From the Department of Fine Literature
A rather overly opinionated and, by its very nature, extremely selective look at what was the best (and briefly, worst) in literature this year. Note that your writer’s take on this is by no means exhaustive, given the sheer amount of books that were published this year. This is the best he was able to do, just a quick list of five great must-reads, and then some other highlights, broken down by category.
The Year in Books – 2006
THE TOP FIVE
1. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel – This has already graced numerous other best-of lists, and for good reason. Bechdel, a smart underground cartoonist best known for Dykes to Watch Out For, has produced a winning and finely etched graphic family memoir focused heavily on her fraught relationship with her controlling, closeted father. Proustian in its controlled beauty.
2. A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts – An expansive account of James Holman, aka The Blind Traveler, who circled the world in a harsh and unforgiving 19th century, later publishing bestselling accounts of his travels. It would be an unforgivable cliché to say that this book is a towering testament to the strength of the human spirit, but that’s exactly what it is.
3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy – A man and his son struggle down many titular roads in this spare and astoundingly horrific tale of the postapocalypse. The sadistic strain often prevalent in McCarthy’s fiction is downplayed here, even against the backdrop of cannibalistic violence, replaced by a welcome and touching emotionality. Overpowering.
4. Dangerous Nation by Robert Kagan – Studious scholar Kagan, in the first half of his duology on America’s place in the world, pokes a hole in the fatuous idea that America has always naively blundered into its international entanglements but instead often knew quite well what its imperialistic actions would lead to.
5. Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks – The Washington Post‘s military correspondent takes readers on a sobering, infuriating, point-by-point analysis of everything that went wrong in the Iraq War, from the infuriating casualness of the (non)planning to the haphazard execution of the occupation. The most essential book on the war to be published this year.
- The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley
- State of Denial by Bob Woodward
- The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman
- Conservatize Me by John Moe
- Memorial by Bruce Wagner
- The Nimrod Flipout by Etgar Keret
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
- Lisey’s Story by Stephen King
Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi – Thinly developed autobiographical family shtick from the author of the wildly overpraised Persepolis; graphic fiction for those who feel as those they’re above that sort of thing.
Best Allegorical Sci-fi/Fantasy
Everfree by Nick Sagan – The conclusion of the futuristic trilogy by Nick Sagan (Carl’s son) goes off-track about halfway through, but before then it’s an uncomfortably honest depiction of the baseness of human nature in the face of species-threatening catastrophe.
The Absolute Sandman by Neal Gaiman – DC Comics finally gave in to graphic novel maestro Gaiman’s long-standing request to redo the color and art on early issues of his masterful Sandman, and reissued the first 18 of them in a gorgeous, leatherbound, slipcased edition that belongs on every fantasy lover’s shelf.
Homicide by David Simon – The 15th anniversary reissue of this phenomenal landmark of true-crime and urban historical reportage serves to highlight how good history has been to Simon’s thrilling, entertaining, and wise-cracking account of spending a year with Baltimore homicide detectives. It doesn’t get better than this.