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Topic: Washington Post Best Books of 2009

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Subject: Washington Post Best Books of 2009
Date Posted: 12/13/2009 3:43 PM ET
Member Since: 7/22/2009
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The Washington Post Book World published its Best of 2009 today. Thought some of you might be interested. I copied the HF books after the Top Ten and included the link to the complete issue at the bottom of the post.

10 Best Books of the Year:


AMERICAN RUST, by Philipp Meyer (Spiegel & Grau, $24.95). This powerful novel about two poor young men caught up in the murder of a homeless man scrapes beneath today's economic headlines to show us a community corroded by poverty and despair. -- Ron Charles

A GATE AT THE STAIRS, by Lorrie Moore (Knopf, $25.95). Profound reflections on marriage and parenthood, racism and terrorism, and especially the baffling, hilarious, brutal initiation to adult life. -- Ron Charles

THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE, by Orhan Pamuk, translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely (Knopf, $28.95). Although it can be read as a simple romance, this is a richly complicated work. Masterfully translated, spellbindingly told, a resounding confirmation that Orhan Pamuk is one of the great novelists of his generation. -- Marie Arana

THE STALIN EPIGRAM, by Robert Littell (Simon & Schuster, $26). In what may be his finest novel, Littell dramatizes the horrific events that followed after the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam wrote a 16-line epigram that attacked the all-powerful Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. -- Patrick Anderson

WOLF HALL, by Hilary Mantel (Henry Holt, $27). A brilliant portrait of a society in the throes of disorienting change, anchored by a penetrating character study of Henry VIII's formidable adviser Thomas Cromwell. -- Wendy Smith


FAMILY PROPERTIES: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America, by Beryl Satter (Metropolitan, $30). A penetrating examination of financial discrimination. The most important book yet written on the black freedom struggle in the urban North. -- David J. Garrow

HALF THE SKY: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Knopf, $27.95). Opens our eyes to an enormous humanitarian issue and does so with exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material. This is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed. -- Carolyn See

POPS: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30). An exceptional biography of, in Teachout's lovely phrase, "a major-key artist." -- Louis Bayard

STITCHES: A Memoir, by David Small (Norton, $24.95). A shockingly candid illustrated memoir of one family's legacy of anger and repression and sadism. -- Michael Sims

A STRANGE EVENTFUL HISTORY: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, and Their Remarkable Families, by Michael Holroyd (Farrar Straus Giroux, $40). A completely delicious and wickedly entertaining biography of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, the queen and king of 19th-century English theater. -- Michael Dirda

Best Historical Fiction:

ALL OTHER NIGHTS, by Dara Horn (Norton, $24.95). Horn sends her fascinatingly conflicted Jewish protagonist, a Union soldier ordered to murder his uncle, roaming across a Civil War-torn landscape. - WS

THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER, by Eugenia Kim. (Henry Holt, $26). This sensitive first novel depicts 30 years of Korea's modern history in light of its ancient past. - Sybil Steinberg

THE CHILDREN'S BOOK, by A.S. Byatt (Knopf, $26.95). That Byatt marries this novel of ideas with such compelling characters testifies to her remarkable spinning energy. - Keith Donohue

THE CORAL THIEF, by Rebecca Stott (Spiegel & Grau, $25). Treasure may be at the heart of Stott's mystery, but fossils and corals are equally precious in this hybrid novel of action and ideas. - Anna Mundow

DAY AFTER NIGHT, by Anita Diamant (Scribner, $27). Based on an actual event - the rescue of more than 200 detainees from Atlit in October 1945 - "Day After Night" demonstrates the power of fiction to illuminate the souls of people battered by the forces of history. - WS

THE ELEPHANT KEEPER, by Christopher Nicholson (Morrow, $24.99). "The Elephant Keeper" is a strange tour of late 18th-century England, a natural history of elephants and the story of a most unusual friendship, all told with a touch of the otherworldly elegance and wit of Babar. - RC

FAR BRIGHT STAR, by Robert Olmstead (Algonquin, $23.95). "Far Bright Star" makes the reader bleed with the characters and sweat with the intensity of the sun. - Sandra Dallas

FOUR FREEDOMS, by John Crowley (Morrow, $25.95). Through his wide-ranging imagination and precise prose, Crowley re-creates life on the home front during World War II - its culture, its sexual mores, its dominant air of uncertainty - with seemingly effortless fidelity. - BS

GIRL IN A BLUE DRESS: A Novel Inspired by the Life & Marriage of Charles Dickens, by Gaynor Arnold (Crown, $25.99). A moving story about the special burden of loving a universally adored man. - RC

HONOLULU, by Alan Brennert (St. Martin's, $24,95). This meticulously researched and dynamic story describes the life of a young girl against the unique history of early 20th-century Hawaii. - Krista Walton

