The Five Best Books I Read This Year*
A thrilling extended essay on being black in America and the fallacy of whiteness—the best book I've read in years. The sentences are so beautiful as to be lessons in themselves. Coates's compassionate voice combined with not giving a fig who's made uncomfortable hit me with the same force that Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place did more than 25 years ago.
Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard
My pal at the Total Femme turned me on to Howard's brilliant Cazalet Chronicles quintet a few years ago, and I've since moved on to several of her other novels about domestic life, class, and sexual dynamics in Britain. This is the best of the non-Cazalets I've read—a gripping, at times shocking story about a selfish young woman crippled by lack of love and about the damage incurred by her and on her after a married couple takes her in. Perfectly, devastatingly calibrated.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Not the first writer to interweave alternate paths a life might have taken, but the most accomplished I've seen at attending as much to the subtle psychological shifts as to the differing physical and circumstantial outcomes. A wily, moving tale of that infinitely fertile chemistry: England, war, and the 20th century.
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
The somber unspooling of a men's-room hookup between an American teacher in Bulgaria and a manipulative younger Bulgarian. Greenwell nails the pulse-driven momentum of a relationship that begins with sex and that develops into a stumbling two-step of neediness and unknowing.
In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi
Coming to terms with her anger at her late-in-life trans father over his violence and abandonment when she was a kid is as big a task than accepting her as a woman, though it's often hard to separate Faludi's feelings about each—which ultimately seems to be the story she's telling: of dualities haltingly resolving into something close to wholeness.
*Note: not all published this year (unlike many best-of lists). Also, I actually listened to all of these on audiobook, my preferred delivery method these days.