I have a compulsion to finish every book that I start. The guilt ignited by a book set aside with a slip of paper marking a place somewhere before its end is enormous. You have to give it a chance, I tell myself, and unless the book is offensively terrible (and I can only think of one that was so hated that it ended up across the room, on the floor, and then in a box marked "DONATION," after 20 pages), I do. I will skim. I will even skip, whole chunks if necessary, but I will give the book its chance, all the way to the end.
(This is sometimes how I feel about dates as well, which is an altogether more worrying habit.)
But sometimes books are unadulterated pleasure, nothing but from beginning to end. These are my ten picks from a year's worth of reading (plus one sentence--or more. I cheat--from my first round review.) that I would prescribe for any kind of malaise.
1. The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan
Sagan offers such enthusiasm about the world as it is, such abundant pleasure in the discovery of knowledge, and such absolute faith in both our capacity to understand and the vastness of what we attempt to understand.
2. Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
All of the virtue she presents begins to peel away, and still I balance on this razor of sympathy, quite sure that I'm not getting the whole story, but almost believing her anyway.
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This book made me say, "really?" and "I can't believe that actually happened" and "people are amazing" and "people are awful" and "I am so freaking lucky to be living in a world where this kind of thing is real, and where someone will tell the whole mucky, awesome story of it."
4. The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
It's a story about figuring out that you love somebody, and it puts in all the expected bits -- the awkward, embarrassing, thrilling parts -- as well as all the bits that are unexpected but immediately recognizable as true.
5. Doing It by Melvin Burgess
Messy, awkward, imaginary, gorgeous, fantasized, humiliating, wonderful.
6. Not Now, Bernard by David McKee
It is an unapologetically, unexpectedly, remorselessly strange story about a boy who gets eaten by a monster.
7. Blackout by Connie Willis
Blackout is responsible for a few days of sleep deprivation.
8. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
It’s saturated with the kind of revelations that explode the mundane and offers them with such humor and intelligence that it’s an absolute pleasure to discover how unfamiliar we are with the contents of our own heads.
9. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading this. It is absolutely brilliant. It made me cry.
10. Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
The world is messed up by people who are messed up, and in the midst of all the shiny bells and whistles, the luminous, giant bunnies and self-propelled myths, what is the thing that really gets you in the gut? That would be the reduction of the world to interactions of two.