Choosing the best books of '06 from a year of reading

I'm a sucker for "best of" lists. I love to find out what other people like, especially when it comes to reading.

For me, the top "best of" book is definitely "The Best American Nonrequired Reading" (Houghton Mifflin, $14). Edited by Dave Eggers, this volume features a collection of fiction, nonfiction, screenplays and other stuff that is mostly taken from magazines and literary journals.

For the first time, this year's edition features short lists of things like "Best American Band Names" and "Best American First Sentences." I am a big fan of lists and the ones in this book are particularly fun to read. The book also includes an excerpt from the script of the film "Me, You and Everyone We Know" by Miranda July. Reading lines from the movie reminded me why I liked it so much.

In addition to finding out what other people rate highly, I like sharing my opinions. This year, as usual, I read a lot. I enjoyed almost every book, but some stories were definitely better and more memorable than others.

I loved "The Traveler" by John Twelve Hawks (Vintage, $13.95), not only because it was a great story, but also because it reinforced my basic paranoia. In the novel, society is constantly under surveillance and the government is making plans to keep even closer tabs on everyone.

Not everyone is buying into the idea that surveillance only makes them safer. The story follows a woman named Maya. She is a fighter who is part of a secret society sworn to protect the Travelers, who are people whose spirits can travel to other realms. Most of the Travelers, however, have been killed. Then, Maya learns about a set of twin brothers in California who may be the last Travelers and begins trying to find them.

To me, reading the book was like watching a good movie. I was completely immersed in the story. It's definitely one of the best novels I read this year.

"Company" by Max Barry (Doubleday, $22.95) was another novel I really liked in 2006. Set at a huge office, the book points out how entirely ridiculous corporate life can be with a story about a new employee who asks way too many questions. The answers are not at all what he expects, though.

I fell completely in love with "Pretty Little Dirty" by Amanda Boyden (Vintage, $13.95), which was so good, it almost hurt. The story is narrated by Lisa, who describes her intense friendship with the beautiful Celeste Diamond, from when they meet in sixth grade to college. The novel also includes second-person scenes from concerts, which get more and more intense as the story continues.

I really liked the format of "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Three Rivers Press, $13), a memoir arranged almost entirely in alphabetical order. The entries are divided between Rosenthal's experiences and her life philosophies. I just wish this idea for a memoir as an encyclopedia had been my own.

Another well-arranged book was "Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney's Book of Lists" by the editors of McSweeney's (Vintage, $12.95). I particularly liked all the unicorn-related lists.

Amazingly, in the past year, I found a book about love that I really liked. Of course, it was "If We Ever Break Up, This is My Book" by Jason Logan (Simon Spotlight, $14.95), a collection of heartbreaking and funny drawings and observations about the end of a relationship. Fortunately, there have been no breakups in my recent past, but I still found the book relevant to my life - and highly entertaining.

Of course, I couldn't stay away from books aimed at teen readers during the last 12 months. I particularly liked "The Nannies" by Melody Mayer (Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $8.99), which focuses on three girls living in Hollywood and working as nannies. I also really love the MTV Books, which debuted this year. Titles include "The 310: Life as a Poser" by Beth Killian (MTV Books, $9.95), "Plan B" by Jenny O'Connell (MTV Books, $9.95) and "The Pursuit of Happiness" by Tara Altebrando (MTV Books, $9.95).

I also found my favorite short story collection in 2006. "Magic for Beginners" by Kelly Link was published last year, but I didn't finish reading it until the second half of this year.

I love Link's stories so much. She creates crazy, intriguing worlds that are completely unforgettable. In general, I am often frustrated by the length and content of short stories, but Link's stories are absolutely delightful and engaging. "Magic for Beginners" is a book I'd like to lend to my friends, but it would break my heart if they didn't all love it as much as I do. For the time being, I'm keeping my copy to myself.

I feel the same way about "Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006." If you want to read that one, you'll have to get your own copy. Luckily, my own "best of" list is widely available, both in print editions of the paper and at www.gwinnettdailypost.com. Feel free to share it with everyone you know - and maybe even a few strangers.

If there's a book you think I really ought to read, please e-mail rachael.mason@gwinnettdailypost.com.