I had a lousy reading year.
One of the little treats I give myself is writing the occasional column about the books I've read. When someone recommends a book to me that really hits the spot, I'm hugely appreciative. So sometimes I try to return the favor to the poor misguided souls who happen to have stumbled on my crotchety column.
This year, I haven't stumbled across anything that I can passionately recommend, but I'll toss out a few titles while there's still some Christmas and Hanukah shopping going on.
I've already written about the best novel I read that was published this year, "I Am Charlotte Simmons" by Tom Wolfe. The critics hated it but I loved it. I thought it was a profound cartoon, if that's possible. It's also a very fun read, so you can give it with a grin.
Another excellent novel this year was appallingly unheralded, "Indigo Rose" by Susan Miller (full disclosure: she's a family friend). The story is told by a Jamaican woman, Indigo Rosemartin, who came to Chicago to work as a maid.
It's narrated in her voice, her dialect, which Miller nails so perfectly that she creates an extraordinarily complete, vivid yet exotic new world for the reader. We see the suburban children Indigo is supposed to take care of - children of divorce and a poisonous mother, from Indigo's world - which puts subject matter so common to American novels into a unique and sad new voice. The book is a gem flecked with small, well-painted truths.
I love Ian McEwan but I didn't love "Saturday," which came out this year. It's very readable and some of his word runs make the irritating parts of the novel worth it. The plot is a bit like a writerly, precious British version of the movie, "Clash." The characters are all too perfectly composed. I think "Atonement," "The Innocent," "Enduring Love" and "Black Dogs" are all much better choices from McEwan.
After discovering and devouring Dennis Lehane last year, I tried hard to find a new practitioner of the semi-literary, semi-noir tough guy/spy genre I love. I didn't have much luck, but the closest I came was Michael Connelly, who put out two bestsellers this year, "The Closers" and "The Lincoln Lawyer."
Both are addictive and have worth beyond their entertainment value, though I'm hard-pressed to put exactly what that is into words. "The Closers" stars Harry Bosch, Connelly's regular LAPD detective. "The Lincoln Lawyer" is Mickey Haller, a calculating, hard-boiled lawyer who is somewhat more exotic than Bosch. One is a police procedural, the other is a legal thriller – the perfect gift set.