Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The last book I read this year was also the best. It didn’t unseat The Brothers Karamazov for my favorite novel, but Demons had me from the first page. It’s got everything I look for in a novel: great characters, interesting ideas, a plot that keeps moving and, in the Pevear/Volkhonsky translation, really nice prose. Well worth the month it took to read. Recommend for kids with Che Guevera in their t-shirts.
David Foster Wallace is my favorite author that should still be living. Shorter then Infinite Jest, but possibly more difficult, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men never shies away from the dark side of human nature; indeed, without the postmodern games Wallace plays, it might be too dark to even be palatable. Wallace infuses the darkness with enough beauty to keep it from growing too oppressive, but BIWHM is the toughest book I read this year, for more than one reason. Recommended for people who aren’t contemplating suicide.
This barely missed the top 10. A dark southern gothic tale of sin and redemption, populated by unnerving but somehow relatable characters. Recommended for street preachers.
The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
Possibly the bleakest portrait of Hollywood ever to see print, Nathanael West’s little fable features a cast of despicable characters doing despicable things, and shocks without even trying. That we don’t want the entire cast to die in a fire is a testament to West’s characterization skills. Recommended for aspiring actors.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
David Mitchell’s newest novel spans from the Netherlands to Japan, following a Dutch shipping company and the eponymous Jacob de Zoet over fifty years. Surprising, beautiful, moving, and challenging, Mitchell is still one of my favorite authors. Recommended for pasty white guys.
A completely unexpected bombshell, Ford Madox Ford’s quietly devastating masterpiece came out of nowhere and depressed me for weeks. Chris wrote about it extensively; I didn’t, but loved it anyway. Recommended for fans of sadness, non-linear timelines.
This year I read both Emma and Pride and Prejudice. P&P has the name recognition, but Emma barely edges it out as the better book. With all the dark novels I read this year, Austen was a little ray of light. Reading her, even at her most scathing, is a joy, and I’m embarrassed that I let her embarrassing fanbase keep me from reading her for so long. Recommended for guys who think they’re too cool to read Austen.
Graham Greene in hedonism mode is nearly as good as Greene in Catholic mode. Exploring the flip side of his most famous themes, he leaves it to the reader to decide what’s right and wrong. Also, it’s really funny. Recommended for my aunt.
Written entirely in a broken, cryptic dialectic, Riddley Walker shouldn’t work at all, yet somehow manages not only to be believable but affecting. Pro-tip: read it out loud. Recommended for people with a long attention span.
G. K. Chesterton turns in a surreal performance with this, a spy novel that eventually goes… well, I won’t spoil it. Short, sweet, and a real joy to read, I recommend this for everyone.
John Berryman turned my onto poetry. Some of the most beautiful stuff I read all year.
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
The best science fiction novel I’ve ever read. Also the year’s most depressing book not by David Foster Wallace.
A great meditation on predestination and God’s authority, disguised as a fable about a girl’s school.
My first foray into magical realism sucked. Should have started with one of the major works.