What was the best book you read in 2009?