Best Books of 2006

Best Books of 2006

When I discovered that David Mitchell's new novel was about a year in the life of a 13-year-old boy in Eighties suburban Britain, I was a little concerned. I'd loved Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten for the virtuosic range they demonstrated, and the new book's premise seemed comparatively narrow. Mitchell can voice characters regardless of era, gender, age, or nationality – he's even given incorporeal beings and androids believable interior lives, so why I was nervous about him nailing a character closer to his own life is a mystery. Black Swan Green (Random House) may not span centuries or invent new dialects like Mitchell's previous books, but when one considers the difficulty of writing the minutiae of adolescent life in a way that will move adults on levels deeper than the nostalgic, it seems no less ambitious. Lucky for Mitchell, and for us, it is no less successful, either. My favorite of the year by far.

It was also a good year for criticism. While it seems silly to give Nick Hornby extra credit for Housekeeping vs. the Dirt (McSweeney's) – a collection of his "Stuff I've Been Reading" column for The Believer, whose publication in book form was little more than a feat of collation – I'm going to do it anyway. In abandoning the authoritative, encyclopedic knowledge of literature many critics (myself included) feel obligated to pretend, Hornby somehow becomes more authoritative. The same can be said for Tony Hoagland, whose Real Sofistikashun (Graywolf) demonstrated that discussing poetry intelligently needn't involve alienating those without exhaustive knowledge of the genre. Hoagland loves poetry rather than the sound of his own voice, and his utter lack of pretension makes Real Sofistikashun a pleasure.

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