Friday, December 4, 2009
Best Book of 2009
Day 4 of the Best of '09 Challenge asks:"What book--fiction or non--touched you? Where were you when you read it? Have you bought and given away multiple copies?"
Over a decade ago I started a log of all the books I'd managed to read. I keep the journal in a drawer by the side of my bed and whenever I finish a book I enter in the title, author, and a few impressions. What I've noticed over the past several years is that I'm reading fewer books and that makes me sad. I love to read; what's going on here? For 2009, there are only 14 books whereas in prior years I'd polish off at least two a month. Seems I'm spending more time blogging, reading other people's blogs, and playing around on Facebook. Rejuvenating my love of turning page after page of an all consuming book is a goal for 2010.
This year there were mindless romps through Twilight and New Moon (Stephanie Meyer) and several really weird books like Hotel World (Ali Smith) and The Way I Found Her (Rose Tremain) which left me asking: what in the world was the point? In the midst of mediocre, I found a true gem in the gorgeously written prose of About Grace by Anthony Doerr. This was a book published a few years back; I bought the hardback edition for my Dad. Inscribed inside the front cover I wrote: "Christmas 2005, To Dad--Happy Reading" He never read the book but I, drawn in by the beautiful dust jacket, plucked it off the shelf in search of similarly beautiful words, earlier this year. I was not disappointed.
I always remember a wonderful passage from Annie Dillard's essay The Writing Life where she explains why we read. She says, "Why are we reading , if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?" She says more but I'll save that for my followup post when I discover what other bloggers are calling their best book of 2009.
About Grace reads as a hauntingly strange, and touching story. A man, a hydrologist, (and this is key) makes a slow motion search over decades, for his daughter who may or may not be alive, perhaps killed in flood waters. From Anchorage to an island in the Caribbean and back to Alaska, tormented by visions, mesmerized by his passion for water in all its forms, moving and frozen, enormous and microscopic, this socially inept man struggles through a lonely life to find his beloved. Imagery of water, wave and ice holds this man's world together like the glue of life.
"How much, how much, how much? A drop of water contains 10 to the 20th power molecules, each one agitated and twitchy, linking and separating with its neighbors, then linking up again, swapping partners millions of times a second. All water in any body is desperate to find more, to adhere to more of itself, to cling to the hand that holds it; to find clouds or oceans; to scream from the throat of a teakettle." (p. 26)
"Frost, like a miniature white forest, backlit by sun, fringed the bottom of the window. Dendrites, crystal aggregates, plumes of ice--an infinite variety. Strange to think that a few million water molecules frozen now on the fuselage of a 757, hurtling toward Miami, could feasibly be the same molecules that seeped through gaps in the foundation of his house, molecules Sandy might have sopped up with a towel and wrung into the yard, to evaporate, become clouds, precipitate, and sink to earth once more." (p. 81)
"Studying ice crystals as a graduate student he eventually found the basic design (equilateral, equiangled hexagons) so icily repeated, so unerringly conforming, that he couldn't help but shudder. Beneath the splendor--the filigreed blossoms, the microscopic stars--was a ghastly inevitability; crystal could not escape their embedded blueprints any more than humans could. Everything hewed to a rigidity of pattern, the certainty of death." (p. 157)
H2O. Water. Anthony Doerr creates an amazing story on the scaffolding of an oxygen bonded to two hydrogens. Brilliant. Highly recommended.