Best books lists are always the hardest, simply because unlike albums, movies, and TV shows, it's harder to consume them in mass quantities, especially just ones that came out this year. So my best books list are the best books I read in 2006, not necessarily released in 2006.
Unfortunately, my reading volume was significantly down this year, probably because I spent so much time writing on my blog. No regrets there though, as I love writing and I love getting a chance to express myself.
Four books elevated themselves above the pack this year. My favorite was Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Released in 2005 and a Booker Prize finalist, it is a magnificent book that crosses genres traditionally out-of-sync with literary fiction, namely sci-fi and boarding school melodrama, to tell a touching yet unsentimental story about a mysterious group of youngsters growing into adulthood. To say their youth is the best time of their lives is an understatement, as these youngsters are "special," and doomed to a cruel, unthinkable fate I won't give away here. At times charming, twisted, and ultimately heartbreaking, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read.
In second place was David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, a portrait of a year in the life of a boy (I think he was 12) on the brink of becoming a teenager. The book perfectly captures what a tumultuous time that is--struggling with burgeoning adult feelings and sexuality like a man, while still wanting to run, play, and explore like a boy. The book has genuinely funny and also quite sad moments too, sometimes coming at almost the same time, just like the flood of mixed emotions experienced by a pre-teen boy. Excellent book set in 1980s English small town.
2004's Booker Prize winner, Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty is also set in 1980s England, but centers not around common countryfolk but the posh people of London--the gays, the rich, the powerful--and finds them perfectly pleasant on the surface while all harboring a tragic level of selfishness and compulsions of betrayal. All expect for main character Nick Guest. Just graduated from college and from a squarely middle-class background, Nick moves in with his friend Toby's family, wealthy Londoners with an MP (Tory) father, and is instantly seduced by the glamour, wealth, and power that surrounds them. At odds with this bourgeois lifestyles is his gay life, which they don't mind as long as it stays mostly closeted, as well as his naivety that he's entirely dispensibe at the first sign of trouble. Well-written and thoughtful.
Finally, the best non-fiction book I read this year, Joan Didion's memoir about the loss of her husband (author John Gregory Dunne), The Year of Magical Thinking, is an unbelievably naked portrait of loss and grief, made even sadder by the fact that her daughter, who is ill throughout the story, died subsequently as well.