The Best Books of 2009


Sorry to make you wait all weekend long (which I'm sure explains why you ate that whole bag of Kit Kats from the trick-or-treat bowl), but today our Top 100 is complete with the announcement of our editors' top 10 books of 2009. Today we also unveil our entire Best of 2009 store on Amazon, which, along with that Top 100, includes our top 10 picks in almost two dozen categories as well as our customer bestsellers in all those categories too. We'll have more to say on many of those lists in the weeks to come, but for now, let's focus on our overall top 10. It's the part of the list we spend the most time thinking about and debating and tinkering with, although I must say this year the top books fell into place with an almost eerie agreement, led by our #1 choice, the closest we've ever come to a truly unanimous pick at the top since I've been here.

The Colum McCann fans among us were clamoring for a copy of Let the Great World Spin when it was first announced, and as soon as copies arrived they passed through our offices like wildfire. Weirdo literary types, pop culture junkies, you name it--everybody found something to love in McCann's lyrical story of ten intricately connected lives in 1970s New York, set against the backdrop of Philippe Petit's audacious tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. We hope you'll agree.

Here is the whole top ten, each accompanied by a quote from our editorial review:

  1. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann: "All their lives are ordinary and unforgettable, overlapping at the edges, occasionally converging. And when they coalesce in the final pages, the moment hums with such grace that its memory might tighten your throat weeks later."
  2. Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder: "Deo's terrible journey makes his story a hard one to tell; his tirelessly hopeful but clear-eyed efforts make it a gripping and inspiring one to read."
  3. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel: "Mantel plots with a sleight of hand, making full use of her masterful grasp on the facts without weighing down her prose.... [T]he witty, whip-smart lines volleying the action forward may convince you a short stay in the Tower of London might not be so bad... provided you could bring a copy of Wolf Hall along."
  4. Brooklyn, Colm Tóibin: "Colm Tóibín's spare portrayal of this contemplative girl is achingly lovely, and every sentence rings with truth.... Tóibín's haunted heroine glows on the page, unforgettably and lovingly rendered, and her story reflects the lives of so many others exiled from home."
  5. Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (coming out in December): "Beautiful Creatures is a delicious southern Gothic that charms you from the first page, drawing you into a dark world of magic and mystery until you emerge gasping and blinking, wondering what happened to the last few hours."
  6. Crazy for the Storm, Norman Ollestad: "The story itself could take your breath away ... but Ollestad is wise and talented enough to focus his story on the essentials, cutting elegantly back and forth between a moment-by-moment account of the crash and his memories of the difficult but often idyllic year leading up to it."
  7. The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson: "Fans of Larsson's prior work will find even more to love here, and readers who do not find their hearts racing within the first five pages may want to confirm they still have a pulse."
  8. The City & the City, China Mieville: "What the two cities share, and what they don't, is the deliciously evocative conundrum at the heart of China Mieville's The City & The City.... Mieville creates a world both fantastic and unsettlingly familiar, whose mysteries don't end with the solution of a murder."
  9. Stitches, David Small (the one on our list we share with PW's top 10): "Early memories (and difficult ones, too) often seem less like words than pictures we play back to ourselves.... In every drawing, David Small shows us moments both real and imagined—some that are guileless and funny and wonderfully sweet, many others that are dark and fearful—that unveil a very talented artist, stitches and all."
  10. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba: "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is an inspiring story of an indomitable will that refused to bend to doubt or circumstance. When the world seemed to be against him, William Kamkwamba set out to change it."


More Best Books of 2009:

#100 to #81

#80 to #61

#60 to #41

#40 to #21

#20 to #11

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Comments (7)

Who comes up with this stuff? These are ten titles I've never heard of, from ten people authors I've never heard of.

I know, obviously this makes me some sort of unsophisticated idiot who breathes with his mouth and watches NASCAR while eating pigs feet straight from the jar.

Except that's not the case. I have five degrees, including a doctorate. When I watch TV, it is almost always educational programming. I've read about 20 books this year, and all of them spent time on the Amazon and NYT bestseller lists.

So, what the hell?

Posted by: gullyborg | Tuesday November 3, 2009 at 11:58 AM

Gullyborg, just look at #5 and you may get a clue about this list:

Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (coming out in December)

Far from a true "Best Of" list, this is more a "we want to sell these, so we'll put them into a list to increase their exposure among readers in the hope that one (or more) of them sound interesting" list. In short, it's just marketing.

Posted by: submandave | Tuesday November 3, 2009 at 1:51 PM

Considering "Wolf Hall" won the Booker Prize, Colm Toibin's was short listed and he has also previously won a Booker, and Stieg Larsson wrote one of the biggest International bestsellers of last year, I think you are possibly more "unsophisticated" than you believe.

Personally I watched "Dancing with the Stars" and last night, but I have previously at least glanced over multiple reviews of 8 of these ten books.

Posted by: Roy | Tuesday November 3, 2009 at 2:10 PM

Don't forget my (daily) aggregated list of "best of 2009" book lists:

Posted by: largehearted boy | Wednesday November 4, 2009 at 11:47 AM

In my experience, winning prizes is hardly indicative of the actual merits of a book. I suppose next you are going to tell me I should pay attention to Nobel prizes...

Posted by: gullyborg | Wednesday November 4, 2009 at 1:12 PM

I second that, largehearted boy--I'm often visiting your page at this time of year.

For what it's worth, Gullyborg, we read many, many books each year, and these were our favorites. Some (Kidder, Mantel, Larsson, Kamkwamba) have spent a lot of time on our own bestsellers lists (and I assume others), some we hope to introduce people to.

Posted by: Tom | Wednesday November 4, 2009 at 1:55 PM

How do you know that you have created the best book list of 2009? Not one of the books on the list comes from a small publisher. There are many excellent, original novels, both fiction and non-fiction, that have been published outside of the "large mainstream literary houses". These books should have a chance to be recognized. Why not create a best list of independently published novels?

Posted by: mdbookworm | Thursday November 5, 2009 at 7:52 AM

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