The final entries on my 2006 reading list:
#54: The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. Probably the best book of the year, though I'll have to review the whole list before I can say that definitively. This is a gentle story of love, honor, loyalty and betrayal. A beautiful portrayal of steadfastness--not by perfect people, for they are sinners all, but in the face of great odds and great calamity. Very much worth your read--and I would give you a few quotes to entice you, but my sisterfriend has the book so I can't!
#55: Memento Mori by Muriel Spark. I like the way Muriel Spark writes. No excess. No fluff. This is a short novel about old people who begin receiving anonymous phone calls from someone who simply says, "Remember, you must die." It then observes the ways that all these people at the end of their lives react to this reminder. A study of our attitudes toward death: how we try to ignore it, catalog and study it, or accept it. The people most successful at dealing with life were those who "did their dying a little at a time; a little every day." It was worth thinking about. I saw a little of myself in each of the characters.
#56: Mr. Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos. This was our December book club book and what a depressing one it was! It is a slow moving tale about Edward Ives--his life, his marriage, his children, and how they are all affected when his son is killed a few days before Christmas. He is a wonderful character, and you feel for him, but it was the exact wrong time of the year to read this. Hijuelos won a Pulitzer for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. I think I'll try that one this year and see if I like it better.
#57: The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. I got this book free when I ordered some other books for Christmas presents for my dad. This book surprised me: I completely expected to hate it, and I didn't! The story is a fable--a tale about Eddie, head of maintenance at an amusement park called Ruby Pier. He is killed on his birthday (his 83rd birthday!) when something goes wrong with a ride. He dies trying to save a little girl in harm's way. When he goes to heaven, he meets five people (some he knows and some he doesn't) who have five lessons to teach him before he can move on. Interesting in the fact that it is a very purgatorial look at the first step in eternal life--whether Mr. Albom realizes it or not. Plus he echoes some of the same themes that Peter Kreeft sounds in his books on dying and heaven: that the getting to fully know ourselves and others will be part of the work (and joy) of Heaven. The book is very short. I read it in an afternoon. But I'd say it was the biggest surprise of 2006--not the best book, but the one I expected the least from and got way more than I expected.