If you know me–which again, you probably don’t–you know that I’m a reader. Not just an “Oprah’s Book Club” kind of reader, or a “read whatever’s around” kind of reader, but a reader. So this was an especially tough category for me.

But I did come up with a winner.

My favorite book of 2009 was The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.

I read The Diving Pool last year, and liked it, but wasn’t horribly impressed. But my commitment to contemporary Japanese literature prevailed and I checked this book out from the library. (NYPL is seriously my best friend.)

What should I say about it without giving up too much of the plot?

First, it’s a book about a middle-aged man with short-term memory loss. Now, before you roll your eyes and say “Seriously greenapril? That’s getting to be sooo cliche,” hear me out. I too rolled my eyes and thought about how “popular” short-term memory loss is right now (Memento, 50 First Dates ), and I too was definitely over it. But as soon as I picked up this little book, I was hooked.

The story is about the aforementioned professor with short-term memory loss, his hired housekeeper, and her son. But–and here’s where it gets interesting–it’s also about math. The professor was a mathematician before the accident that robbed him of his ability to remember. But, because he can remember everything before the accident, and because math is so beautifully constant, he uses it as an anchor in the rocky and confusing sea of his memory-less life. When he meets someone he doesn’t know, he asks for their birthday or shoe size, hoping that he can find some connection between it and the numbers of his own life. Everyday when he meets the housekeeper’s son, he names him “Root” because his head is as flat as the top of a square root symbol. He makes a living winning math contests posted in magazines, even when they take months to solve; even though he can’t remember where was was yesterday, the math will always lead to the same conclusions.

The rest of the story is really lovely (Feminist Review calls it “punch-you-in-the-gut beautiful“), and not just in a tragic way.

This story is really about people who choose to love each other.

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