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Top Ten

The Year in Books

Illuminated Manuscript: Jonathan Safran Foer's debut novel made him the hero of new American fiction--sort of.

Top Ten 2002

The Year in News The Maryland Lottery announces its relocation to Montgomery Park, a new redevelopment of the... | By Van Smith and Erin Sullivan

The Year in Film It was an absolutely fantastic year for movie lovers of all kinds.

The Year in Music The tail end of 2001 brought out the flag-waving American in almost every musician, but we really...

The Year in Local Music Surely I wasn't the only person in town who read The Sun's Sunday, Dec. | By Bret McCabe

The Year in Books 1 Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated (Houghton Mifflin) You know a novel is going to...

The Year in Television Two weeks ago, when Roone Arledge --the instrumental TV producer who created such broadcast...

The Year in Art 1Painted Prints at Baltimore Museum of Art Judging from the exhibit's subtitle--The Revelation of... | By Mike Giuliano

The Year on Stage 1Fences at Everyman Theatre A good play is entertaining, but a great play can transport you to...

Posted 12/18/2002


Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated (Houghton Mifflin) You know a novel is going to be unique when the author inserts himself not only as a character, but as the hero. Jonathan Safran Foer pulls it off in this utterly hilarious but equally touching story of a young Jewish American who travels to the Ukraine to explore his roots, and to find the woman who helped his grandfather escape the Nazis. He enlists one Alexander Perchov as his translator and guide. Perchov's English is paltry at best, but with his thesaurus, he chronicles Foer's journey in the most unusual English imaginable, making himself the real hero of the story. (Susan Muaddi Darraj)


Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones (Little, Brown) The success story of Alice Sebold's debut novel is a fitting coda to the life she chronicled in her 1999 memoir Lucky. Partially inspired by the author's own experience as a rape victim, The Lovely Bones is a finely crafted tale of love and loss that transcends the crimes and ghosts haunting its pages. Regardless of the relentless marketing machine, staggering sales, and potential backlash (including The Sun declaring it the "antithesis of art" after failing to assign a reviewer to it), Sebold's memorable novel deserves all of the praise and attention it has received. (Frank Diller)


Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) The Corrections might have cemented Jonathan Franzen's reputation as an American novelist, but How to Be Alone reminds that he's a worthy essayist as well. The pieces here, adapted mainly from previously published essays in Harper's and The New Yorker, cover subjects as varied as the state of the American city, the triumph of television, the erosion of privacy and public life, and his father's succumbing to Alzheimer's. Included, too, is a well-known Harper's essay in which Franzen decries the state of the novel and anticipates writing The Corrections. Throughout all of these excellently written pieces, Franzen dazzles with his ability to think big and connect seemingly disparate topics, capturing a wide range of the American experience. (Scott Carlson)


Ted Heller, Funnymen (Scribner) In his oral history of Vic Fountain and Ziggy Bliss, a fictitious Martin and Lewis-like postwar comedy team, Ted Heller creates not only an uncanny, gut-busting satire but a surprisingly heartfelt tragedy. Heller (son of Joseph) tallies up the long-term cost of fame and fortune on not only the famous and fortunate, but also on the bodies strewn in their wake. Plus, thanks to the way the author gleefully throws thinly veiled gossip tidbits into his tale, show-biz history geeks will have a ball playing spot-the-reference. (Heather Joslyn)


China Mieville, The Scar (Del Rey) Set in the same dark, elaborate sci-fantasy world--Bas Lag--as his previous novel, Perdido Street Station (last year's dazzling winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award), The Scar expands both geographically and thematically on the pervious work, confirming China Mieville's status as one of today's most assured and accomplished writers. Inspired as much by Herman Melville and Charles Dickens as by H.P. Lovecraft and Mervyn Peake, The Scar describes in bewildering detail the adventures of a bitterly exiled linguist who has been pressed into service on a vast floating pirate city in order to help hunt a monstrous leviathan. Mieville--equally adept at creating deliriously byzantine settings, compelling characters, and exciting plots and subplots--has written what is undoubtedly the best genre novel of the year, and quite possibly the year's best work of fiction. (Mahinder Kingra)


Mark Hertsgaard, The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Mark Hertsgaard's timely book addresses the question, "Why do they hate us?" No, it's not because of our freedom, as the Bush administration would have us believe. Other countries and cultures love our freedom, admire our spirit, and may even envy our wealth. But Hertsgaard also lists the transgressions that draw the ire of both enemies and allies: our invasive foreign policy, our tendency to support dictators and despots when economically convenient, our brash consumerism, our ravenous appetite for natural resources among them. There is nothing here that you haven't already read in The Nation or Mother Jones. But the punchy and graceful writing makes the book the primer for the post-Sept. 11 world. (For a full review, see Page 38.) (SC)


Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides) playfully enters the pantheon of Greek epics in this sprawling story of a hermaphrodite retracing his/her twisted family tree. Genetically based gender-bending drives this memorable tale across three generations, and the author clearly did his anatomical homework. But Eugenides is also a student of human nature, and this Herculean effort ultimately succeeds because of its humor and insight while detailing the comedy and tragedy of everyday family drama. (FD)


Ben Marcus, Notable American Women (Vintage) Ben Marcus' experimental fiction is an acquired taste that can quickly become addictive. Notable American Women employs a variety of writing styles (from memoirs to instruction manuals) while chronicling Michael and Jane Marcus' effort to raise their son, Ben, without feelings. Things really go to hell after Jane joins an anti-motion, anti-speech women's movement, imprisons her husband in a hole in the backyard, and uses her son to sire the group's next generation of so-called Silentists. Both humorous and disorienting, Marcus is a master of language whose imagination is matched only by his desire to challenge and reward his readers. (FD)


David Winner, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer (Overlook Press) In which a British journalist tries to explain the history and character of the Netherlands--its obsession with beauty, innovation, architecture, democracy, Calvinism, Jews, and World War II--by deconstructing the way it plays soccer. Strangely enough, he succeeds. Brilliant Orange explains why the Netherlands' teams would rather impress the world than beat it, why the whole country views the international community in the same way, and why the Netherlands' failure to win a World Cup is directly connected in the national psyche to the entire nation's inability to reconcile its guilt and grief over the era of German occupation. (HJ)


Thad Ziolkowski, On a Wave (Atlantic Monthly Press) Poet and essayist Thad Ziolkowski applies his chops here to a memoir of his years as a typical teenager and avid surfer, living with a distant stepfather and a doting mother in 1970s Florida. The elegant language and simple story roll with rhythm, conveying the Zen appeal of surfing and washing up gems, as when Ziolkowski describes paging through Surfer magazines: "The cover issue on the top of the pile . . . shows a surf crouched in a glittery tube, the roof of which looks like a cedar limb weighed down by fresh snow and ice." (SC)

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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