LIMA NIGHTS, by Marie Arana (Dial, $25). This tale of a love affair that crosses ethnic, generational and class lines moves toward a climax that is both unpredictable and inevitable. - Frances Itani

THE LITTLE STRANGER, by Sarah Waters (Riverhead, $26.95). In this deliciously creepy tale, a malevolent force moves through a crumbling mansion in which live the final two siblings of a faded great family. - RC

NEW YORK, by Edward Rutherfurd (Doubleday, $30). What makes this novel so entertaining is the riotous, multilayered portrait of a whole metropolis. - Brigitte Weeks

A RELIABLE WIFE, by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin, $23.95). I'm reminded of Edgar Allan Poe's stories with their claustrophobic atmosphere, hyper-maudlin tone and the extravagant suffering that borders on garishness. - RC

THE ROSE OF SEBASTOPOL, by Katharine McMahon (Putnam, $24.95). A beautifully drawn story about a young English woman who goes looking for her sister, stepbrother and fiancé on the battlefield of the Crimean War. - Philippa Gregory

SASHENKA, by Simon Montefiore (Simon & Schuster, $27), is an historical whodunit, set in 20th-century Russia and with the epic sweep of a Hollywood movie. - Malena Watrous

A SEPARATE COUNTRY, by Robert Hicks (Grand Central, $25.99) This riveting novel takes up one-legged Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood's life after the Civil War. - Charlotte Hays

TIN DRUM, by Gunter Grass, (HMH, $26) With a magic-realist brio, "The Tin Drum," newly translated by Breon Mitchell, mixes fantasy, gallows humor, several pathetic love stories, a tragic family saga, a classic bildungsroman and a powerful account of how great political events affect - usually disastrously - a small group of ordinary people. - MD

THE VAGRANTS, by Yiyun Li (Random House, $24). This powerful, thoughtful novel about two young women in modern China is a revelation. - CS

WANTING, by Richard Flanagan (Atlantic Monthly, $24). Flanagan charts the wreckage done by people convinced that repressing their desires - and others' - is the key to civilization. - RC

THE WET NURSE'S TALE, by Erica Eisdorfer (Putnam, $24.95). "The Wet Nurse's Tale" turns out to be informative, unusual and intelligent. - CS

THE WHITE QUEEN, by Philippa Gregory (Touchstone, $25.99). Gregory has a deft hand with historical imagination, making the most of ancient mysteries. - Diane Gabaldon

WOODSBURNER, by John Pipkin (Doubleday, $24.95). This ingenious novel describes the awful day that Henry David Thoreau accidentally burned down 300 acres around Concord, Mass. - RC

Here's the link to the complete issue: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/artsandliving/features/2008/holiday-guide/gifts/best-books-of-2009/

Date Posted: 12/13/2009 6:07 PM ET
Member Since: 10/29/2005
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From the list, I've only read "American Rust" and "Honolulu", both of which I thought were good reads, but neither would have made my top list of 2009.

I have many of these on my wishlist though: The Museum of Innocence, The Calligrapher's Daughter, A Seperate Country, The Children's Book, The Coral Thief, Girl in A Blue Dress, New York, and The Wet Nurses' Tale. I really want to read them all, but I'm most looking forward to "New York" because I love books set in old NY and I've heard this is one of Rutherfurd's best so far. I hope it's good!

I'm also really looking forward to reading "A Separate Country". I hope it's as good as "The Widow of the South"; loved that one.

Oh, just saw another I've read - A Reliable wife. I enjoyed this one, mainly because it was dark and full of nasty, despicable characters. Don't know why I'm drawn to this type of book, but I am and this was a good one, I thought. I doubt everyone would love this book though, especially if you need characters you can like in your books. You won't find those here, that's for sure. ;-)

I have a few of these on my TBR. Looks like I need to move some to the top of the pile, especially "The Little Stranger" and "Wolf Hall".


Thanks for posting this! I adore looking at these "Best of" lists. Some of these I hadn't heard of, you may have made my wishlist even longer.


Is "The Tin Drum" by Gunter Grass a new book? I feel like I read that one ages ago. Maybe I'm confused, certainly possible.

Date Posted: 12/13/2009 6:18 PM ET
Member Since: 12/10/2005
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Thanks for posting this, Deb! I put a couple on my WL.

Date Posted: 12/13/2009 6:39 PM ET
Member Since: 7/22/2009
Posts: 2,617
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No, Valli -- you're not confused. You probably did read The Tin Drum ages ago -- this year marks the 50th anniversary of its publication. The reason it's on this list is that this is a new translation.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've read only one of the books on this list, Girl in a Blue Dress, which I really liked, even though it portrays one of my favorite authors (Dickens) in a poor light. But I'm a sucker for almost anything set in Victorian England.

