19). "The Dew Breaker," Edwidge Danticat - only one story worth reading, and I had already read it when I started this book. Forgettable.
18). "Manhattan Beach," Jennifer Egan - pedestrian, and a shade of this writer's ability. I just don't like historical fiction.
17). "Tsar of Love and Techno," Anthony Marr - A slave to form, sometimes sloppy. Never felt like I knew a single character.
Page Turner, but little else
16). "Everything I Never Told You," - Celeste Ng - though it is low on the list, I would actually recommend this book if you want a page turner. Just not my thing.
Severely flawed, but occasionally brilliant
15). "Homesick for Another World," Otessa Mosfegh - this collection features two really great stories, but the rest are basically the same thing over and over, and that thing is shining a light on how gross and flawed the world and the people in it are. Do I need seven stories that one would explain? No. That's why it's this low.
14). "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," Haruki Murakami - Why? Why write this book? There's some good stuff in here, but why?
13). "Fresh Complaint," Jeffrey Eugenides - First story is a banger, but the rest are pretty forgettable.
Consistently average and enjoyable
12). "The Marriage Plot," Jeffrey Eugenides - I read a lot of Eugenides this year. This book is average. Probably ranked a little too high, but I was coming off a Eugenides high tide that lifted all Eugenides-related boats.
Generally brilliant, but still flawed
11). "The Fortress of Solitude," Jonathan Lethem - The first 200 pages are completely indulgent, but this is a really memorable book. I think this guy has a truly great book inside of him.
10). "The Savage Detectives," Roberto Bolano - this book felt like a slog while reading, but I think that was in part me trying to figure out where it was going and the point was. I never sat back and enjoyed the ride. Afterwards I kept returning to small moments (RIP Luscious Skin), and reveling in them.
9). "Pale Fire," Vladimir Nabokov - Too experimental for my taste, but this guy might be the best writer who ever lived. I kind of hate that he wrapped every book around a funhouse mirror, but he is legit the best crafter of sentences I have ever read.
8). "Train Dreams," Denis Johnson - Fucking haunting. I read it shortly after Johnson died. It's only about 150 pages. Read it in a weekend, and I'm a slow reader. It's a eulogy for a century of people who made this country what it is today. People who were forgotten before they were dead.
7). "The Underground Railroad," Colson Whitehead - I can't escape the thought that this book should have been better than it was. Felt as if it "should" have been more violent, but the writing gave the feeling of reading a blend of fantasy and oral history more than a novel.
6). "White Teeth," Zadie Smith - Zadie can write. It is known. I think this book would have been one of my favorites if I had read it in college. As it is, I think history offers a slightly different reading, and it appears less prophetic than it surely did fifteen years ago.
Holy Shit what did I just read?
5). "My Absolute Darling," Gabriel Tallent. I wrote about this book here. Will never get Turtle out of my head.
4). "The Sympathizer," - Viet Thanh Nguyen - The story of a Soviet double agent sowing discord amongst democracy, first in his home of Vietnam, but then in the good old US of A. This book is tremendous. The narrator is downright hilarious, but his humor is part and parcel with his role as a spy. It's his insight into his marks that allows him to cut with irony. His wit is born from a life of thinking on his feet, lying through his teeth, charming an enemy as if they were your friend.
3). "The Corrections," Jonathan Franzen - I'm kind of deferring to the wisdom of the crowd here, because I liked "The Sympathizer" more. But this is a great book, although Franzen definitely tries hard to make it feel like a great book.
Modern Classics that are also perfect books
2). "Gilead," Marilynne Robinson - I wrote enough about this one here. Maybe I found this book at the right time. I don't know. It was perfect to me.
1). "Middlesex," Jeffrey Eugenides - There isn't a boring paragraph in this entire novel. From the razing of Smyrna, to the Detroit riots, to the growing discovery that the main character is not like the rest of us and what that means, this book commands your attention.