Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Best Books I Read in 2010...

I read 80 books this year. While that may seem like a lot to you, I actually read 105 last year, so clearly I'm slacking. Or better yet, get a new puppy, change jobs and read several 750+-page novels and see how many books you read!

I tried to whittle my list down as best as I could, but after getting stuck at 17, I decided, it's my list, after all. Almost, but not all, of these books were actually published in some form in 2010. For each book on this list, I excerpted my original review; if you're interested, you can click on the title to access the full review.

Enjoy! Comments welcomed.

And now, in no particular order...

One Day by David Nicholls: Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew connect at a party the night they graduate from college in Edinburgh. This book follows the peaks and valleys of Dexter and Emma's relationship on the same day—July 15—each year for over 20 years. Sometimes they're close friends; sometimes they're not. Sometimes one is romantically involved while the other isn't. This is a book about love, in many forms—friendship, romance, sexual attraction, marriage, parent/child relationships, unrequited crushes, etc. Made me sob.

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham: An emotionally compelling and intriguing story of love, longing, happiness and family dysfunction. Peter and Rebecca Harris are a New York married couple in their early 40s. They are mildly happy; both have flirted with affairs but seem rooted to their life together and the struggles they are having with their daughter. And into this complacency comes Rebecca's much-younger brother, Ethan, aka Mizzy (short for The Mistake), a beautiful but flawed young man who has drifted from thing to thing in his life—scholastic success to drug addiction, woman to man, career ambition to a search for inner peace. In just a few short days, their lives (Peter's in particular) change dramatically, as Peter's obsession with Mizzy takes him on an as-yet-undiscovered path. This is Cunningham is at his best.

Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan: I loved Harry Dolan's debut novel. I had my suspicions about where the plot would go. Sometimes I was right and sometimes I was wrong, but the book took so many twists and turns, I found myself surprised from time to time, and not because of random red herrings or improbable occurrences. A man who calls himself David Loogan lives an anonymous life in Ann Arbor, MI. He meets Tom and Laura Kristoll, publishers of a murder-mystery magazine. He builds a friendship with the Kristolls, and begins an affair with Laura. One night Tom asks for Loogan's help with a problem, and shortly thereafter, Tom winds up dead. And that's just the start of the mystery within a mystery within a mystery.

Room by Emma Donoghue: Jack just turned five years old. To celebrate, he and his mother play games, watch TV, eat cake and his mother measures his growth progress by marking his height on the wall. The only thing is, Jack has never been outside the storage shed where he and his mother are being held captive. In fact, Jack was born in Room (his name for the shed) and his mother was kept there for two years before his birth. This is a tremendously affecting story of the amazing love a mother has for her child, creating a whole world in just one room.

Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield: Easily one of the best books I've read in a long while. Part the memoir of a lifelong music lover, part a funny and heartbreaking love story, this book grabbed me at page 1 and never let me go. Sheffield's style is wry, a little sarcastic and unafraid to embrace the emotions that this boy-meets-girl, boy-marries-girl, girl-dies story brings out. If you love music, love memoirs or just love love, this is a book I hope you'll read and treasure.

The Passage by Justin Cronin: Cross Stephen King's The Stand with a little of Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain and Stephenie Meyer's vampires (although not the sensitive, brooding ones) and you've just scratched the surface of the book. This book is 800 pages long, so here's a very simple description: a vampiric bat virus has been harvested to create a more invincible soldier in the wake of the world's problems. The virus makes people immortal and indestructible. The 12 human test cases—criminals rescued from death sentences—become a race of vampire-like creatures called virals. And then all hell breaks loose, as the virals escape and the virus sweeps the US and the world, and mass casualties, war and destruction ensue. Only a young abandoned girl named Amy holds the key to saving the world.

The Theory of Light and Matter by Andrew Porter: What a fantastic short story collection this was!! There is not one clunker in this entire book. From the title story, which tells of a college student's not-quite infatuation with her much-older physics professor, to those that chronicle everything from realizing your parents have a far more complex relationship than you can imagine to the aftermath of a friend's death when you're younger, this book hit me on so many levels. Nearly every one of these stories could be expanded into a novel I'd love to read, and it's not often I can say that.

Four Word Self Help by Patti Digh: Patti Digh's latest book has a simple yet powerful premise: Is life really all that complicated? What if we could solve all our problems with just four simple words? Addressing 12 areas with which many of us struggle—Community, Love, Stress, Travel, Soul, Wellness, Success, Green, Activism, Children, Generosity and Endings—Digh provides meaningful and inspirational suggestions, each in only four words, accompanied by some of the most beautiful illustrations I've ever seen. (All of the artwork was contributed by readers of her 37days blog.) This book doesn't provide 12 easy steps; it provides a road map for you to help yourself.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan: High school student Will Grayson is struggling to survive without making waves. Of course, given that his best friend is the very large—and very out—"Tiny" Cooper, avoiding making waves isn't too easy. He is attracted to his friend Jane, but is afraid to let her know or act on his feelings because it lessens the risk of getting hurt. And then one night, in the strangest of places, he meets another high school student, also named Will Grayson, who has come to meet a guy he has been chatting with over the internet. But the "other" Will Grayson's life is far more complicated. I absolutely loved this book. Narrated in alternating chapters by each Will Grayson, the story is funny, heartbreaking, hopeful and ultimately, amazingly memorable.

