Best reads of 2009

What was your best?

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Our picks

Philip Tew picks his highlights and lowlights and dissects the publishing trends of 2009.

Cornelia Oehler selects her favourite New Zealand publications for 2009.

What books have you loved this year? The following lists bring together the cream of the crop of 2009’s books - from the picks of our staff and customers, to the lists published by magazines, newspapers and booksellers.

Since 2000, we have been collecting information on what were the most popular reads for the year.

2009’s Best reads

Here is a listing of favourite books read this year by Christchurch City Libraries staff and customers

Search for this title in the library catalogueThis is how by M.J. Hyland. Published this year, it tells the story of Patrick, a lonely and confused young man whose short-lived engagement has abruptly ended casting him adrift. He lands up in a seaside B&B where, inexplicably he commits a life changing act of violence. Known for the claustrophobic quality of her work, Hyland creates a disconnected and damaged character, who longs for acceptance and love but has no talent for achieving it.


The best book I read this year was Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. Looooved it. How’s that for insightful critique? I have also learned that if you want your own novel to make the ‘best of’ lists, don’t bring it out in November!

Rachael King

There were a lot of books to like in 2009. Tops for me are the high school comic chronicles of Ariel Schrag, graphic novels that absolutely nail the hideousness and elation of adolescence, or what I can remember of it. I wanted to put them on my best Young Adult novels list but they are not classified as Young Adult novels despite being about Young Adults and being written by a Young Adult but that’s an argument that could go on forever and has done since the term Young Adult was invented.

While we’re on the subject of graphic novels and how they often seem tragically under-appreciated, my heart was gladdened by the appearance of that masterpiece Persepolis in second place on the Times Online list of the 100 best books of the last decade.

In the interest of getting one more Young Adult into this post, The Rehearsal by the scarily young and self-possessed Eleanor Catton was another high point in my reading year. I can’t wait to see what she does next after this wonderfully observant and knowing first novel.

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, must be good because it’s a novel about cricket that engaged someone who has spent more hours than any lifetime can spare sitting on the sidelines in a Christchurch easterly watching a two day game grind to a draw. It’s also about family and love and New York and learning to drive. Something for everyone.

My non-fiction rave is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers which turned me into one of those crashing bores who treat friends and family to twenty minute descriptions of what’s been happening in the book they’re reading. I literally could not leave this alone; I kept sneaking back to it and turning the pages with horrified fascination and then complete incredulity. Eggers’ calm, measured recounting of what befell an ordinary working man in New Orleans, trying to do his best for his family and his city in the face of the madness that followed Hurricane Katrina, is perfect.

Robyn, Popular Team, Central Library

Search for this book in the library catalogueBest fiction book(s) this year: The Girl who played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s nest by Stieg Larsson (really one book in two volumes). Great story, terrific characters, satisfying depth and intrigue, all the loose ends tied up in the finale.

Michael A

My best book of the year is the Anti-Twilight Let the right one in. I found it horribly repulsive whilst un-put-downable.

2009 was also the year that I discovered the genius of Transmetropolitan of which I am now a fully fledged fan.


In Project X, Jim Shepard takes a unique look at school shootings. Leading up to the school shooting, we see the novel’s main character Edwin, slowly going in a downward spiral - with bullies, his best friend Flake and his exasperated parents all playing a part. While most novels about school shootings make it hard to empathize with the shooter, Project X takes the reader into the mind of a shooter and helps us to understand how such devastating events can occur.


The Year of the Flood is the sequel to Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and tells an alternative story of the apocalyptic events that unfolded in its predecessor. It ties together multiple narrators, all of whom are in some way connected to Jimmy (the protagonist in ‘Oryx and Crake’), and further explores the ethical issues of environment, GM, consumption and social class introduced in the first book. The book’s greatness stems from the way it explores these issues through a vividly constructed dystopia, which is permeated with Atwood’s usual dark, dry sense of humour. The Year of the Flood will simultanously entertain you, and leave you contemplating important real life issues and dilemmas; the perfect mix of thought-provocation and escapism that characterises many great texts. Well worth the read.


The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins. Richard Dawkins has done it again! He has written a very lucid and descriptive work on Evolution. The book is also lavishly illustrated. A must.


A Winter Vault. The story is a very good one but it is the WRITING itself that shines out and makes it a superb book and one which you want to buy copies of for your friends. As you read you keep having to stop, in total amazement that the author has written this or that observation: it is like travelling along and coming across a basket of jewels, then another, then another! It is breathtaking, and a book to reread again and again.


SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. Fascinating. Fresh perspective. Quirky!


Burnt Offerings
The woman the vampires call The Executioner. From part of the solution, I’ve become part of the problem. Laurell K Hamilton dives head first into the complicated relationships between the Master Vampire of the City, and the head Werewolf of the local pack. This novel shows that your most exciting day is rather boring compared to Anita Blake’s complicated life.


Raising My Voice. Malalai Joya is not afraid to speak her mind. Her book is an uncompromising look at the situation in Afghanistan today and what she thinks needs to be done to for the future.


