Books in Review, 2006

As is usually the case, I slogged through a few handfuls of non-fiction written to various levels of quality and a bunch of imaginative, curious fiction that sometimes didn’t work.

Bland but bloody

The Brothers Bulger was horrendously written, but was a quick and fascinating read. Stacy Horn’s The Restless Sleep, a book on NYC’s cold case squad, was much more solidly written, and is a book I’d actually recommend. I picked up a used copy of Dead Men Do Tell Tales (by William Maples), the autobiography of a forensic anthropologist, and was curiously entertained. Conversational in a way you don’t usually expect “true crime” to be, it had the feel of sitting down with a great uncle in someone’s living room.

Better luck last time

Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Murakami) and Oryx and Crake (Atwood) both left me disappointed, mostly by comparison to the authors’ other works, which I’d been enthralled by (e.g., The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid’s Tale, by Atwood, and A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance by Murakami). Granted, I wasn’t dissuaded enough to stop reading either book, but I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I’d hoped to be.

Cream of the crop

Fortunately, I had the opposite experience with quite a few books. I found Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian totally captivating, and I also had immense difficulty putting down Walter Moers’ Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures. Both were imaginative, ambitious, and sweeping. Kostova’s book struck me as something akin to Foucault’s Pendulum (which, for the record, I am a fan of), but less pedantic and more convincing. And with more vampirism. Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures, a follow-up to the fantastical 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, transports us to a far-off land filled with wacky creatures, grand spectacle, and… well, everything you could possibly want in a story (including a friendly warrior dog protagonist, epic travels, and hideous monsters).
John Haskell’s American Purgatorio was solemn, honest, astonishing, humane, and the book I’m most likely to re-read from this past year.

They said

According to Metacritic, I’ve read some pretty good books, too.  Kathryn Davis’ The Thin Place got a composite metascore of 88, based on a handful of actual reviews.  Which, I read and enjoyed the book, but wasn’t blown away.  Possibly I was missing something.  Possibly it just wasn’t quite my style.  But: a good read.  I warmed more to Ali Smith’s The Accidental, which also rated highly among the books of 2006.  It was a fast read, a little more coy than it needed to be, but good.  Kevin Brockmeier’s Brief History of the Dead made Metacritic’s list and also my reading list.  Thoughtful, amusing, and relevant, it didn’t have nearly the surprise ending it purported to, but seeing the ending half-way through the book didn’t really come as that much of a detriment.


I was pleasantly surprised by Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the crime novel about a “friendly” serial killer who only dispatches other serial killers (which has recently spawned an acclaimed Showtime series).  I found it warmly cynical, clever, and colorful.

(As a brief and fairly meaningless side-note, I managed to get through seven fewer books than I did last year [about 1200 pages’ worth]; however, I saw 79 more movies than I did last year… so go figure.)