Best of 2009
- 01/07/2010: Booklist Editor’s Choice 2009 (25)
- 12/19/2009: Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2009
- 12/19/2009: San Francisco Chronicle 100 Best Books of 2009
- 12/19/2009: Seattle Times Best Books of 2009 (16)
- 12/12/2009: Barnes & Noble Best Fiction of 2009 (10)
- 12/11/2009: Washington Post 10 Best Books of 2009
- 12/08/2009: Salon Best Books of 2009 (5)
- 12/06/2009: New Yorker Favorite Books of 2009 (22)
- 12/06/2009: Boston Globe Best Fiction of 2009 (12)
- 12/03/2009: Kansas City Star Best Books of 2009 (37)
- 12/03/2009: LA Times Favorite Fiction of 2009 (25)
- 12/03/2009: Economist Best Books of 2009 (10)
- 11/28/2009: Financial Times Best Books of 2009 (27)
- 11/26/2009: Janet Maslin’s 10 Favorite Books of 2009
- 11/26/2009: Michiko Kakutani’s 10 Favorite Books of 2009
- 11/26/2009: The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2009
- 11/23/2009: Hudson Booksellers Best Books of 2009 (10)
- 11/21/2009: Minneapolis Star Tribune Best Books of 2009 (15)
- 11/20/2009: The Atlantic Books of the Year (25)
- 11/20/2009: Library Journal Best Books of 2009 (31)
- 11/02/2009: Amazon.com Best Books of 2009
- 11/02/2009: Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2009
- 09/08/2009: 2009 Man Booker Prize Shortlist
PW’s Best Books of 2009
Cheever: A Life
Blake Bailey (Knopf)
Bailey, who was given access to the journals Cheever kept throughout his life, shines a new light on Cheever’s literary output, making possible a fresh reappraisal of his achievement. In addition, Bailey offers up juicy, appalling, hilarious and moving anecdotes with verve, sensitivity and perfect timing.
Await Your Reply
Dan Chaon (Ballantine)
Chaon was a National Book Award finalist for Among the Missing, and this gripping account of colliding fates, the shifty nature of identity in today’s wired world and the limits of family is easily as good, if not better. It’s a literary page-turner, a cunningly plotted and utterly unputdownable novel.
A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon
Neil Sheehan (Random House)
The development of the ICBM as a key part of the cold war arsenal wasn’t inevitable. In a splendidly reported and narrated account, Sheehan credits Air Force Gen. Bernard Schriever with the foresight and shrewdness to triumph over powerful Pentagon opponents and develop the crucial and terrifying weapon.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Daniyal Mueenuddin (Norton)
An NBA finalist (we found him first), Mueenuddin delivers Pakistan through the stories of its people: yearning, struggling, plotting, in a heartbreaking story collection that is specific and universal all at the same time.
Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau)
LaValle’s brilliant second novel is unlike anything else out there: Ricky Rice, an ex-junkie African-American bus station porter, gets sucked into the bizarre machinations of a rural Vermont cult dedicated to studying “The Voice.” The narrator is blisteringly funny in chronicling his bizarre quest, providing both a blazing story and an astute commentary on race.
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
Richard Holmes (Pantheon)
In a thrilling narrative of scientific discovery and the spirit of an age, Holmes illustrates how the great scientists of Britain’s romantic era gripped the imaginations of their contemporaries and forever changed our understanding of the universe and our place within it.
David Small (Norton)
A graphic novel to bring us all back to comics, Small’s account of his terrifying childhood is amazing. The drawings of his parents and the small suffering boy who doesn’t quite understand until much, much later will pull you along panel by panel and tear your heart out.
Shop Class as Soulcraft
Matthew B. Crawford (Penguin Press)
Philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Crawford makes a brilliant case for the intellectual satisfactions of working with one’s hands—and why white-collar work is the assembly line of the new millennium. Crawford is catholic in his tastes (references range from Aristophanes to Dilbert), unsentimental and irresistible as he extols the virtues of “knowing how to do one thing really well.”
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Geoff Dyer (Pantheon)
Dyer creates an aging hipster grinding it out as a freelance journalist who pursues the girl instead of the story: covering the Biennale. Then, depending on your point of view, he either loses or finds himself when he’s sent to Varanasi. Dyer has many books to recommend him, but all you need is angst-ridden Jeff: funny, frank and utterly charming, and if you haven’t walked in his shoes, you’ll wish you had.
Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
David Grann (Doubleday)
In this classic adventure tale, New Yorker writer Grann—who gets winded climbing the stairs of his New York City walkup—follows in the footsteps of early–20th-century Amazon jungle explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared along with his son on a 1925 expedition. Grann expertly and energetically weaves the story of Fawcett’s explorations with that of his own.
The Scarecrow **
Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
Reporter Jack McEvoy decides to go out with a bang, after he’s laid off from the L.A. Times, in a nail-biting thriller that charts the demise of print journalism and shows why Connelly is one of today’s top crime authors.
The Fate of Katherine Carr
Thomas H. Cook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Edgar-winner Cook eloquently explores the often cathartic act of storytelling as George Gates, a former travel writer who after seven years still broods over his eight-year-old son’s murder, looks into the unsolved disappearance of reclusive poet Katherine Carr 20 years earlier.
Pete Dexter (Grand Central)
Dexter’s crowd-pleasing wiles are razor sharp in this long-awaited novel, the madcap and touching, assured and (ahem) dexterous story of a very Dexter-like Warren Spooner.
Gillian Flynn (Crown/Shaye Areheart)
Flynn tops her impressive debut, Sharp Objects, with a second crime thriller, centered on the slaying of a mother and two daughters in their Kansas farmhouse witnessed by the youngest, surviving daughter. It builds to a truth so twisted even the most astute readers won’t see it coming.
The Man in the Wooden Hat
Jane Gardam (Europa)
Octogenarian Gardam bookends her much-lauded Old Filth with this witty and very British love story, taking on with aplomb loyalty, lust, ambition and longing as she excavates the holes in all of our hearts.
George Dawes Green (Grand Central)
Two con men hold a family hostage in rural Georgia in order to get half of their $318 million lottery winnings in this masterful, often comic novel of psychological suspense, Green’s first since 1995’s The Juror.
Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)
George Crosby’s deathbed reveries wander through memories of his own life as a boy and the lives of his father and grandfather, in this sumptuously written first novel that has been the darling of indie bookstores.
Zoë Heller (Harper)
Heller zeroes in on a liberal Jewish Greenwich Village family whose perfect lefty household falls into some hilarious setups as the dysfunctions pile up and eventually spill over when the patriarch’s feet of clay are revealed. Hilarious, readable and atmospheric.
Yiyun Li (Random)
Wrenching and bleak are understatements for Li’s magnificent gothic account of life in provincial 1979 China, centering on the execution of a counterrevolutionary. For all the morbid happenings—and there are many of them—the novel’s immediately involving and impossible to walk away from.
How to Sell
Clancy Martin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Martin’s peerless debut novel about a naïve Canadian’s crooked education in the jewelry business is horrifying and sad and very funny. Truth is always elusive; here, it’s a dire liability, too.
New World Monkeys
Nancy Mauro (Crown/Shaye Areheart)
An outstandingly original debut that takes the ridiculous (a couple kill a wild pig on their move to the burbs that turns out to be their new town’s beloved mascot) and renders it psychological in this sendup of academia, advertising, peeping toms and young marrieds.
The Last War
Ana Menendez (Harper)
A deeply moving story of a photojournalist in Istanbul waiting to join her war correspondent husband in Iraq. Her reluctance, suspicions and flashbacks of their time spent in Afghanistan create a dark background for the brilliance of her descriptions and observations.
Jo Nesbø (Harper)
Oslo Insp. Harry Hole discovers that a bank robbery is linked to the apparent suicide of a woman friend he hasn’t seen in years in this lush crime saga from the Norwegian author.
Lark and Termite
Jayne Anne Phillips (Pantheon)
This elegant unraveling of parallel narratives—a grunt’s Korean War tour of duty and the story of a family struggling through hard times nine years later—is at once intensely personal and loaded with themes of identity, duty and renewal, all the while maintaining a tight coil of suspense.
The Cry of the Sloth
Sam Savage (Coffee House)
The increasingly desperate letters dispatched by the editor of a middling literary magazine provide a glimpse into the soul of a minor writer ravaged by existential dread. As Savage slowly deflates the narrator’s self-importance, he provides a caustic and supremely funny portrait of a man in decline.
