I read a lot of books this past year. Many of them were textbooks, but being in Comparative Literature means that many of your textbooks are just really damn fine works of writing, that you find yourself loving to read. Some you can't put down. That said, some of them are just plain old textbooks on subjects like literary theory or narratology and so you read other things to remind yourself why you love literature. Here's a list of both the best texts and the best mind-numbing and mind blowing books I read in 2006, in no particular order.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson: I read it first for my Science Fiction class back in the winter semester of 06 through a mix of audiobook and hard copy. It's hip, it's cool and it has the prestige of the best opening I've ever read, hands down. Thouroughly enjoyable, both as a religious studies and comparative literature student.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Jesus' childhood Friend by Christopher Moore: I don't laugh out loud at books very often. Terry Pratchett is about the only writer who really gets me laughing, but Christopher Moore had me lol'ing many times throughout this irreverently reverent take on the life of Christ. Being a book that could win the award for most inside jokes only a seminary student will get doesn't hurt either.
It's Superman!: A Novel by Tom DeHaven: If I ever get to teach a course on pop culture or pulp fiction, this excellent revisionist look at the origins of the Man of Steel will be on the required reading list. Unlike most comic-book novels, which are usually just comic books without the pictures, Tom DeHaven achieves a beautiful sense of verisimilitude about a beloved cultural icon. There are winks to the die-hard fans, but this book is utterly accessible to readers who love good writing.
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney: This translation is to Beowulf what Eugene Peterson's The Message was to the Bible. It brings the story to life in a way that engages readers--I've both read it and listened to it read by the author and enjoyed both. With phrases like "the hero stood, resolute in his helmet", what's there not to like?
Bone: One Volume Edition by Jeff Smith: I was first introduced to Jeff Smith's wonderful black and white comic fantasy by the free giveaway of a Christmas special, so it was appropriate that I finished reading the entire collected work around Christmas this year (it was a Christmas present from last year!). Think Walt Kelley's Pogo meets J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and you have an approximation of what this wonderful, funny and epic work is like. Anything else would spoil all the wonderful surprises.
300 by Frank Miller: The graphic novel the upcoming movie is based on. 300 Spartan warriors vs. the Persian army. If the movie is half as good as the graphic novel, it's going to be awesome. 'Nuff said.