Reading The Master was an unexpected
pleasure. I was not particularly attached to Henry James (though
this novel has provoked a renewed interest), nor am I often fond
of historical or biographical fiction.
The Master surpasses such stereotypes. Tóibín's
depiction of James is a nuanced, emotional portrait of an almost
unknowable figure the artist in a life more imagined than
lived. Tóibín's pacing and prose are exquisite; his
novel is a graceful, thoughtful meditation on writing and philosophy,
as well as an astute exercise in psychology. Its resonance has
continued all year long.
it was hard to narrow down my list to just five"best of" picks,
I didn't have to think twice about what would be my favorite book
of the year. In Cloud Atlas Mitchell again uses the format of connecting short
stories with recurring motifs into a larger, almost epic narrative
that spans the globe and centuries of human history. Filled with
wonderful characters, effortless shifts in style, and more imagination
than you can shake a stick at, Cloud Atlas will be a tough book
for its author to top. Personally, I cannot wait to see him try.
very little to add to the praise that has already been heaped on
The Plot against America. That most esteemed critic, Harold Bloom,
has already called it a wise and fascinating book. Why do you need
my opinion? Still, with a new Roth novel hitting the shelves every
year, it's impossible to keep up. Readers must be asking themselves,
why read this one? The answer is that Philip Roth's twenty-seventh
book is different from anything he's published before.
by Seymour M. Hersh
Coming of the Third Reich
by Richard J. Evans
Line of Beauty
by Alan Hollinghurst
know you shouldn't recommend books that you are only halfway
through, but this is such a lush tapestry of a book I can't
resist. Like a moist, rich chocolate torte, Strange and
Norrell is the
sort of book you ration out to avoid finishing it too soon. If
you need more convincing, Neil Gaiman calls it "unquestionably
the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last
I found Funke's work two years ago, she has become one of my favorite
children's fantasy writers. Her award-winning debut novel (in English
translation), The Thief Lord, was followed by Inkheart and even
a children's picture book, Princess Knight each story very
different but equally very good. One reason: Cornelia Funke never
talks down to her target audience, using agile language and a breadth
of vocabulary (a success partly due to her excellent translator). Dragon
Rider is no exception to the rule it's a fast and exceptionally
fun read, and comes highly recommended by both my son and me.
and often howlingly funny but insistently generous A
Complicated Kindness introduces sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel, straining under
the pressure of family, boys, and authority, common enough conflicts
drawn here in extravagant, heartrending detail.
1. Hash by
One of Sweden's most
revered authors, Torgny Lindgren takes you places you would never
have expected to go. Startling black humor abounds in this novel
about two men's countryside search for the perfect serving of
hash. Including characters such as a voyeur with an absolutely
symmetrical physique and an amnesiac Nazi war criminal, Lindgren's
imagination is its own universe. Book lovers should take note
of his amazing (and underappreciated)
book is all about demystifying classic bistro cooking with
the right direction, you can do as well as any newbie-professional
cook working in Tony's kitchen for the first time. If you've ever
had reservations about cooking foie gras aux pruneaux or wanted
a fun lesson in preparing escargots aux noix, this is the book
a close one. However, as hugely engrossing and wildly entertaining
as Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Little Children were, the
book that affected me most in 2004 was David Benioff's first-rate
collection. I'm not generally inclined toward short stories, but
Benioff's are beautifully, concisely written, and he manages to
keep his characters alive and his emotions resonant. His stories
have stayed with me months later. A must-read, especially for those
who believe the short story form is dead and irrelevant.
This is an amazing distillation of Retired Special
Forces Officer Stan Goff's experiences and insights on foreign
policy and revolution. He pulls no punches when exposing the fact
that the American standard of living comes at the expense of exploited
peoples around the globe. He is equally ruthless when declaring
that the American Empire is nearing collapse.
Ackerman writes with grace and wisdom. Her prose is lyrical, sensuous,
and utterly charming. I've never been disappointed in a work by
Ackerman, but Alchemy of Mind takes the cake. Here she covers neurochemistry
and -physiology and the concept of mind spanning more than just
gray matter. With her trademark personal style, one that is wrought
with broad experience and knowledge, Ackerman writes about the
very nature of our deepest selves and all of the daily realities
that go along with "owning" a human brain.
