Your Best Reads of 2010: A Retrospective
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I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at 2010 and list some of our favourite reads of the year here. I'll be posting my favourites once the year is over.
My best-rated for the year, in no particular order:
Feed by Mira Grant (my hands-down favorite for the year) - Zombies, blogging, post-apocalyptic political thriller-- Read it!
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor - Fantastic dark fairy-taleesque short stories that I liked far more than I expected.
The Shining by Stephen King - A classic horror novel, but I was surprised at how subtle and deep it was in places.
Fables (yes, the whole series) by Bill Willingham - Graphic novels about fabled characters banished to our 'mundane' worlds - surprising rich and complex with some powerful stories.
Lucky by Alice Sebold - Powerful, if disturbing, memoir about Sebold's encounter with rape, and her struggles toward recovery.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - A classic that went the banned-books rounds this year, about a teenage girl struggling to articulate herself after her rape.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - Excellent end to the Hunger Games series.
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta - Unexpectedly complex and beautifully written. A fantasy story about exiles and war.
An Artificial Night by Seannan McGuire -The latest in what is easily my favorite urban fantasy series. McGuire is also Grant (of Feed uplist), and my fantastic author find of the year. Her Toby Daye is kickass and her faerie world is truly eerie.
The Passage by Justin Cronin - Apocalypse, vampires, adventure, all paced slowly with delicious detail. Loved it.
I can't wait for the next book after The Passage to come out. I'm still having nightmares from that one.
The Chaos Walking trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men) by Patrick Ness. Outstanding YA fiction.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Wow. Just wow.
The Broken Shore & Truth by Peter Temple. Gritty Australian crime, brutal and compelling.
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller. Fascinating story.
Boyhood & Youth by J.M. Coetzee. My first Coetzees! He managed to encapsulate childhood & young adulthood perfectly, warts and all.
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith. Great classic crime, can't believe I hadn't read it before.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. A fascinating look at a different culture/time. Not always compatible with modern thought, but never judgemental.
Howards End by E.M. Forster. Perfect.
The City and the City by China Mieville. Unlike any other crime novel I've read, more sci-fi at times than crime.
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. Sprawling, magnificient.
Breath by Tim Winton. Finally! Tim Winton wrote something I liked!
Sleepless by Charlie Huston. Unputdownable, this man writes thrillers with a great big heart.
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson. So happy that this one kept up the standard of the series! So many levels and layers, all masterfully done.
The Children's Book by AS Byatt. Another dense, fascinating book. Loved it.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Well deserving its classic status, a great insight into war.
Ransom by David Malouf. A retelling of one small incident in the Trojan War, the grand scope of the original story becomes a small intimate portrait of a man. Brilliant.
Sixteen all up. Three Australian authors, five female authors, four "1001" titles. Could do better in all those categories!
My best reads of 2010:
1. The Fifth Head of Cerberus - Gene Wolfe - Brilliant SF
2. Stations of the Tide - Michael Swanwick - Weird, inventive SF
3. Shadows Linger - Glen Cook - The original gritty military fantasy
4. The Dark Light Years - Brian Aldiss - brilliant satire of SFnal tropes
5. The Sandman: The Kindly Ones - Neil Gaiman - excellent graphic novel
6. Extraordinary Tales - J. L. Borges & A. B. Casares - a wonderful selection
7. Nekropolis - Maureen F. McHugh - gripping, well written, character-driven SF
8. Reaper's Gale - Steven Erikson - part of the most awesome fantasy epic going
9. The Dark Continent - Mark Mazower - outstanding history of europe in the 20th century
10. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls - Peter Biskind - great inside look at the new hollywood cinema of the 70s
11. The Great Arab Conquests - Hugh Kennedy - great popular history
12. Ship of Fools - Richard Paul Russo - gripping ghost ship SF
13. Mortal Suns - Tanith Lee - fantasy in an evocative ancient eastern setting
14. Alliance - Jonathan Fenby - evocative narrative history
15. The Tale of One Bad Rat - Bryan Talbot - another great standalone graphic novel
Mostly SF with a few fantasy novels, a couple of history books and a couple of graphic novels.
2010 was a good year for new-to-me authors:
Steve Berry. His new The Emperor's Tomb is at the top of my TBR pile.
Ariana Franklin. Found her Mistress of the Art of Death in the bargain bin somewhere, then quickly scrambled to get the rest of the series from the library.
Neil Gaiman. Though I'd started reading Neil's works in 2009 -- no, that's not completely accurate as I read Stardust in late 1990s -- I thoroughly enjoyed the "adult" works I listened to HIM read in 2010. That's the best way to do it; there's nothing like listening to Neil Gaiman read Neil Gaiman! His Smoke and Mirrors collection is still on my TBR list.
