One of my goals of 2011 was to read more fiction. I've spent the last few years really focusing on poetry (writing it and reading it). This year, I wanted to get back to reading fiction as well as poetry. To do this I made a reading list for the year. I didn't quite make it to all the books on the list, but I read quite a few not on the list so it all worked out. Regardless, the list gave me a great starting point and forced me to read a few books I probably wouldn't have without it. I also kept a list of all the titles I actually did read. I'll be posting it later this month.
This post is devoted to briefly writing about my favorite novels I read. None of these books were published in 2011, but I read them for the first time this year.
1. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
I love Faulkner, but had never read this novel by him and I'm so glad that I did. It's a quick read and one that highlights a family on a nearly impossible journey to bury their wife/mother. As I've stated before, I'm a huge Modernist. I've studied that period more than any other and Faulkner is one of the greatest American examples of Modernism. The internal struggles he captures is flawless and truly gets at the human condition.
2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Two of my friends (who sometimes have different tastes) highly recommended this book to me, so I put it on my list. As a Midwesterner myself, I quickly fell into this novel and the characters it so carefully describes. Some aspects cut a little close to home and gave me that wonderful uncomfortable feeling that good literature can create. In the end, the book is a terribly sad, but real look at what happens to us all as we grow older. Franzen's writing is sharp and entertaining. It's actually somewhat a Christmas novel, but not very cheerful. It's also getting made into an HBO series, which is greatly intriguing.
3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
This book perhaps surprised me more than any other on the list. This is partly because I didn't really know what to expect. A good friend of mine recommended I read it and it sounded intriguing, but I was really blown away by the writing and style of the book. It's a super quick read. I read it in one day. The story is told from the perspective of a 15-year-old autistic boy investigating the murder of his neighbor's poodle. I actually hate stories where dogs die, so it's really a testament to this book that I loved it so much. If I ever teach a fiction workshop, I would use this book to discuss voice. A strange fact about the book is that it is sold as a children's book in the UK and as an adult book here (I think that speaks for itself).
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison
I totally forgot how much I love Toni Morrison. I've read a few of her other novels and Song of Solomon is one of my all-time favorite novels, yet I was still so wowed by Beloved. Morrison's use of language is truly unbeatable in contemporary literature. She really is the poet's fiction writer. She writes about such horrific events and tragedies, yet her language is beautiful, moving, and often overwhelming.
5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
I'll be honest: I rarely read a novel if I've seen the movie version first. I typically like to read the book first and then see the movie. In the case of Revolutionary Road, I saw the film first and just this year read the book. I'm so glad that I did. I had mixed feelings about the movie. I love Kate Winslet, but overall I felt something was missing from that film and the ending didn't feel believable to me. I didn't have any of those issues with the novel and the ending is the same. The novel is amazing. It's such a great exploration of the choices we make in life and how we often trap ourselves. As in most cases, the book out-shined the film.