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Favorite Books of 2009

10) A Corner of the Veil by Laurence Cosse. A fun book about a monastery which has just learned of incontrovertible proof of God - and does everything in its power to keep the news from getting out. A fun satire about the power organized religion exercises over the people and the conflict of interest between authority and religion.

9) Julian by Gore Vidal. Vidal made Julian's character come to life for me; he was so witty and more interested in being a philosopher than an emperor. As a bookish nerd sort myself, I loved him quite a bit :-p

8) Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour. The writing style was both cute and critical in its challenge to Iranian censorship. I really liked the author's explanations of Iranian culture and history; I'm so fascinated by the Iranian Revolution anyway and this was an interesting and unique take on their society.

7) Watchmen by Alan Moore. Dear Watchmen, I'm sorry your movie sucked but the graphic novel was quite good. I liked the commentary both on the Cold War specifically and the bureaucratization of power more overarchingly. Parts of the graphic novel were shocking and challenging, no-holds-barred social commentary, and I had a good time reading it.

6) Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg. Tiny book that helped kick-start my rethinking religion. I think I went in the opposite direction than Borg intended; I became much closer to God and more distant from Christianity, but it certainly reconnected me to my spirituality in a time that I really needed it.

5) Songs for the Butcher's Daugher, by Peter Manseau. This was a cute and fun book - perhaps strange adjectives to apply to a book whose situation is centered upon WWII pogroms and a Jewish exile from Russia. But it was; there were moments of hope and wry humor as Malpesh tried to strike a balance between assimilation and reluctance to leave behind the culture of his hometown, along with his never-ending quest for the eponymous butcher's daughter as his mostly-fabricated first love.

4) The Ball and the Cross by G.K. Chesterton. A fun satire about the secular indifference to religion in modern society. As the plot begins with a duel between a strident Catholic and a strident atheist, I felt very personally connected to these characters :-p Chesterton's challenge to audiences was thought-provoking: religion covers topics so vast, how can people who care one way or the other be the exception rather than the norm? So the bewilderment of the rest of the country over the duel rang very true to me, as a reflection of all the people who are only vaguely or culturally religious.

3) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Of course; I can't believe it took me as long to read this book as it did. I loved the conceit of Death as the narrator, and I loved the gentle hand the narration took with readers, that despite being so brutal and tragic a story, it was not meant to overwhelm but rather find sympathy among its audience. The characters were sweet and human and average; I liked that it focused on a regular German family with little involvement in the political aspects of the war but instead showed how the entire country was affected.

2) The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Eco is so smart and his writing is so dense, but it's very gripping, and its density gets me really absorbed in the story. I loved everything going on, I loved feeling in over my head at some points. William and Adso were fun characters, and I liked that the atmosphere was both very medieval and very accessible.

1) City of Thieves by David Benioff. This book was so small, with such a simple plot, yet so powerful. I love Russia and Jewish lit so it had struck my fancy to begin with. The most impressive part of the book was how grim the entire thing really was, yet there was a certain undercurrent of a dark humor that made it not only bearable to the reader, but really engrossing. I adored this book.