1. Probation by Tom Mendicino: This book begins with a bang. A married man’s life is turned upside down when he’s arrested for getting a blow job at a rest stop in North Carolina. The court sentences him to a year’s probation and mandated counseling for sex addiction, with the stipulation that if he can make it a year without getting arrested again, his record will be expunged. I very much liked the bitter, sarcastic narrative voice and the level of detail. The action flagged a bit as the book went on, and the upbeat ending left me suspicious.
2. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara: A dramatization of the Battle of Gettysburg. The book was fun to read, like an entertaining history lesson, if a bit dry. Many of the famous soldiers like Robert E. Lee were well-sketched, though there were so many names and battles going on, I kept getting lost.
3. The Curse of the Appropriate Man by Lynn Freed: Just a fantastic, sharp collection of short stories, charged with sex and laced with biting humor. My favorite story, about a South African exchange student staying with a stereotypical Jewish family in New York, made me laugh and cry at the same time.
4. A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee: This beautifully written novel takes up the point of view of a morally compromised Japanese immigrant living in Massachusetts. Now a bored retiree, the main character attempts to sort through his memories and current failed relationships. I was with this book all the way until the ending, which felt too abrupt. I didn’t quite buy it. Still, it was an elegant read.
5. Controlled Burn by Scott Wolven: Why aren’t more people reading Scott Wolven? His rough-edged short stories about hardscrabble lives on the margins of society are written in crisp, honest, precise prose that startles on each page. These stories take you to places that aren’t often visited in American fiction.
6. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisburger: The main character has a bone to pick with her abusive boss, the high-powered editor of the world’s leading fashion magazine. I have a bone to pick with Weisburger. Whenever the editor appears on the page, I’m riveted. Whenever the abused minion is left to her own devices, whining about her boyfriend, eating chips on the couch with her best friend, I’m flipping ahead to get back to the devilishly stinging portrait of the mean boss. Which begs the question, shouldn’t Weisburger be grateful to her famous former boss for providing her with such great material?
7. Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman: If you find Sarah Silverman’s shtick funny and adorable, as I do, you’ll laugh at much of this book. The frankness with which Silverman described her betwetting and early years was fun to read as well. As the book went on, however, it lost its way, skating too quickly over Silverman’s adult years.
8. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: One of the reasons Atwood is such a genius of a writer is the fact that she can create such convincing characters and dialogue in such fantastical settings. Sci-fi writers ought to be required to read and study her. Literary writers ignore her at their own peril. I didn’t like this book as much as its “companion novel,” Year of the Flood, which I found more exquisitely detailed and emotionally involving, but this book pulled me in and didn’t let me go.
9. The BFG by Roald Dahl: Dahl is great. This book was just okay. I’d rather have re-read his classic novel Mathilda.
10. I tried to read Great Expectations by Kathy Acker, but the prose was too flat for me. I gave it up after a few pages.