Sunday, December 26th, 2010
Unlike the lists of respected publications like The New York Times, I don’t claim these are the best books of the year, just my particular favorites. In other words, I might have read more serious and literary books, but these were the most enjoyable — to me. Most were reviewed on this blog. A few were listed on my “What I’m Reading Now” page. And not all are 2010 releases.
So, in no particular order:
Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving.
Irving is a long-standing favorite of mine. I love his quirky characters, recurring themes, and his delightful writing. This book seemed his most self-referential yet, but that didn’t hurt it any. Of course, he and his father were never on the run from a violent lumberjack bent on revenge. Go to Jan. 22, 2010 for my original review.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.
I’ve been recommending this book to lots of friends. Its interrelated stories feature people working on a newspaper and cover the gamut from laugh-out-loud funny to heart rending. It was thoroughly enjoyable, though I do warn people the first story is a bit of a downer. Go to July 22, 2010 for the review.
Super Sad Super True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Set in the near, highly-possible future, this book is both quite unnerving and wildly funny. People largely interact through what is basically a smart phone on steroids and youth is prized above all, yet somehow a technology-challenged man approaching middle age and a young beauty still connect with each other. More or less. An awesome satire. Go to August 22 for the review.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I expected to be intrigued by this non-fiction story exploring how the cells of a poor African American woman changed medicine forever. Actually, I was wowed. Skloot could have made this a real melodrama, instead it’s a clear-eyed portrayal of accepted medical practices plus the impact on Henrietta’s troubled children when they discovered their mother’s cells are alive and used around the world. Reviewed on March 9. 2010.
A Visit from The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.
Another book set in the near future (and the near past), the characters in this novel swirl in and out of the music industry. This book just grows in richness the further you delve into it and the more you learn about each character’s past and future. Reviewed on September 10, 2010.
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell.
With her entertaining yet quite serious exploration of the Puritans who sailed to the New World on the Mayflower, Vowell delivers a deep understanding of her subjects: the highly educated and highly opinionated Puritans. While her respect is obvious, her witty observations keep this book enjoyable as well as highly informative. Reviewed January 2, 2010.
Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor.
I read this for one of my book clubs and thought it was fantastic. A group of starving Irish immigrants sail to America during the Potato Famine, along with some supposedly wealthy passengers, and one person intent on murder. The events of the crossing are interspersed with backstories about the main characters. This was simply an awesome read.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry.
Another book club selection, this book might be short on plot (in its first half at least) but it is long on pleasure — if you like philosophical discussions, which I do. The central characters are a rich 12-year-old girl bent on suicide and her apartment building’s old, plain, and secretly intellectual concierge. A lovely and rewarding read.
Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir.
Noted historian Alison Weir can weave an outstanding non-fiction tale, too. This novel about Lady Jane, the young girl manipulated by her family in hopes of snatching the throne from Elizabeth Tudor, is far above the usual for this genre. Plus, Lady Jane’s story is as remarkable as it is tragic. With Weir’s impressive body of factual work about the Tudor years, you know you’re getting an accurate description of the times. I didn’t originally review this book, but did praise Weir on July 26. What’s not to love?
The Paris Vendetta by Steve Berry.
This fast-paced thriller deserves to be on someone’s list! Berry’s cunning combination of fact and fiction runs circles around Dan Brown. This outing includes the lost, legendary treasure of Napoleon Bonapart as well as a secret group of international tycoons bent on enriching themselves further by using catastrophes to manipulate financial markets. How can you resist?
So those are my favorites. What were yours?
And, a Happy New Year in books to one and all!