Without further ado, here are the best ten books I read this year. For inconsistent reasons, I am not including Shakespeare, who is so undoubtedly awesome I don't even feel like talking about him, and some of the books I have already read, like Riddley Walker and Pride and Prejudice, though those are really fantastic.
10.) Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence -- I am deeply suspicious of the underlying message of Lady Chatterley's Lover, which seems to me to be tediously reactionary in its idealization of the sexual act. But reading it was a sheer joy; I have read very few better-written books, if any.
9.) A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene -- The story of a man who tries to run from himself and from God, but finds them, together, waiting in the leper colonies of Africa. Probably deserves to be "canonized" with the quartet of Greene's "serious" novels (and it's certainly better than The End of the Affair).
8.) The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark -- I could have easily included The Only Problem here instead, but this one sort of epitomizes Sparkian elegance. It's the story of a girls' organization in war-era Britain, but that only scratches the surface: Really, it's the story of time, and death, and a reminder of their constant presence.
7.) The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov -- Russian, satirical, fraught with religious imagery and talking cats: Brent should have read this years ago.
6.) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh -- Probably the most dogmatic book I have ever read that I thought was successful, and that includes Graham Greene. There is no ambiguity that religious belief is a good--perhaps the only good--in Brideshead, but Waugh's sharp sense of humor and character make it compelling instead of preachy.
5.) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte -- Are there Austen-style Jane Eyre sequels yet? If not, why not? It makes me think about Pride and Prejudice if someone had given it to a screenwriting hack to be "punched up," and the film that comes out in March should be awesome.
4.) A Room with a View by EM Forster -- This is a stranger book than it lets on, always subverting expectations. It is not, as it pretends to be, a book about an English girl on a trip to Italy. It may be a satire. It may have a happy ending. I am not sure.
3.) The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco -- What would Sherlock Holmes be like if he were, oh, say, a Franciscan monk? A big, brain-wracking puzzle box of a book. Not for the faint of heart.
2.) Emma by Jane Austen -- My ex-girlfriend suggested recently that carrying around Jane Austen books makes me look gay. If that's true, then I am the gayest gay that ever gayed, but that's okay, because Emma will keep me company in my bachelorhood.
1.) The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford -- I realize that this is a blatant violation of the rules I set on myself at the outset (I read this before, in high school) but I did say they were inconsistent. The Good Soldier is a novel of not understanding, the best book that has ever been written where the narrator makes no pretenses to know anything. Confusion--religious, sexual, epistemological--is its principal dynamic, and it is wonderful to lose yourself in.
The Only Problem by Muriel Spark
The Complete Stories by Graham Greene
God's Grace by Bernard Malamud
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole
The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave
The Finishing School by Muriel Spark