Of the 63 books I read this year, these are top 5 picks (in no particular order):
1. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Close Contender: The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
This novel is many things: beautifully written, haunting, dark, lyrical. It’s told in first-person omniscient, which is as interesting as it is ambitious, and it really amplifies the magical realism at play. The story, told by the novel’s namesake Ava Lavender, is a generational saga of women who are losers in love.
Trigger warning for violent sexual and physical assault.
2. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson did for me in this novel what I’d hoped Cheryl Strayed would do for me in Wild; I’d gone into reading Wild with more interest in the journey than the personal (the memoir was more about her dealing with grief and kicking heroin). Anyway, Bryson is a helluva guide! He’s personable, funny, and informative. He’s somebody I’d want to join on a hike.
Psssst! I would recommend reading Strayed’s essay “Heroin/e“.
3. Reunion by Hannah Pittard
I have a thing for dark comedies, and I happen to like unlikable characters. I think it’s all the wry observations and unapologetic poor life choices and increasing self-awareness that sells it for me. Kate Pulaski, the novel’s narrator, delivers all of these things over the course of four days as she reunites with her siblings (and many half-siblings from her father’s five ex-wives) after her father kills himself.
4. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
While I didn’t find this laugh-out-loud hilarious, I found myself grinning and nodding a lot; it is funny. It’s more satire (at Seattle and Microsoft culture’s expense) than mystery as we learn about Bernadette Fox (and a cast of other characters) via emails, documents, and other correspondence her daughter Bee assembles when Bernadette goes missing before a family trip to Antarctica.
5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Close Contender: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Despite the fact that the chapters are only a few pages long each, this is a slow-burn narrative. Each word deserves to be read carefully, lovingly, not just because the writing is so tactile and lovely (which believe me, it is; I felt like I could reach out and touch each scene) but because there are shifts in time and frequent switches in perspective; it’s a must in order to appreciate the interconnectedness Doerr has crafted in this novel featuring a young German soldier and a young, blind French woman against the backdrop of World War II.