Because twenty Top 50 lists would be too much eye strain for
even the most dedicated book lover, we've whittled our favorites down to five
a look at the year's top books and find some excellent recommendations for
gifts or your own library.
See also: Staff Top 5s from 2003
you start a novel with a protagonist selecting any book they want
from a place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, you're going
to get a bookseller's attention. Ruiz Zafón's novel works
on so many levels for me. As a story, it resonates emotionally,
with strong characters that I always looked forward to returning
to. On another level, it makes me want to visit Barcelona, where
much of the book is set. This one's a keeper!
I love all of Ina Garten's
cookbooks but this one changed my holiday life this year. Hollandaise
over asparagus is a family Thanksgiving must and for years I've
made it just like my mother did copper bottomed pan, wooden
spoon, and what seemed like hours stirring, stirring, stirring,
very cold butter into the pan to get just the right consistency
of buttery-lemony goodness. Ina Garten's recipe for hollandaise
takes minutes, throws my whole sense of how to make a good hollandaise
on its head, and is divine (as are all the other recipes of hers
I've ever tried)! Plus, there's something about her style that
makes you wish she were one of your best friends truly
the sign of a great cookbook writer.
makes Atkinson's award-winning debut and her subsequent writing
so beguiling is her ability to delicately measure humor and pathos always a
tricky balance. Her language is so playful and inventive that when
we are suddenly spun around to view a bloody death, or to peek
at the despair of loneliness there is a jolt a sudden intake
of breath....You will never want this book to end, yet, like the
best mystery novel, you'll stay up all night to find out exactly
how it does.
into my gnawing pondering of Istanbul and abounding with fun
in Kyrgyzstan, the lively characters and engaging journeys inhabiting
Robert Rosenberg's autobiographical debut novel make up the only "read-straight-though" fiction
that I have come across this year.
1. Gilead by
A story about faith, love, history, and
growing old, this book is poignant and lovely. It is a long letter
from a father who thinks he is soon to die to his seven-year-old
son. Robinson's command of language, her deep understanding of
humanity, and her own religious study come together in this outstanding
novel. It was worth the twenty-year wait.
Ware by Daniel Raeburn
in sentiment to artist Joseph Cornell's three-dimensional work,
Chris Ware's drawings and sculpture remind me of enchanting collections
of objects lost and found. In this new monograph, Daniel Raeburn
closely examine's Ware's work methods and innovations and discusses
the connections between Ware's most well-known character, Jimmy
Corrigan, and that of his creator. Check out The
Acme Novelty Datebook for more personal insight into his talent
The story of the"Italian boy" murder
case was fodder for many of the lurid body-snatching tales that
later emerged from the pens of Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, and
Bram Stoker. This absorbing narrative evokes Fagin and Bill Sykes,
the charred alleys, tottering hovels, droves of beggars, prostitutes,
and low drinking dives of Oliver Twist or Bleak House. Snappy writing,
excellent research, and vivid descriptions make this an extremely
Readers energized by the suspense and adventure
of The Perfect Storm and Into Thin Air will be captivated by this
remarkable account of wreck diving and discovery. Interweaving
the excitement of locating a previously undiscovered WWII German
submarine wreck off the coast of New Jersey, the dangers of deep-sea
diving, and the sleuthing undertaken by two divers to discover
the U-boat's identity, Kurson narrates a compelling story in which
lives are lost and history is rewritten.
The Confusion was my favorite tome of the
Baroque Cycle. Who wouldn't love a 17th-century story that features
powerful women, preeminent natural philosophers, Louis XIV, and of
course, The King of the Vagabonds?
An absolutely fascinating biography of a brilliant
Victorian woman, her times, and her hugely interesting family.
Florence struggled successfully against all the conventions of
her time and Gill tells her story with nuance, skill, and empathy.
This is one of the best biographies of 2004.
prose gives a vivid portrait of the friendship that she and Lucy
Grealy shared. I applaud Patchett's honesty and her refusal to
gloss over the difficulties of their friendship. When I found out
that Lucy Grealy had died, I was stunned and saddened. She was
so full of genius and passionate beauty. I am grateful Patchett
chose to give the world this book.