Not a Best List
I always feel obligated to do a Best Books list. But this year I am not really going to do it. I have written about basically all of them here already so it would be repetitive. You are welcome to look at my list or previous issues of this newsletter.
I have had a slumpy year, a slumpy few years. I did not give a single five-star rating to a new book this year, the first time that's happened since I started recording such things. It is not the books, it is me. And part of how I deal with this weirdness is not pushing myself to read a certain amount or a certain way.
My slumpiness has definitely played out in this newsletter. Weekly sends felt too much like a chore I needed to cross off. I try to send when I have something to say. But those moments of intensity are fewer than I wish they were.
I miss the intensity of pleasure books gave me in the before times. I have found only one way to get it now, which is to re-read.
I was an intense re-reader as a teenager and into adulthood. But once I started focusing on the New Books shelf at the library and then reading galleys, re-reading fell by the way side. There were always too many new books to get to.
Now, though, I have found a place for it and since my reading life can feel rather muted I appreciate that I pick up a book and I know I will love it. The mystery of the book you haven't read before is exciting, but it also wears on me. Right now I am deep into a 3-star streak. They are not bad, they do not delight me, it is kind of awful. The extremes of a truly joyful read or even a truly hateful one become even more attractive.
I re-read Little Rabbit last week and adored it possibly more on a second read, knowing where it would go and how it would end. Felt very differently about all the characters and still found a lot of joy in it. I am about to re-read The Lying Lives of Adults before the television adaptation, and I know that will be a joyful one, too. Ferrante is my most reliable, the one I keep in my back pocket, and that I ration out carefully to make sure I do not lose the surprises when I come back to her books.
I re-read Ninth House last month because the sequel is coming out. I don't have the galley and haven't been pushy about getting it, I will just do the audiobook like a normie when it comes out. It wasn't the high heights of re-reading Ferrante, but it was comforting to go in knowing that it would be solid. It is nice to know.
Anyway, all this is to say not very much, that I do not feel like I have a very valuable Best Of list this year that's much different from my previous newsletters. I am just going to keep going like I'm going, and writing when I have something to say. (Today, I clearly don't have all that much to say and it is a very boring newsletter, apologies. But you're welcome for not writing a whole newsletter about Fleishman Is in Trouble which I recently read and had so many feelings about but all of them are deeply uninteresting unless you have read it so I spared you.)
Here are a few books that came out in November and December that I enjoyed:
If there was a winner in November, it was probably this book and I'm not sad about it. It has a lot of the poignancy and weirdness of Nothing to See Here even if it's not quite up to that level. Still worthwhile.
A very good coming-of-age novel about a Pakistani-American girl in Corona, Queens. You may know by now that I can be very picky about books that feature religion and grappling with them, especially in relation to sex and/or queerness, and this book gets a thumbs up from me. I did the audio and enjoyed it a lot.
I love Higashino but full disclosure this one is just okay.
I have some quibbles with this, but I enjoyed a lot of it. Howrey's background as a dancer means her writing about dance is top notch.
Ok technically this did not come out in November/December (it came out in August) but I just read it. How I love Pushkin Vertigo for getting more East Asian crime in translation. We get very little from China so this was a particular treat, even if the ending is a bit slow and repetitive it's nicely constructed otherwise. I just got the galley for another Pushkin Vertigo release from the author of Decagon House Murders and despite all my talk here about feeling slumpy, I am hyped for it.