‘Tis that time of the year ….the time for the top ten list. So, I’ll join the crowd and do the same with the books I have read in 2010. It’s a nice way to look back at what I’ve managed to read over the last twelve months, and maybe it will provide some book suggestions for others out there. However, I can hardly claim my list is comprehensive. I’m certain I’ve missed a lot of good books, as I wait for them to come off my library reserve list, or as they sit on my nightstand waiting to be read, or as they have passed me by altogether. Nor can I claim my list is limited to books published this year. No, this is just the best books I got to, read, and thoroughly enjoyed in 2010, regardless of when they were published. Below, I’ve listed my top picks and a quick assessment of each book.
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore: I didn’t read this one for the plot, though there is a plot twist of sorts at the end of the novel that keeps the story moving forward. Rather, I read this for Moore’s writing, which is impeccable. She could write about any topic at all and I would still want to read it. The narrator, Tassie, is an odd duck, but I really liked her quirkiness. For instance, Tassie says the following about the children she babysits: “After I spent too much time playing their games, my mind grew peckish and longed to lose itself in some book I had in my backpack. I was ever hopeful of early bedtimes and long naps.” Sigh. I think many moms (ahem, like me) can relate, at least times, to this sentiment!
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin: The sole non fiction entry on my list. I feel a bit corny listing a book about happiness, but this book happened to show up at a time in my life when I really needed it, and it gave me some inspiration to move on from some difficulties in my life. Plus, Gretchen Rubin is a woman after my own heart. She’s a former lawyer who gave up the profession to pursue writing. She’s a self professed bookworm, too! I’m not sure that everyone can relate to Rubin’s idea, they are frankly kind of nerdy, but since I’m a nerdy kind of gal they worked for me.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: This one is obviously not a current pick, but I’d heard it recommended many times and so I finally decided to check it out. Well worth it. The prose is old fashioned, smooth, melancholy and elegant. Somehow, the book seamlessly presents big issues like love, marriage, friendship, success, and envy without beating you over the head with some sort of hard learned lesson.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart: This one is quite funny and witty (I really and truly laughed out loud on several occasions), and perhaps is scarily prescient about the near future. (Tip: buy real estate in Staten Island! It’s the next big thing!) SSTLS is self deprecating and has an edge, with much tragedy amongst the comedy.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: Everyone knows about this one, and perhaps it is quite pedestrian of me to praise such a book. My apologies, but I loved it. I could feel Franzen fully inhabit the psyches of Patty, Richard and Walter. I aspire to this sort of masterful character development in my own writing.
The Slap by Christos Tsilokas: I wouldn’t say I LOVED this book. It troubled me. There were points where I found it misogynistic. However, I really liked the concept (one incident and its aftershocks, as perceived and experienced by several different members of a group of friends and family), and the book was thought provoking and well written.
Great House by Nicole Krauss: I wouldn’t say I completely LOVED this one either. However, I will fully admit it was beautifully written. Anyone who appreciates gorgeous prose will luxuriate in this novel, but don’t pick it up if you are a plot oriented reader.
Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler: A work of historical fiction about the Bronte family. I loved this book because I have always adored the Bronte sisters, and this was a lovely way to learn some more about them.
Room by Emma Donoghue: Another popular choice, but again, the voice was simply amazing. I marvel at Donoghue’s ability to speak and think exactly like a five year old boy. As a parent, parts of the book actually made me physically nervous, but as a reader I see that a testament to the power of this novel.
And my top pick for 2010–
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: I had previously read one of Egan’s earlier novels, The Keep, and I liked it but didn’t fall in love with it. Thus, A Visit from the Good Squad took me completely by surprise. It is a huge step forward for Egan. She takes the whole “linked short stories” concept to another level. The stories were connected, sometimes barely, and yet they simply clicked together in a profound way, a way that makes you consider how people can affect one another by the slightest action. Somehow, Egan took topics I’d never cared much about as a reader of fiction, like the music business or the San Francisco punk scene in the 1980’s, and made them intriguing. Even the power point section, which at first blush sounds like it could be horribly contrived, was perfectly done. It read like a poem, which I think is an amazing feat, considering that the power point medium is usually quite tedious.