I'm numbering the ones I read this year to track how many books I devour. There is at least one that I read last year and never reviewed. Or if I did I forgot. So oh well. Here you go:
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Laila Lalami.
This is a collection of related short stories by blogger Lalami and she is wonderful. The stories are set in Morocco and Spain, and deal with young Muslim women and men who come of age in a society that is at the mercy of Western influences and strong traditional ties.
Lalami wraps all these tales around a boat full of illegal immigrants crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to the promised land of Spain. It evoked memories of Cuban and Haitian refugees in Florida, and Mexican immigrants in the Southwest. She does a masterful job of giving these people both good and bad rationales for hopping on this barely watertight "boat." Keep in mind that not everyone gets their happy ending. Definitely a keeper though.
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008, ed: Dave Eggers intro: Judy Blume.
I picked this up because it was a dollar. And it turned out to be a really good pick. It's not just short stories; this includes articles that were written for Maxim, lists of the best Facebook groups that year (and yes I was already a member of most of them ;), and of course an intro written by the woman who wrote most of the books we read as kids: Judy BLume. I didn't even know she was still alive, but apparently so.
Marjorie Celona's "Y" is a cliffhanger of a story, which left me wanting more. One of the few times I read a short story and wanted her to turn it into a book.
J. Malcolm Garcia's "The White Train" is an article he had published in The Virginia Quarterly, and rightfully so. I went into it thinking it was a fiction story but it is a very moving, well written article on scrap metal collectors in Argentina.
Emily Raboteau's "Searching for Zion" is a fantastic look at what multiculturalism wrought: she details her struggle being an African-American Jewish woman in New Jersey, dealing with class issues as well.
1) An Island Like You, Judith Ortiz Cofer.
This one I had sitting around for years, ever since I saw Ms Ortiz Cofer do a reading at St. Lawrence. She impressed me enough to buy one of her books, and she autographed it for me. I kind of forgot about it for a while and then I was going through my books and rediscovered it.
Like Lalami's book, Cofer wraps her stories around each other -- a group of Puerto Rican teenagers in 1990s Paterson NJ. She writes both boys and girls, and does quite well with each. Nothing really stands out as better than anything else, but it's a quick, enjoyable read.
2) Work Shirts for Madmen, George Singleton.
I had such high hopes for this one. Singleton's book is about a metal sculptor who, after becoming deeply alcoholic loses most of his ability to work, and turns to ice scuplting. After a horrific run-in with the GOP convention, he is completely out of a job. His wife tries to save him by getting a commission for giant angel statues for Birmingham, AL.
This could have been so good. Instead, it was horrifically confusing and ridiculously stupid. I wanted to throw the book and never pick it up again. I persevered only because I wanted to see if Singleton could clarify everything in the end. I felt like I was drunk reading it and not in a good way.
STAY AWAY FROM THIS ONE.
3) A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick.
This book grabbed me by its back cover alone, and the front cover art is simply beautiful. It belies the horror that is to occur during this book. I could NOT put this one down. It is a little slow at the beginning, but totally worth it. Ralph orders a mail-order bride, and she is not exactly what he expected. In fact, she plans to kill him. But he has plans of his own, and it's so amazing how Goolrick twists everything around and manipulates his characters. The stark Wisconsin winter at the turn of the century is a major character in this book. Do NOT miss this book. This is definitely in my top fifteen books I've read easily.
I just found a bunch more books I haven't read yet, along with the ones I got for my birthday. This precludes the ones I picked up Saturday waiting for a ride. I should never be left alone in Borders, it is a bad bad move. ;)