Best Books of 2009

I'm not sure I have the energy for a Best-of-Decade list just yet, but one year? That I can do.

COMICS: It wasn't a banner year for comics; I didn't read anything that took off the top of my head the way Fun Home did last year, though I was pleased to see a few new goodies turn up, and I also finished the last volume of an old favorite.

Preacher: Alamo/Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon
The aforementioned old favorite. The saga of Jesse Custer, Tulip O'Hare, and Proynsius Cassidy wraps up in a satisfyingly balls-to-the-wall explosion of blood, guts, grit, and mayhem.

All-Star Superman/Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely et al
Who would have thought that the loopy, optimistic spirit of the Mort Weisinger era could be captured without the attendant aura of the ridiculous? A wonderful job by Messrs. Morrison and Quitely, with imagination galore and gorgeous execution.

We3/Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely
Despite the hyperviolence, this is a warm and emotionally satisfying story that never stoops to anthropomorphism. Well, except for having the animals talk. But that's part of the plot, so it's okay. Perhaps the best thing Morrison has done since Animal Man.

FICTION: Here, on the other hand, I found a fair number of rich and satisfying works, some of which were new, and some merely new to me. Enjoy!

The Pesthouse/Jim Crace
A return to form after the somewhat opaque Genesis, and another entry in the genre of the post-apocalyptic journey. Crace's prose remains unimpeachable, and the details of this one will stick with you like the jar of baby teeth in Being Dead

Ragtime/E.L. Doctorow
If he hadn't succumbed to the temptation to make this one Meaningful by refusing to give the family members names, I might like it even better. Still, it's a beautifully constructed tragedy and a fascinating examination of a time.

Oryx and Crake/Margaret Atwood

Damn, she's good. And if anyone dares to claim it's not science fiction, I will hurt you. A spectacular work of imagination and narrative.

The Graveyard Book/Neil Gaiman
I'm a stone Gaiman fan, and have been for two decades. But this may be the best thing he's done yet.

Lavinia/Ursula K. Le Guin
Who but Le Guin could find so much to say about a character barely mentioned by Virgil? In her hands, even the old character-meets-author trope seems fresh and deep.

20th Century Ghosts/Joe Hill

A wide variety of short stories, ranging from horror to straight fiction to fantasy, anchored by the breathtaking "Pop Art," which is probably the best story I've read in the last decade. Stunning stuff.

Little Brother/Cory Doctorow

The best mix of cyberpunk, dystopianism, politics, and YA fiction I could imagine. A book you'll want everyone in high school to have read.

NONFICTION: A fairly good year, peppered with a couple of gems. Since I do so much reading in NF, I was actually a little surprised this part of the list wasn't longer.

Best American Essays 2008/Adam Gopnik, ed.
The essays are good ones, obviously, but Gopnik's introduction is what gets this onto the list. Plainly put, it's one of those statements about writing that makes you want to either write something brilliant or give up writing forever.

Columbine/Dave Cullen
An exhaustive account of one of America's worst days, with myth finely sifted away, leaving a stark and awful truth behind.

Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever/John Scalzi
I love Scalzi's fiction, but his blog is even better, and this culls the best entries from that blog. If you do nothing else, buy this one to read his account of his trip to the Creation Museum. Best. Blog. Post. EVER.

The Cartoon History of the Modern World, Vol. 2/Larry Gonick
And one more great work wraps up at last: the groundbreaking Cartoon History of the Universe comes to its final resting place here, in the ashes of the WTC, and frees Gonick to pursue other projects. Terry Jones said it best: "Obviously one of the great books of all time."

Here's hoping there's at least as much good stuff in 2010.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on January 2, 2010 10:12 AM.

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