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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, January 6, 2002

Favorite Books of 2001 Barely Scratch the Surface

Even the most avid reader cannot come close to reading the thousands of books published each year. My fairly respectable average of two books a week only adds up to 100 books a year. What's a reader to do?

As it is, no two readers are alike. And with such a wealth of titles to choose from, they don't have to be. Here is my list of fiction favorites for the year 2001. Most of them have also appeared on various year-end "best" lists.

Middle Age: a Romance by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco).

Joyce Carol Oates is prolific, amazingly talented, and funny. Middle Age is set in Salthill-on-Hudson, a picturesque suburban village half an hour from Manhattan, where the residents are all beautiful, rich, and middle-aged. The only obvious misfit, unconventional sculptor Adam Berendt, has somehow managed to affect all their lives. His sudden half-heroic death causes reflection and change in the community.

Dreamcatcher by Stephen King (Scribner).

Most of the trademark Stephen King gross-outs occur in the first 100 pages of this book, so if you keep reading you'll discover a good old-fashioned yarn of male bonding set in the context of an alien invasion. It's good to know that King's awful car accident didn't finish off his writing talent.

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold (Harper Audio).

First-time novelist Gold takes two very real events -- the mysterious sudden death of President Warren G. Harding and a complicated trick by Master Magician Charles Carter -- and spins a delightful tale that reminded me of Doctorow's Ragtime. Carter, dubbed "the Great" by Harry Houdini himself, was the 1920's equivalent of Las Vegas' Siegfried and Roy. A friend who read the book said I was missing a lot in the 9-hour audio version, but famed actor Stanley Tucci performed it with wonderful flair.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

I think that Oprah has done more for reading than anybody alive, so it's really too bad that this winner of the 2001 National Book Award made her so indignant by his disparaging comments about "Oprah books" that he was uninvited to her show. This controversial book is an insightful yet hilarious peek inside a modern dysfunctional family, warts and all.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Collins).

This novel was actually published in late 2000, but since it's the favorite of almost everyone I know, I decided to include it in this list. Set in a farming community on the Virginia-Kentucky border, it explores the conflicts between city and country, modern and traditional, and ecology and agriculture. Kingsolver, who trained as a biologist, is great at the details of nature, both human and otherwise.

How To Be Good by Nick Hornby (Putnam Berkley Audio).

The author of High Fidelity (made into a movie with John Cusack) returns with this laugh-out-loud attempt to answer the question of what it takes to be good in today's world. Liberal, hard-working Dr. Katie Carr is decidedly unsettled when her sarcastic husband is "saved" by punk faith healer D J GoodNews and begins giving away all their possessions. The audio book is deliciously performed by British actress Frances Barber.

Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey (Henry Holt and Company).

This short British novel evokes the mid-twentieth century Scottish countryside as well as the enduring love of mother and child. Eva, whose mother died at birth, finds her way in the world, always aware of her beloved mother's spirit and will.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.