If somebody gets me to listen to a song and I don't like it, so what? 3 minutes. With a novel, we are talking about putting several hours of someone else's time on the line. And so, while it isn't to be approached as gingerly as "Seriously, take this job," a substantial pinch of ginger is in order.
Anyway, I'm thinking of what would be the one novel I would recommend to the world (i.e, you) from my reading this year. Although I am militant about keeping novel reading in my life [see p.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics is basically written for women under 30, at heart if not chronologically, and I felt both age and gender wrong for the book even as I enjoyed it. So, I'm going to offer it here as my recommended book for women, but, regardless of your gender, you can only read it on my recommendation if you promise first that you will not hold me responsible for the sucky "goldfish" speech near the end.*
New York Trilogy are three novellas that add up to few pages than either of my other finalists. It plays heavily on Boy Themes related to accomplishment, obsession, and losing one's way, and has all these recursive turns of paragraph and plot that seem to appeal more to the geek-male reader than anyone else. So it wins as my recommendation to male readers: especially because it's a more risky recommendation, and studies show men are less risk-averse than women, and yet also shorter, and studies show men begrudge a disappointing book recommendation more than women. Seriously, dude, read this.
I suspect some people won't like the idea of separate recommendations for female and male readers, or will at least think of themselves as not someone for whom gender-specific recommendations are pertinent. For such people, I recommend Cloud Atlas. In terms of the most moments of my reading and thinking, "Dear God, this book is a freaking miracle," Cloud Atlas is the clear winner for this year and likely in my all-time top ten. If there is someone out there who is putting together more interesting English-language sentences one-after-another than David Mitchell, I want to know who it is (I mean it, let me know). Cloud Atlas is a big clever puzzle-box of textual wonders, but it's main shortcoming is that it's a book that uses a really smart conceit to show off Mitchell's virtuosity at the expense of any overarching plot. The book is instead a confederacy of six different plots that are not intended to "come together," and while they do add up to more than the sum of their parts, the sum is maybe still not enough or else it would be the year's hands-down winner.
Importantly, none of these novels is as good as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which remains my favorite contemporary novel. If you haven't read it, seriously, read that. If you've read it and didn't really like it, I don't know why you'd pay any attention to any of my recommendations above.
I'd love to know any recommendation from your own reading that you have for me. Note the singular noun, though: one year -> one novel that's worth a try just because you say so. Beyond that I have to be persuaded.
* The only more dramatic lapse of form I've read in the past few years is the second-to-last page of the The Boy Detective Fails (Joe Meno), which literally made me feel a little stupid for having enjoyed so much of the rest of the book. If you read The Boy Detective Fails, have someone black-out the second-to-last page for you before beginning.
Update: Lucy, who read 120 novels last year, has come out with her top