The King of Infinite Space by Tyler Dilts: Beth Williams, an English teacher, is brutally murdered one night in her classroom. Long Beach Detective Danny Beckett and his partner, Jen Tanaka, begin investigating the crime that doesn't seem to have any suspects, until suddenly, a number of possible murderers materializes. Beckett and Tanaka try to figure out what happened to Beth while Beckett is struggling with his own personal demons, and Tanaka is trying to keep one of her martial arts students on the straight and narrow, which isn't proving too easy. I am shocked that this is Dilts' first book—I really enjoyed the main characters, and the dialogue seemed authentic. (Sometimes books try to throw too many police procedural terms into the mix to prove their authenticity but wind up seeming fake.)

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr: The six stories in Anthony Doerr's fantastic collection each deal with memory--what memories (and their loss) mean to us, how they move us and how conscious we are in the creation of new memories. Each story has a wholly different premise and different main characters, and takes place in a completely difference place and time, from the lengthy opening story about a town in South Africa where doctors have developed a procedure to harvest memories from those suffering from dementia in the hopes of rebuilding some of the brain's connections, to the concluding story about a dying woman struggling with early memories of growing up in Nazi Germany. And each has its own power—some hit you between the eyes while some slowly build in your mind.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: I read all three of the books in this series this year—The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay—and they wowed me. It is the future, and the nation of Panem has arisen out of what was once North America. Panem is represented by a glorious Capitol, and the world Panem rules is divided into 12 Districts, each focused on a particular industry, like agriculture or coal mining. Those in power remind the citizens of Panem just how insignificant they are once a year, by forcing each District to choose one boy and one girl to represent it in the Hunger Games, a battle of survival televised to all citizens. In Book 1, outspoken 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a resident of District 12, takes her younger sister's place in the Hunger Games. The rest of Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3 follow Katniss and her teammate, Peeta Mellark, through the games and the ramifications. I'm being fairly general in my descriptions because I don't want to spoil anything. Don't be put off by the fact they're young adult books—they're terrific.

Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal: Kiran is a sixth-grade student who knows he's different from his fellow classmates, but in his mind, different is better. He's intrigued by his mother's makeup drawer, takes ballet class instead of basketball, is tremendously focused on his schoolwork and is determined to show everyone how amazing he is at this year's talent show. But all of the things that make Kiran who he is cause him to be ostracized by his peers, which he just doesn't understand. An extremely entertaining, heartwarming story about a boy trying to come to terms with who he is (and mostly liking himself) while reconciling the desires of his parents and his need to be "normal," Satyal did a fantastic job in creating Kiran's character and depicting the tug-of-war of emotions and thoughts he experienced.

Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom: There are two sets of interrelated stories in this collection and some unrelated ones. The first set chronicles William and Clare, lifelong friends who, unbeknownst to their spouses, are falling in love with each other late in life. The stories are told from both William and Clare's points-of-view and see them both through ups and downs. The second set follows Julia, the new widow of a famous jazz musician, and her stepson, Lionel, as they make their ways through life. The other stories touch on various aspects of love, life and relationships, and each is memorable in its own way. A reviewer from Entertainment Weekly said Bloom's writing doesn't stop you in your tracks, but it grabs your heart. And she's at her best in this collection.

The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson: The second and third books in Larsson's Millennium Trilogy were far stronger than the first; both were tremendously compelling, action-packed yet psychologically challenging reads. Both follow the travails of Lisbeth Salander and her journalist friend, Mikael Blomkvist, as they struggle with a scandal that has the potential to rock the entire country of Sweden and ruin both of their lives. These are dense but fast reads, and when I was done I was sorry I was finished with the trilogy.

The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass: To me, one of the marks of a great book is that you keep wondering what would happen to the characters after the story ended. This is definitely one of those books. Seventy-year-old Percy Darling is proud of the fact that he's a bit of a curmudgeon. Although his wife, Poppy, has been dead for many years, and he has a somewhat strained relationship with both of his daughters, he loves his historic suburban house outside of Boston, loves his routine of a morning run and a naked swim in his backyard pond, and enjoys his relationship with his grandson, Robert, a premed student at Harvard. Then he makes the decision to allow the local nursery school, Elves & Fairies, to convert his old barn into the new school facility, which brings myriad surprises into his life.

The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer: This book is an amazingly clever, entertaining, literature-loving romp. It has mystery, adventure, gun-toting librarians, even a roadtrip to Kansas. And Langer has developed a literary vocabulary all his own—women wear dresses called "golightlys," named for the main character in Breakfast at Tiffany's, people wear eyeglasses called franzens, named for the distinctive eyewear sported by author Jonathan Franzen, etc. Unlike anything I've ever read before; definitely give it a try.

No comments:

Post a Comment