Saturday, December 10, 2005

Blogcritics Name the Best Books of 2005

The challenge to our superior cabal was to pick the single book they first encountered in 2005 that most impressed them. The eleven winners (and the BlogCritics who selected them) are listed below, in the order in which they were nominated.

Don't be shy! Make your vote count, too — write-in candidates are welcome!

1. Meryl: The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steven Leveen
This is my favorite book for 2005 because it's all about books and I love books. So mix the two and I can't help but choose this one. It also motivated me to change how I keep my list of books that I've read. The book listed a few others and I've either bought them or plan to buy them.

2. Tim Gebhart: Saturday by Ian McEwan
"Quite simply, a masterpiece." The basic premise is a Saturday in the life of a London neurosurgeon that goes horribly wrong. The vulnerability we feel in post-9/11 life and the debate over the still-on-the-horizon Iraq war provide an undercurrent of tension. Yet McEwan layers a sense of elusive foreboding and unease with activities of everyday life — a squash game, a minor car accident, cooking dinner. Moreover, his insight into human emotion and the powers of music and poetry make this so much more than just a novel. It has been years since I read a book that caused me to go back and reread sentences, paragraphs and entire sections because of their simple brilliance and power.

3. Bill Wallo: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
A confident, masterful contemporary fantasy by Gaiman, whose earlier books have tantalized millions of fans with an often humorous mixture of myth, mayhem, and magic. Anansi Boys is Gaiman at his best, spinning a delicious tale of the twin sons of a man who was once a spider — and a god as well.

4. Alpha: Distant Neighbors by Alan Riding
Mexico is not America with a Spanish accent, but a sovereign nation with a very different history, culture, legal system, and set of ethics and values. Mexicans may like the Smallville TV series and the Superman movies ; but "truth, justice, and the American way" are not the Mexican way. Riding's insights are often profound, his knowledge worth the read. As Americans, even after nearly a decade here in Mexico; the reality of a culture so mired in bribes and mordida at all levels is beyond our world view. Riding makes a valiant attempt to explain the culture from history to family life to its famed corruption. His insights are often profound, his knowledge worth the read.

5. Anna Creech: The Steerswoman's Road by Rosemary Kirstein
I first heard about this book (and the rest of the series) earlier this year when some fellow science fiction fans recommended it to me. [See Blogcritics review. -DrPat] The plot intrigued me, and I was immediately entranced by the story. The main character, Rowan, seeks the origin of some unusual jewels found scattered across the known world, a quest continually blocked by wizards who do not want to share their knowledge. In the end, we discover the wizards' work is actually technology we would recognize, expanding on Arthur C. Clarke's proposal that any sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Kirstein created compelling characters and a plot so well-written that I could not put the book down until I was finished. I love a good mystery and good sci-fi. This book combines both very well.

Note: This book was originally published as two separate volumes, The Steerswoman and The Outskirter's Secret.

6. Gypsyman: Armies of Hanuman by Ashok K. Banker
Over the years I've discovered my criteria for what makes a good book has changed. I used to look at intellectual challenge and stimulation as a primary means of judgment. It was a few years back that I began to reappreciate the well-told story. Plot, character, and atmosphere have become more important than deconstruction and intellectual concepts. That is why I have picked Ashok Banker's fourth volume in his massive undertaking, retelling the 3000-year-old Ramayana, which traces the story of one of the great heroes of India, Prince Rama. Armies of Hanuman includes all the elements I desire in a good story: well-written characters I can empathise with; a story line that is clear but challenging to follow; introspection from characters and the reader; and finally, an old-fashioned good read.

7. Parker Owens: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
I originally read The Historian because I wanted to find out what it was about the book that made it earn a $2 million advance. I never in a million years thought I would actually finish this very large book (close to 700 pages). Everything in the reviews is true — it is difficult to distinguish character povs, and the book suffers from too many coincidences. Many have felt the book dragged in spots. Still, I finished the book, and enjoyed it, and it lived up to its hype. It just goes to show you that storytelling is king. If you've got a good story, it will be published even if it doesn't follow all the latest standards of modern authoring.

[No Blogcritics review — but check here for news of the award won by Kostova in October.]

8. Alisha Karabinus: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
The best thing I read this year was this science fiction classic by Alfred Bester. I got it as a gift last year for Christmas and after a few false starts, I put it away and didn't find it again until we moved in July. Then, when I picked it up, I tore through the book like one possessed. Gully Foyle's quest for revenge consumed me. His need was my need. We were in this together. The Stars My Destination is a moral roller coaster that spans the universe and indeed, all of infinite time and space. Characters change and grow throughout this unpredictable tale of a future in which one man is written off as nothing, forgotten by the world... until he re-emerges, hellbent on destroying those who dared ignore him. If for no other reason at all, read it for the details of the creepy corporations whose managers and officers give up name and identity. Cyberpunk was born right here, back in the 1950s.

[Again, no Blogcritics review — although there is a footnote to a review of a book described as "out-Foyling Bester."]

9. Joan Hunt: A Son Called Gabriel by Damian McNicholl
The absolutely stellar A Son Called Gabriel has been stuck in my heart and mind since I read it earlier this year. Damian McNicholl crafted one of the most honest and touching portraits of a young man coming of age during turbulent times.

10. Scott Butki: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
This is the best non-fiction book I have read in several years. I knew before I read it that it would change my life, particularly my eating and buying habits, and it did. What I did not realize was what an amazing piece of writing this is. A friend who teaches English has used this book as an example of persuasive writing and that totally makes sense, as this book manages not only to convince you that fast food companies do not have the interests of their employees — and sometimes their customers — in mind when making decisions, but also to explain every important issue involving fast food, without coming off as redundant or preachy. You don't feel you are being lectured so much as educated. Reading this book — along with watching Super Size Me — sparked me to boycott national fast food companies. (I also think I'm going to give up caffeine and learn to play chess next year, so maybe I'm delusional. If so, I can always blame it on the many evil deeds done by the fast food industry.)

11. DrPat: The Confusion by Neil Stephenson
In a singularly captivating series, The System of the World, the middle volume (The Confusion) still managed to be the most impressive book I read in 2005. Deliciously convoluted, it still presented its characters with clarity and its concepts within a rollicking good story. In reading this tale, I kept running across recursive references from other books (notably Stephenson's Cryptonomicon), erudite philosophical and historical allusions, and descriptions of the state of the arts and sciences of Newton's day. All this, and pirates, too!

There they are — the books chosen as the best they read in 2005 by these ten BlogCritics. Now it's your turn to cast a ballot. Remember: Vote early, and vote often!

Come cast your own vote for the best book you first read in 2005 at BlogCritics.


Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 11:24 PM  

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