Dan Simmons (Little, Brown)
Narrated by Wilkie Collins, this unsettling and complex thriller imagines a frightening sequence of events that prompts Collins’s friend and fellow author, Charles Dickens, to write The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens’s last, uncompleted novel.
Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese (Knopf)
Verghese’s move to fiction is sweeping and fabulous, starting in India, settling in Ethiopia and moving on to the U.S. in a magnificent epic that follows twin boys as they negotiate medical training, revolution, the search for their roots and their relationship with each other.
The Little Stranger
Sarah Waters (Riverhead)
A finalist for the Man Booker Prize, this subtle, creepy haunted house story chronicles the decline of an aristocratic county family after WWII as seen through the less than reliable eyes of a bachelor doctor, whose mother once served as a maid at the family’s manor.
Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
Whitehead’s intellect, gorgeous prose, measured nostalgia and sheer storytelling prowess raises the bar for coming-of-age novels. It’s as sublime as you’re likely to read.
Once the Shore
Paul Yoon (Sarabande)
The eight stories in Yoon’s remarkable collection revolve around the inhabitants of a small South Korean island rocked by Japanese occupation and later by the Korean War and are no less powerful for their quiet introspection. Yoon’s delicate exploration of heartache places him high in the firmament of old souls.
Bryant and May on the Loose
Christopher Fowler (Bantam)
London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit gets a new lease on life as Bryant and May investigate gang crimes that could threaten the economic benefits expected from the 2012 Olympics in Fowler’s blend of the comic and the grotesque.
The Wrong Mother
Sophie Hannah (Penguin)
A brief affair with a man whose wife later apparently commits a heinous crime then kills herself leads to serious trouble for Sally Thorning, part-time environmental rescuer and full-time mother, in this psychological mystery paced like a ticking time bomb.
The Dark Horse
Craig Johnson (Viking)
Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire return to his cowboy roots as he goes undercover to investigate a murder outside his jurisdiction: a wife has confessed to shooting her rancher husband dead, but is she really guilty?
The Silent Hour
Michael Koryta (Minotaur)
Koryta spins a dark tale of broken dreams and second chances in this mystery featuring PI Lincoln Perry, who helps a convicted murderer who’s been paroled. It’s a convoluted case in which a missing woman’s brother heads a notorious Cleveland, Ohio, mob family.
Reggie Nadelson (Walker)
New York City police detective Artie Cohen, a principled, street-smart guy with very human failings, travels to London to tell his best friend, shady Russian immigrant Tolya Sverdloff, that Sverdloff’s daughter (who was also Cohen’s girlfriend) has been murdered.
The Lord of Death
Eliot Pattison (Soho Crime)
Edgar-winner Pattison mixes an eye-opening look at contemporary China with a traditional whodunit involving the gunning down of China’s minister of tourism along with an American woman, a skilled climber, near Mount Everest.
The Cloud Pavilion
Laura Joh Rowland (Minotaur)
Detective-turned-politician Sano Ichiro helps his estranged uncle find the uncle’s missing daughter in the masterful 14th entry in a series that brings early 18th-century Japan to vivid life.
The Windup Girl
Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
Bacigalupi’s powerful debut warns of dire ecological collapse and the evils of colonialism in an eerily plausible near future Thailand.
Edited by Ellen Datlow (Dark Horse)
Editor extraordinaire Datlow assembles a phenomenal anthology of homages to pulp horror great H.P. Lovecraft, penned by an impressive slate of big-name horror authors.
The Devil’s Alphabet
Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
This subtle, eerie present-day horror novel mercilessly dissects and reassembles the classic narrative of a man returning to his smalltown birthplace, where the familiar folks have become strange creatures.
The City & the City
China Miéville (Del Rey)
Putting a quasi-fantastical twist on a classic police procedural story, Miéville delves deep into the psyches of city dwellers and the ways people blind themselves to reality.
Cherie Priest (Tor)
The dramatic first novel in Priest’s Clockwork Century universe sends a determined 35-year-old single mom into a ruined city full of zombies and poison gas, where she must save her son from a mad inventor.
Captive of Sin
Anna Campbell (Avon)
Campbell pulls out all the stops with this heart-wrenching historical romance. A hastily wed heiress must help her husband, a war hero, recover from post-traumatic stress that leaves him unable to bear human touch.
