Every time I read another “Best of” list, I add to my “Dear Santa” list. I don’t read enough different kinds of books anymore to name any one “the best.” Of course, I’ve read lots of good books lately, hence this blog. Come the holidays, though, and I find myself putting ribbons and bows on a select few, my favorites for my favorite people.
Several friends will be getting copies this year of Chad Harbaugh’s The Art of Fielding (Little, Brown), an old-fashioned first novel about baseball and college, love, friendship and obsession. Henry is the unassuming star shortstop for Westish College, a small Wisconsin school on Lake Michigan. Herman Melville once paid a visit and gave a lecture, sparking the literary career of Guert Afflenlight, a former Harvard humanities prof who’s now college president.
The Harpooners have a shot at the national championship, and the pro scouts have their eye on Henry. Then he makes a surprising errant throw, which knocks out Owen, his brilliant gay roommate and teammate, and leads to a sequence of surprising events. Affenlight falls in love with injured Owen; Henry loses confidence in his game; Pella Affenlight, the president’s prodigal daughter, finds herself involved with Mike Schwartz, team leader and Henry’s mentor, and with Henry himself.
Early on, a pro scout notes that “Henry can flat-out play.” Harbaugh can flat-out write.
Somehow I never thought to put two of my favorite authors togther, but thank goodness James, now 91, set aside detective Adam Dalgliesh to write this delightful homage to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Of course, Austen sequels, prequels, mash-ups and rip-offs are a cottage industry these days; I’m generally wary, but James puts on a very good show, indeed.
Wouldn’t you know that the infamous Wickham, married to Elizabeth Bennet Darcy’s sister Lydia, would return to cause trouble? A mysterious shooting in the woods near Pemberley on a stormy night threatens the happiness of Elizabeth and Darcy, plus Jane and Bingley. James provides the necessary background to this “odious” event, and plots a twisting mystery with a satisfying resolution. The witty writing is spot-on:
“A murder in the family can provide a frisson of excitement at fashionable dinner parties, but little social credit can be expected from the brutal despatch of an undistinguished captain of the infantry, without money or breeding to render him interesting.”
Other 2011 favs that may yet find themselves under the tree were Victoria Roth’s Divergent, an exciting YA dystopian novel that won Goodreads’ book of the year; Lev Grossman’s The Magician Kings, a fine fantasy that builds on the story started in The Magician; Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, an award-winning British novel for fans of Brideshead Revisited; and Bobbie Ann Mason’s The Girl in the Blue Beret, an absorbing novel drawing on her father-in-law’s World War II experiences in France.
And on my TBR list: Robert Massie’s biography Catherine the Great (which I think a certain elf named Dean has already wrapped up); Julian Barnes’ Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending; Ali Smith’s intriguingly titled There But For The; and Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, which I already have on hand, along with Peter Ackroyd’s retelling of Malory’s The Death of King Arthur.
Finally, already read but still to blog about before year’s end, fingers crossed: Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk, a Sherlock Holmes novel sanctioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate; The Nine Lives of Christmas, a sweet holiday romance by Sheila Roberts; and more YA fantasy, including Legend by Marie Lu and the splendiferous fairy tale, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.