D-Day Antony Beevor
I’ve read widely on the Second World War ever since I was a boy. And naturally the D Day invasion is something I’ve read about before! But when I saw Antony Beevor had written a D Day account, I got my hands on a copy as soon as I could. I loved Beevor’s Stalingrad, Berlin and Spanish Civil War books and his D Day book is the equal of those. Absolutely gripping read, replete with terrifying personal accounts, new research and new insights. Beevor writes like a novelist but with the rigour of a historian. I thought I knew all about D Day. Antony Beevor proved I did not. Highly recommended even to those with no interest in the Second World War


The Great Gatsby is probably the greatest American novel ever written because Gatsby is a man that everyone can identify with. His dream of being reunited with Daisy is completely unrealistic but he continues to strive after her. There is a message in his quest for us all. Even if our dreams may never come to fruition, the value is in the striving.


The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ nest - Third of Triology by Stieg Larsson. Quite unique, thrilling, once begun very difficult to put down, translated but easy to read, well written. Purchased the book as soon as it came onto the shelves in bookshops.


Empire Falls - An truly satisfying read, utterly involving and full of surprises. Often funny, always thoughtful and at times desperately sad, Richard Russo’s superb novel won the Pulitzer Prize and fully deserved it.


The Crimson Rooms. This book just "took me away". By that I mean that the writing was excellent and the story kept me engrossed. Occassionally a book comes along that gives me that feeling of "unputable down!". This book did that for me. Perfect stress releaser!


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Strong characterisation and a thrilling plot keeps you keen and interested, up all night reading until you can’t keep your eyes open. The choice of characters are diverse enough to keep you connected to see where they go and how they respond in difficult situations. Fabulously scary and although violent it’s not too much to stop you reading. Lisbeth Salander is perfect as the central character who overcomes diversity by using her vast computer skills to find the truth.Brilliant. I’ve read the other in the series which are a must once you’ve read the first. Perfect for complete summer reading.


Madresfield. It was the story of the real Brideshead and is told in an unusual way from the beginning to the present day using the rooms of the house for each chapter, from Evelyn Waugh to Edward Elgar and the various family members it covers a wide range.


Mother’s Day. It was so true, so sad and so beautifully written. The mother tried to be so lovely to everyone just because kindness was in her bones, but her family in particular, abused her kindness. It stayed with me for days afterwards. I loved the Southland landscape which was a very real part of the story.


Twisting Throttle America - Mike Hyde
Brilliantly humourous travel stories, very well writen and as a bonus, authored by a fellow Cantabrian!


The film maker Andrew Zuckerman has brought together the thoughts of 50 prominent leaders over 65, including Judi Dench, Nelson Mandela and Jane Goodall, and couples their ideas on various aspects of life with the most extraordinary portrait photographs I have ever seen. It is astonishingly good. The accompaning DVD is a wonderful companion and brings us another aspect to these wonderful people. I requested this book for our libraries and was so impressed I bought a copy for myself.


Good Omens
I personally enjoyed this book immensley, due mainly to its originality and subject matter. This book deals with the nature of good and evil, and has many thought provoking views about modern (and ancient) religious issues. The fact that Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (the authors) are both masters of dry British humour makes this an even more enjoyable read, and this is definitely my favourite book this year (so far anyway).


As a mad keen Pre-Raphaelites fan I did love Desperate Romantics: the private lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle. There’s not much better than a good old fossick behind the scenes of a lot of stunners and nutters like those boys and girls.


The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas was a surprise hit (so to speak) for me. Also Valley of Grace by Marion Halligan – yay for the Australians.


My best book of the year is The Complaints by Ian Rankin.


They were published in 2008 but I didn’t get to them until this year – my picks are A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Both were compelling and unpredictable, and made me look forward to reading much more from these authors.


The Book ThiefMy favourite read this year (although it was published way back in 2005) has got to be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The characters are what make this book – I became more and more attached to them with every page I turned.


Eat, pray, love - Elizabeth Gilbert writes with a refreshing honesty on her seeking of a spiritual path, unlike many similar themed books that colour the search as a rosy, life affirming new age task to be accomplished without any down side. Elizabeth bares her soul and mind as to the reality of the frustrations, the boredom, the questioning of herself and, yes, even the desire to call it quits and go home. I ultimately found her honest,open account far more uplifting than many I have read.


Treading water Rob Hewitt. It is a good easy read. You can read it in half a day. I really enjoyed the honesty and emotion.


Bicycle Diaries - David Byrne. I’ve been a cyclist in Christchurch since the mid ’80’s so David Byrne’s account of his cycling experiences around the world was something I wanted to read. Not unlike his music, Byrne writes quirkily and with a keen eye for irony. His views on cycling - the need for more of it, the practicalities of cycling in cities and the joy of cycling - gelled with my own. He comments also on urban planning and compares the pros and cons of cycling in different cities world wide. But it’s as an observational travelogue that this book shines. A cyclist’s eye view of our world which is a delight to read. It certainly has lead me to re-evaluate the way I cycle. First time someone’s done that for many years. Well done Mr. Byrne.


The Good Mayor. Utterly delicious writing and endearing characters!


Two fabulous books I read this year were by NZ authors – Limestone by Fiona Farrell and Novel about my Wife by Emily Perkins.


This year the two I enjoyed the most were Geraldine Brooks – People of the book and Anna Marie Nicholson – Pliny’s warning.


I recommend Sarah Thornton’s Seven days in the art world. This was my most memorable read of 2009: it’s thought-provoking and entertaining.


2009 best book lists


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