Gail Carriger (Orbit)
Carriger combines Victorian romance, supernatural creatures, steampunk sensibilities and a healthy dose of the bizarre in her hilarious debut.
A Dark Love
Margaret Carroll (Avon)
Carroll develops what could be a stock story of an abusive marriage into a pulse-pounding romantic thriller with a strong, inspiring heroine determined to save herself.
Child of Fire
Harry Connolly (Del Rey)
Connolly’s intense first novel heralds the next generation of urban fantasy (city not required) with a nearly powerless hero who must rely on his smarts and threadbare ethics to survive.
Hunt at the Well of Eternity
Gabriel Hunt, as told to James Reasoner (Hard Case Crime)
Reasoner launches the Gabriel Hunt series with a fast-paced tale of purely entertaining Indiana Jones–like adventure, smartly updated for modern sensibilities.
Parker: The Hunter
Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark (IDW)
A magnificent comics recreation of Stark/Donald Westlake’s noir classic of crime and vengeance and a stylish evocation of his stony, relentless protagonist.
Driven by Lemons
Josh Cotter (AdHouse)
A notebook full of abstract doodles somehow morphs into a riveting narrative that is as strange as it is imaginative.
Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth
Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou with art by Alecos Papdatos and Annie Di Donna (Bloomsbury)
Both informative and engrossing, this full-color comics-bio tells the story of mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell’s messy personal life while documenting his maniacal pursuit of the philosophical foundations of modern mathematics.
The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders
Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefèvre (First Second)
Alternating photos by the late photographer Lefèvre with the comics panels of his friend and chronicler Guibert, this powerful and prescient documentary work details a 1986 trip by a French medical team through war-ravaged Afghanistan.
David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon)
A brilliant academic architect—Asterios Polyp designs edgy buildings that are never built—and witty, self-confident pedant, Polyp is faced with a profound loss of belief in the life he has chosen.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe
Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni Press)
The further rollicking adventures of world-famous Canadian slacker Scott Pilgrim; his awesome girlfriend, Ramona Flowers; and Scott’s ongoing battle with her seven evil ex-boyfriends.
Footnotes in Gaza
Joe Sacco (Metropolitan)
Focused on a little-known massacre of Palestinian refugees in Gaza in 1956, this definitive work is ultimately a history of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.
A Drifting Life
Yoshihiro Tatsumi (D&Q)
A massive (840 pages) and poignant memoir by the master—indeed inventor—of Japanese alternative comics (called gekiga) that doubles as a fascinating history of the beginnings of the Japanese manga industry after WWII.
You’ll Never Know: A Good and Decent Man
Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics)
Tyler profiles the greatest generation and the terrible price it paid in this memoir of her father’s life during WWII, and measures her own life against it.
Naoki Urasawa (Viz Media)
A tense mystery, an unsettling science fiction tale and a subtle exploration of what it means to be human as master manga-ka Urasawa reimagines Astro-Boy as something much more adult and serious.
Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater
Frank Bruni (Penguin Press)
In this wonderfully honest memoir, former New York Times food critic Bruni admits to a lifelong battle with his weight. Detailing his life from baby bulimia to Weight Watchers, Bruni addresses desire, shame, identity and self-image.
Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets
Cadillac Man (Bloomsbury)
In 16 years of living homeless in Manhattan, native New Yorker Cadillac Man has amassed a stunning collection of stories regarding a population and culture most people never even consider, and a talent for rendering them with beauty, sympathy and brutal truth.
Dave Cullen (Hachette/Twelve)
After a decade on the Columbine beat, Cullen skillfully dismantles all the media myths about the 1999 school massacre in an edge-of-your-seat account of how two troubled boys terrorized a town.
Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
Barbara Ehrenreich (Metropolitan)
This indictment of America’s reigning ideology of positive thinking stretches from breast cancer culture through religion and politics into the business world, where it was likely at the root of last year’s economic collapse.
The Good Soldiers
David Finkel (Crichton/FSG)
Finkel’s incredible fly-on-the-wall reporting gives an uncomfortably visceral sense of one army battalion’s involvement in the Iraqi surge, with “the dust, the fear, the high threat level, the isolation….”
Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape
Edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti (Seal)
Activist writers Friedman and Valenti present an extraordinary, eye-opening essay collection that focuses on the importance of sexual identity and ownership in the struggle against rape in the U.S., as well as a number of related issues, including sexual pleasure, self-esteem and the mixed societal messages that turn “nice guys” bad.
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City
Greg Grandin (Metropolitan)
Grandin presents a masterful and devastating account of Henry Ford’s folly: his attempt to plant an idealized American town in the Amazon jungle alongside a rubber plantation.
Food for Thought, Thought for Food
Edited by Richard Hamilton and Vincente Todolo (Actar)
This fascinating illustrated volume goes beyond standard food porn, looking at the refined artwork of Spain’s chef Ferran Adrià, whose unmatched culinary innovation landed him in 2007’s documenta, a prestigious annual international art exhibition.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home
Rhoda Janzen (Holt)
Janzen does the easy jokes about moving back in with her religious parents after her marriage falls apart, but she also conducts an unflinching self-examination that makes her emotional healing come across as all the more genuine.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Morrow)
This exquisite story of struggle, ingenuity and hope, from a 14-year-old Malawi boy who saved his family by building an electricity-generating windmill, strips life to its barest essentials, challenging American readers with all they take for granted.
The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream
Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday)
A propulsive, dramatic account of Chinatown’s human smugglers and gangs behind the ill-fated 1993 voyage of the Golden Venture and its human cargo.
True Compass: A Memoir
Edward M. Kennedy (Hachette/Twelve)
Kennedy’s life, replete with well-known tragedies, triumphs and shameful episodes, is rendered in perfectly polished, witty and moving tales that follow two historic arcs: that of a remarkable American family and a half-century of American politics.
Strength in What Remains
Tracy Kidder (Random)
Kidder’s transcendent tale of Deo, a Burundian refugee in New York, is a labor of profound compassion and enviable technique—his narrative finds fresh and crucial ways of depicting trauma and memory.
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman
Jon Krakauer (Doubleday)
With access to Tillman’s diaries, Krakauer gives an unparalleled portrait of the football star turned army Ranger, who was the victim not only of lethal friendly fire but of a cynical government coverup.
Half the Sky
Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn (Knopf)
New York Times columnist Kristoff and his wife, WuDunn, collaborate on a vitally important book that locates women’s empowerment in the developing world as the central moral issue of our time. Their vignettes on women activists in Africa, India and China are heartbreaking, galvanizing and unforgettable.
Gabriel García Márquez
Gerald Martin (Knopf)
The master receives his due in a sprawling and atmospheric biography with lush detail, a quick pace and a veritable Who’s Who of Latin American radical politics and literature.
David Owen (Riverhead)
This iconoclastic manifesto is the sharpest environmental book of the year. Owen excoriates ecoconsumerism and trends, fells green goliaths Michael Pollan and Amory Lovins and celebrates Manhattan as the most sustainable city in the nation.
Larry’s Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with My Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant—and Save His Life
Daniel Asa Rose (Harper)
This bizarre, slapstick journey into medical tourism’s heart of darkness, with plenty of gonzo stops along the way, is a laugh-out-loud tribute to family ties and a less-than-subtle commentary on the state of U.S. health care.
Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays
Zadie Smith (Penguin Press)
Smith’s first nonfiction book—a collection of her essays on reading, writing and being—is erudite and shines with uncommon wit, warmth and generosity of spirit.
Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan
Doug Stanton (Scribner)
This bestseller is a riveting, epic account of mounted U.S. soldiers fighting alongside the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan’s war-ravaged mountains.
Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957–1965
Sam Stephenson (Knopf)
In 1957, legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith opened up his New York City loft to some of the great artists of mid-century jazz, including Thelonious Monk and Zoot Sims. These fantastic photos—taken of the musicians as well as scenes snapped outside Smith’s window—offer a rare glimpse into an important music scene as well as a neighborhood being itself when it thought no one was watching.
Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
Terry Teachout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Teachout’s forceful reassertion of Louis Armstrong’s significance to 20th-century America is a model for writing serious biography about pop culture icons.
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815
Gordon S. Wood (Oxford Univ.)
True to the outstanding quality of Oxford’s History of the United States series, Wood offers an account of the young nation’s development during its first decades.
LIST courtesy of Publisher’s Weekly –