Out of 78 books (so far) in 2009, about 20 are remarkable, enthralling - I wanted to go on reading them when it was time to eat, sleep, work, take the compost out. So choosing three as "favorites" is rough. In fact, it's downright inaccurate: these are three-of-about-twenty - and my "third" is a cheat altogether.
Convictions by John Kroger: My reading was sparked by Kroger's acceptance speech at the Oregon Book Awards, including his enthusiastic (and flattering) praise/admiration of writers. The book offers his embrace of writing for self-examination as a memoirist, as a tool for the political instruction of his readers, and for the making of art with words - his personal struggle with form & diction for the sake of the craft itself. In this book, he's operating much like an anthropologist who has embraced the role of participant observer; readers are beneficiaries of this perspective even when/if we disagree with his choices as a U.S. Attorney or as a writer.
Mrs. Woolf and the Servants by Alison Light: This book is impressive - amazing, actually - because the writer is doing three different things at once (any one of which is rarely done so well as she's done it): offering literary criticism that's obviously founded on extensive reading plus research in secondary texts and overtly inflected by personal interest/experience; offering well-wrought sociopolitical analysis, particularly though not exclusively of social class as a definitive cultural and psychological category; and writing gracefully, thereby offering the reader pleasure as well as instruction. It's a triple crown winner.
Here's the one that cheats: Equally stunning are the title story (almost a novella) in the collection The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe - first person narration that actually made me gasp at the writer's skill); the verisimilitude of multiple voices/characters in Patricia Smith's poetry collection about Hurricane Katrina, Blood Dazzler; the compelling characters and complex plot(s) of Anne Marie MacDonald's novel The Way The Crow Flies, presenting North American history from a Canadian perspective; the research magic and lyric brilliance of the poems in Sarah Lindsay's collection Twigs And Knucklebones; and E.M. Forster's title character in his novel Maurice, whose emotions, thoughts and outward behavior are designed with such sweet beauty and delicate skill.
Judith Arcana's poems, stories and essays have been published widely for more than thirty years, in print and online. Her most recent collections are a poetry chapbook, 4th Period English, and a chapbook manuscript in an envelope, Family Business. Family Business is available at Broadway Books.