So, yeah, more books for the WL... (sigh)

Date Posted: 12/13/2009 9:41 PM ET
Member Since: 7/15/2008
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Funny, The Coral Thief was soooo slow I couldn't even finish it at the gym whilst doing cardio (that is one sloooow big IMHO). Wolf Hall, very very good but not my all time fav. Honolulu and The White Queen, meh. I recall The Wet Nurses Tale from the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and didn't like the excerpt and want to see what came of it one of these days. A Separate c?ountry? Haven't decided. The reviews on Amazon are so over the place I don't know. Girl in a Blue Dress I had out one time from the library but things were out of control and people were waiting so I returned it for another day....

Date Posted: 12/13/2009 11:17 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I really liked Honolulu - I recommended it to my inlaws and it was their favorite book they read this year.

I also read Lima NIghts which I didn't really care for. I have The Little Stranger on my night stand.

The one I want to read most on that list is Stitches by David Small

Last Edited on: 12/13/09 11:18 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/14/2009 9:14 AM ET
Member Since: 4/23/2008
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I haven't read a one of them!  Wolf Hall is on my shelf waiting to be read, and I've got The White Queen and Girl In A Blue Dress on my wishlist.  At a cursory glance, nothing else is intriguing me.  I'll wait for raves here on VF and then put the books that get them on my wishlist.

Date Posted: 12/14/2009 9:50 AM ET
Member Since: 3/8/2009
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Boy, do I feel dumb! Not only have I not read any of the books on the list, the only one I have even heard of is The White Queen.  I guess I just don't get around enough!

Date Posted: 12/14/2009 10:21 AM ET
Member Since: 8/17/2009
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I haven't read a one of them.  Two are on my WL.

I wonder why Wolf Hall was listed as fiction, rather than historical fiction.  Too "literary" to be genre fiction, perhaps?

Last Edited on: 12/14/09 11:18 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/14/2009 10:30 AM ET
Member Since: 8/31/2007
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Actually a lot of them are either on my WL or TBR.  I cruise Publishers Weekly, well, weekly.

Date Posted: 12/14/2009 10:31 AM ET
Member Since: 6/5/2007
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Wow! This one: THE STALIN EPIGRAM, by Robert Littell (Simon & Schuster, $26). In what may be his finest novel, Littell dramatizes the horrific events that followed after the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam wrote a 16-line epigram that attacked the all-powerful Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. -- Patrick Anderson looks absolutely fantastic. I can't believe I didn't hear about it.  On my WL

Date Posted: 12/14/2009 10:33 AM ET
Member Since: 5/27/2005
Posts: 2,416
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We have 3 or 4 of these on the TBR,  two or three on the WL, and several others on the "we need to think about" list.  The only one I've read is A Separate Country.  It was interesting, but not one I even recommended to Kelly.  It just seemed like a long sympathetic look at John Bell Hood, in the hope of forgiving his disasterous command at the Battle of Franklin.  Having read Widow of the South, Kelly and I were very excited about being able to visit the Confederate Cemetery and Carnton plantation at Franklin a couple of weeks ago - a wonderful tour.  I asked the tour guide how the people at Franklin viewed Hood.  His immediate response - "Negative" - and he mentioned Separate Country and commented that it was very sympathetic to Hood.  In the absence of any author's notes, I wonder how accurate it is.


Date Posted: 12/14/2009 10:37 AM ET
Member Since: 8/31/2007
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Mimi, you're right.  I love WWII-era Russian fiction.  May need to throw that one on my WL as well.

Date Posted: 12/14/2009 12:03 PM ET
Member Since: 5/27/2005
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Loved Diana Gabaldon's one-liner about The White Queen - "Gregory has a deft hand with historical imagination, making the most of ancient mysteries."

... deft hand with historical imagination ... !!! Yeah, I'd say !!!


Date Posted: 12/14/2009 1:07 PM ET
Member Since: 6/5/2007
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Bwahahahahahaha! I LOVE it.

Date Posted: 12/14/2009 1:15 PM ET
Member Since: 6/1/2007
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The only one I've read is The White Queen.  I have A Separate Country on my TBR and Wolf Hall, Honolulu and New York on my WL/Reminder list.  I was going to get New York at B&N til I saw the $30 price tag.  Same for Under the Dome by Stephen King.  No way am I paying that much I don't care how thick the book is!

Date Posted: 12/14/2009 3:19 PM ET
Member Since: 12/10/2005
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Too funny!

It must be tough for authors to critique other authors. Awkward, I bet, if the critique is honest and deserved.

Date Posted: 12/14/2009 3:20 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2008
Posts: 1,976
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Holly, on the B&N website NewYork is $17.55.  I have a gift card and that's what I want.

I've read The White Queen, The Wet Nurse is on my TBR and New York  and Day After Night are on my WL.  I'll have to check into the rest of them

Date Posted: 12/14/2009 5:57 PM ET
Member Since: 9/19/2006
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I've read The White Queen and Honolulu.  I thought they were good, but wouldn't make my favorite list for the year.  I have A Reliable Wife on my TBR with a couple others on my WL.