Another year of reading, another blog summing up my favorites. This time, my top 5 were fairly easy to choose compared to last year. These stood clearly out of the pack, excelling in both language and entertainment.
5: The Guide
I feel very lucky to have discovered this book by R.K. Narayan, having never heard anyone else mention this book or author before, which is a shame. It is a great, short picaresque novel that follows a swindler who gets mistaken as a holy man, and people start to flock to him. It reminded me of Henderson the Rain King, my favorite book from the year prior, except this one takes place in India.
4: The Satanic Verses
In 1988, Salman Rushdie wrote the best opening line I’ve read in my entire life:
‘To be born again,' sang Gibreal Farishta tumbling from the heaveans, 'first you have to die.’
That line alone is what convinced me to finally go skydiving, and 5 attempts later, I finally managed it, screaming the same line as I myself tumbled from the heavens. With a bunch of dream sequences, this books gets very trippy, and I doubt I’ll ever understand the full thing, but the writing and humor is so grand, I often found myself not even caring about what kind of symbolism the passages may be hinting at. All I know is that this is not the last book I’ll read by Salman Rushdie.
3: Demon Copperhead
This book is an admirable piece of art. For those who have read my blog, you may know that David Copperfield topped my list of best books in 2022, and I am incredibly glad to have read it so closely to this one. I truly feel like it allowed me to appreciate the effort Barbara Kingsolver put into this work to its fullest extent. Though some of the massive and memorable cast gets moved to the periphery, Kingsolver does an admirable job fleshing out some of the more one-dimensional female characters. Furthermore, she balances exquisitely faithfulness to the story while also moving it into modern times by striking upon the same themes and concerns Dickens had. The narration is strong and it inspires me to think about other books that could really use an update (looking at you, Tom Jones!).
2: The Human Stain
Like all my top five books this year, this one does a very good job mixing humor in with thoughtful insight. The story is told in Philip Roth’s typical disjointed postmodern way, where he jumps back and forth in time, mixing the act of writing the book with the story itself. Where it shines greatest is in the moments it follows a Vietnam vet as he struggles to assimilate to life back home. It makes you reconsider the purity and value of American morality and the natural human desire to judge and censure, a theme that continues to resonate today.
1: Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Considering how I often refer to him as my favorite writer, it is particularly egregious that this is the first John Steinbeck book I’ve read in a very long time- since 2016. This is a terrible oversight, for in enjoying this short read, I was thoroughly reminded of just how phenomenal this man is. Taking place in the early 1960s, it just follows Steinbeck as he goes on a road trip with his dog to find out what America is like nowadays. The book is full of incredible observations, and the reader will walk away astounded by how many of them still resonate today, despite half a century passing. It is faultless.