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:

Now Is Not the Time to Panic
From the New York Times bestselling author of Nothing to See Here comes an exuberant, bighearted novel about two teenage misfits who spec...

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.

Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion
For readers of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and My Brilliant Friend, Bushra Rehman’s Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion is an unforgettabl...

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.

A Death in Tokyo (Detective Kaga, #3)
In the latest from international bestselling author Kei…

I love Higashino but full disclosure this one is just okay.

They’re Going to Love You
A magnetic tale of betrayal, art, and ambition, set in …

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.

Bad Kids
THE PERFECT CRIME DOESN’T EXIST One beautiful morning, Zhang Dongsheng pushes his wealthy in-laws off a remote mountain. It’s the perfe...

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.

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