I had a lot of fun reading cozy mysteries this fall, including Joanne Fluke, Livia J. Washburn, Cleo Coyle, and Tamar Myers. Characters are amusing, stories are light, and the recipes are wonderful to collect.
Other specific books I liked were:
The Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman
The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
In Secret Service: A Novel by Mitch Silver
I read almost all of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilters series in 2010--did I mention I have summers off from work? Probably not a good idea; the last one I tried to read seemed a complete rehash of the previous stories and totally unreadable.
Did not care for:
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger
The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther
I didn't read as many in 2010 as I wanted, but I certainly acquired a large number to read in 2011!
1. The Tricking of Freya- Although I started this in 2009. I actually finished it last year.
2. Yes, My Darling Daughter- I'm not sure how I would classify this beyond fiction, but I really enjoyed it.
3. I''d Know You Anywhere- One of the first books I finished on my new Kindle. I've enjoyed Laura Lippman's books in the past, and this one was no exception.
4. The Morland dynasty series- I managed to read several (I think from book eight to partway through book fourteen) this year. They were all enjoyable, so I couldn't really pick one favorite.
favorites from 2010 include:
1) The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
2) The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
3) The Passage by Justin Cronin
4) The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
5) The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald
6) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
7) In Pharoah's Army by Tobias Wolff
8) Dead Man's Walk by Larry McMurtry
9) A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
and that's about it... great year for reading!
My top 10 most memorable reads are:
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer. Dark fantasy at it's best
Kraken by China Melville. Chaotic, rich and vibrant urban fantasy
Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills. Darkly funny with a crazy ending
We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson. Eerie horror.
The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen stories by Edward Hollis Sublime blend of history, myth and architecture.
Big Machine by Victor Lavelle. Unclassifiable. Maybe fortean fiction with a heart
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchel. Fascinating historical fiction.
Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente. Beautiful and baroque fantasy.
If on a Winters Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino. Delightful post modern fiction.
The Walking Dead comic series. Rich, ambitious horror.
Here were my favorite reads of 2010:
Stitches by David Small. A graphic novel memoir that punches you in the gut.
The Night Counter by Alia Yunis. A weird, funny, and touching magical realist novel about a Lebonese American family.
Kabuki: The Alchemy by David Mack. A stunningly beautiful end to the Kabuki comic book series.
Atonement by Ian McEwan. The movie follows it very closely and yet the book is somehow not boring at all.
Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. A hilarious set of graphic novels that speaks to my generation.
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This biography shows how one woman seperated herself from the Islamic extremism she was raised in.
Children of the Sea series (so far) by Daisuke Igarashi. People who don't usually like manga might love this.
The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell. Another graphic novel memoir that will punch you in the gut.
The Unwritten series (so far) by Mike Carey. An increadibly inventive comic book series that pokes fun at Harry Potter.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. A nonfiction book that doesn't feel like nonfiction.
I think that the ten books that I enjoyed most in 2010
were, in no particular order:
Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
Shadows on the Grass by Simon Raven
Any Human Heart by William Boyd (re-read)
Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
The Weather in Iceland by David Profumo
And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
I am looking forward to some equally enjoyable reading this year, and would certainly welcome any recommendations that fellow group members might care to make.
Best wishes to one and all for 2011
These are the ones I awarded 5 stars for in 2010:
The Flying Troutmans & A Boy of Good Breeding both by Miriam Toews - I really like her stuff.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann - easily one of the best
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey - one of the best Australian books this year
Faith Fox by Jane Gardam - a new author to me whose story about baby Faith just spoke to me
Room by Emma Donoghue - what's to say? Fabulous!
We Have always lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson - an oldie, but what a goodie!!
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin - laughter and tears.
Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer - just about perfect
A bit of a mixture, but each one of these books gave me something special.
This is a cross post
I'm going to try to keep it to 5 fiction and 5 nonfiction. Nonfiction will be easier.
1) The Brontës by Juliet Barker - fascinating, comprehensive biography of one of the most ridiculously talented families in history. I couldn't put it down. This is actually one of the best books I read all year, period.
2) Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould - I love his writing, and this book is particularly interesting because of all the drawings of those insane pre-Cambrian species.
3) Family Britain - the follow-up to Austerity Britain is just as good as the first. I love all the interviews with non-famous people. I wish more history books talked about what people really did, and ate, and wore, etc.
4) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - a highly hyped book that actually deserves it.
5) The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig - a beautiful elegy for the world of Zweig's youth.
1) The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope - best book I read all year, but then I am a big fan of the Barchester books.
2) The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth - One of those beautiful world-before-the-wars books, about three generations of a family that had been thrust from one social class to another, much higher one, just before that lifestyle completely disappeared with the onset of WWI.
3) The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig - I would only let myself pick one Zweig book, and this is it.
4) Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann - big, sprawling, multigeneration family novel that is compulsively readable. I loved the Buddenbrook family, and was unhappy about its decline.
5) The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison - stunning and heartbreaking. Morrison is brilliant.
runner up: The Cost of Living, a collection of short stories by Mavis Gallant which were wonderful.
My favorite new-to-me books of 2010 were...
The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
This was my first read of 2010, and one of the most influential (I ended up writing about it extensively and presenting a paper on this novel at SEWSA, the Southeastern Women's Studies Association.) Loved this book. Fascinating mystery, one of the creepiest bad guys you'll meet, and great female investigator. So good.
A Short History of Women, Kate Walbert
Another favorite read--this one follows the women of one family and their varying levels of involvement with the women's rights movement. I stumbled across this at a particularly grueling point in the semester; I loved that it synthesized the decades (shall we say waves?) of feminism into one family, into one continuous, building struggle, more connected than disparate. (Always a struggle in feminism!)
Tomato Rhapsody, Adam Schell
Not quite as connected to my studies as the previous two, but ridiculously fun. The peasants speak in rhyme, the most beautiful girl in the village falls in love with the son of the outcast, and the corrupt lord gets his comeuppance. What's not to love?
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present, Gail Collins
Back to my feminist-y readings. This is exactly what the subtitle indicates, a history of women's rights in America from 1960 to now. It's been done, yes. But not by Gail Collins. She tells the fascinating anecdotes and connects them to the larger picture in a way that keeps you from forgetting them. Loved the book, as I have all of her works.
Jamaica Inn, Daphne du Maurier
du Maurier. Enough said. Love the brooding atmosphere, creepy uncle, mysterious and dashing suitor.
The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Dexter Palmer
I'm having trouble articulating what this novel was about, but it was fan-tabulous. (I think) it falls into the category of steampunk (about that, any suggestions? I'm a newbie, but interested.) Harold ends up trapped in an Prospero's airship with only the voice of his true love, Miranda, to keep him company, to keep him sane, to keep him human. (I love Shakespeare references. I know they're overdone and kind of a short-cut to literary importance. But I still love them. I think they give a work such depth--to invoke the previous and the centuries of thought about the previous. Anyways.) One of the major 'themes' (though the book is so readable that it kind of denies reducing to themes) is reality vs. perception. The young Miranda asks for a unicorn. When she is dissatisfied with the holograph she is initially presented with, the rather diabolical Prospero finds a way to give her exactly what she wants. No wonder that chick is so screwed up (that scene has haunted me since I read the book in March. Lord.) Regardless, such a great book.
A Visitation of Spirits, Randall Kenan
This is another novel that I ended up writing about extensively this semester; I think I read it front to back five times during an end-of-the-semester paper. Again, great book, but not precisely a cheerful one. It is set in the mid-80's in a small, predominately black town in North Carolina. Horace is the only child of his generation in a family of preachers; his grandfather (who is raising him) and his uncle, the current preacher, have great hopes for him which he is, so far, fulfilling. They don't know he is gay. He is so tormented by the impossibility of being himself in his church-led community that he invokes ancient magic to turn himself into a bird. He is unsuccessful. Horace's story is told in flashbacks from a point six months in the future as his family (uncle, grandfather, great aunt) are trying to make sense of the world in light of Horace's tragic end. The book was published about a decade ago, but seemed timely in light of all of the publicized suicides this year. Sometimes hope that it might eventually get better just isn't enough.
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter
And now for something completely different: Fevvers is a circus aerialist in 1899 England, she is rumored to have actual wings under her costume. Jack Walser is a hard-boiled American reporter, determined to expose her as a humbug. Instead everybody ends up with the revolutionaries in Siberia.
Maybe this Time, Jennifer Crusie
Crusie is the only 'fluff' author that I keep. I've re-read all of her books more times than I can count. This is her latest, and, (at first read) I think her best. Andie and North were divorced 10 years ago, barely a year after their whirl-wind courtship. Before she will agree to her boyfriend's proposal, Andie is determined to stop the alimony checks that have been monthly reminders of North. North asks her for some help first. A string of family deaths has left him the ward of some very troubled children in a large house... several nannies have quit, the crazier ones claiming to have seen ghosts, the others just leaving. A very spooky housekeeper, decrepit grounds and rather freaky silent children complete the picture as Andie tries to figure out what is going on. Rip-off or homage to The Turn of the Screw, still, rather fantastic.
Terribly sorry, that got way long-winded. I do love to talk books, though. I've loved reading about all of your favorites--a few (The Brontes, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and If on a winter's night a traveler) have been upgraded to 'omg must read now!' status. (And it is so much more fun to say We Have Always Lived in the Castle as a creepy British child. I don't remember who mentioned that *ahem, wookie*, but I've been doing it for months :).)
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