Bonnie asked for a list of my top ten books from last year's list. Of course the list is subjective, and even my own sense of what is "best" might change over time. In the end, aside from selecting a group of favorites, I can't narrow it down to a strict order. They jockey for position, depending on the lens through which I am viewing them.
At any rate, for better or worse, here are the top 10 from last year.
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. This novel was recommended by one of the women in my bible study class when we were studying Hosea. It is a romance based on the story of Hosea but it set during the California Gold Rush and I thought it would be a good piece of escapist fiction. I found it to be more than that. The search for grace and redemption are not easy in this story (as they are not for Hosea) but I felt the book captured all the pain and doubt and messiness that the human search for grace can entail.
The Ties that Bind by Marie Bostwick. This is the fifth book in Marie Bostwick's cobbled quilt series, and although I enjoyed them all, with their story of the trials and tribulations and caring friendships between a group of women, this book was my favorite, probably simply because the stories of Margot and Phillipa resonated with me.
Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton. Shapton swam competitively when she was younger and she is a very good writer and artist. This book is a series of reminiscences and reflections presented as a series of vignettes interspersed with drawings and photographs. The resulting pastiche captures a sense of a person, place and time in a way that a simple narrative could not.
The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean. Keen is a good writer who makes science clear and easy to understand without being patronizing. Filled with interesting facts and tidbits of information, the chapters are discrete, enabling the reader to pick and choose, reading a bit here and there.
The Marriage of Sense and Soul by Ken Wilber. I would not recommend this book to anyone who does not have a philosophical bent, but I loved it and read it twice. It was very helpful to me in clarifying my thoughts about science and spirituality in ways I hadn't previously considered. I disagree with Wilber on some points, which feels like a bold statement to make. But I can love a book without agreeing with everything the author has to say.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Brilliant novel but not a particulaly easy read. On one level it is a rather savage condemnation of the injustice of the Indian caste system and the rather unpleasant underbelly of globalization. But it is also a story of individualism, the burning desire for freedom and to make something of onself, of greed, of the opportunities and dangers of misinformation. Perhaps one of its greatest strengths though is that it is a serious book that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Her fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneggar. This is a thought-provoking novel of great intensity and detail masquerading as popular fiction. I don't think it works very well purely on the level of story and none of the characters are easy or likeable. And yet, if one is willing to spend the time and effort to read this novel closely, it is fascinating. Niffenegger explores the complexities of relationships and the nature of couplehood, and while doing so touches on duality, the nature of the mind, integration, loss, internal versus external, even art versus sciene. But then perhaps I would say that all these things are tied together in the way we see the world and the way we relate to both ourselves as individuals and in our relationships with others.