Best Books of 2010

Books

2010 brought us a superb year for books.  While this list contains only the fiction books I read this year the list of books that I didn’t get a chance to would be just as long.  Some of the authors are the biggest names in fiction (Franzen, Mitchell, Erdrich) and some are the new and not as widely read.  But all are outstanding.  So if you are wondering what to download to the new Nooks or Kindle’s you received for Christmas, look no further.  You can’t go wrong with any of these.  Just promise me you’ll at least take a look at these before caving and purchasing Mr. Larsson’s oeuvre.  For Ruth’s picks, scroll down.

1) The Surrendered- Chang Rae Lee

The most heartbreaking, powerful literature you will read in 2010, 2011 or ever.  Chang Rae Lee’s tale of life, love and war is as good of a novel as I’ve read in a long, long time.  Ambitious and well executed.

2) Freedom- Jonathan Franzen

There’s Kanye West in music, Mad Men in television and Jonathan Franzen in fiction.  3 people/shows that are better than the accolade’s they receive.  Franzen has successful brought back smart, intellectual writing to the mainstream.  Let’s hope the world continues to read books like this even if Oprah doesn’t tell us to.

3) The Imperfectionists- Tom Rachman

The best debut novel of the year (and one of many on this list) was this one about a failing Italian newspaper.  Huh?  Yes, well told (through the numerous voices in the book) and expertly written.  A real voice to watch in the future.

4) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet- David Mitchell

One of my favorite authors, David Mitchell’s tale of end of the 18th century/beginning of the 19th Nagasaki Harbor Japan and the adventures of Jacob de Zoet as he tries to make money to bring back to his fiancée in Holland.  Entertaining and challenging.  A real treat for fans of his.

5) Hot Springs- Geoffrey Becker

Bernice is determined to get back the child she gave up for adoption 5 years ago.  She convinces her boyfriend to assist in this foolish plan.  She’s a little bit crazy, sexy and adventurous and thinks she is making the right decisions.  An underrated novel that takes the reader from Colorado Springs to Tuscon to Baltimore.  The amazing literary press Tin House put this out and it should be read by more people.

6) Mr. Peanut- Adam Ross

The second debut on this list tells the story of David Pepin and the suspicious death of his wife Alice.  A story of love, unhappiness and despair.  A dazzling debut from another writer to watch for.

7) The Unnamed- Joshua Ferris

Arguably, this is my underrated book of the year.  Although I wasn’t a big fan of his first book (Then We Came to the End) this one struck me all year long.  Released early in the year the tale of Tim Farnsworth and his unfortunate disease.  He can’t stop walking.  Ferris gave us a tale that all can relate to, the ability to be so afflicted that anything can ruin or save us.

8) A Visit From the Goon Squad- Jennifer Egan

Much has been written recently about the latest Jennifer Egan book.  I recently caved and read it in the latter part of the year.  What starts off as a modern rock and roll book turns into much more.  Featuring some great cast of characters, a well told story and a chapter written as a Power Point presentation.  A book most will easily fall in love with.

9) Nemesis- Philip Roth

Philip Roth is my favorite living writer.  It’s that simple.  This year brought another gem from the genius mind of Jersey’s own.  Bucky Cantor is a simple gym teacher/camp counselor in Newark, New Jersey year, 1944.  The polio virus has taken a strong onslaught to the area and Bucky is in the center of it.  One again Roth has given us a story about real events and put his tale and incredibly inventive voice to it.  He continues to be as strong as ever.

10) Kapitoil- Teddy Wayne

Teddy Wayne’s strong debut set in NYC in the months leading up to the Y2K buzz.  Karim Issar is a smart and naïve character that is trying to find his voice.  What ensues is a laugh out loud ride.  Introspective and interesting.

11) Shadow Tag- Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich knows how to pack a wallop.  Events in the book mirrored her life with her husband.  This is an extremely well written novel about the rigors of marriage.

12) Safe from the Neighbors- Steve Yarbrough

This story takes place in the small town in the Mississippi Delta.  Steve Yarbrough’s novel of racism, violence and history shows us what people are capable when put in certain situations.

13) Model Home- Eric Puchner

A bitterly funny, sad and moving story of a family going through some turmoil and unfortunate events in the 80’s.

14) The Privileges- Jonathan Dee

featuring characters that you would never want to know or be friends with (or maybe you would) The Privileges is about just those people.  They are irritating, obnoxious and successful.  The novel is a joy to read and well written from the voice of the husband Adam.  This came out in the first few weeks of the year and I couldn’t put it down.

15) C- Tom McCarthy
Incredibly realized novel told through the decades of Serge Carrefax’s life.  Hard to describe but you will not be able to put it down.

Overrated
The Ask- Sam Lipsyte

An overwrought, overblown hype of a novel.

Most disappointing
Great House- Nicole Krauss

I was (and still am) in love with Nicole Krauss’s previous novels and was really looking forward to this.  What I got was a lack of suspense story written as populist fiction and masqueraded as art.  Here’s to hoping her next is a little better than this.

 

Ruth’s Best of (in no particular order)…

1.)   Just Kids – by Patti Smith

Patti Smith recounts her early bohemian years with Robert Mapplethorpe in 60’s and 70’s New York, before either of them became famous. I loved the story of when they both couldn’t afford to see a show at a museum so one stayed outside while the other saw the show and then came back to tell about it. A beautiful and heartbreaking memoir.

2.)   Freedom – by Jonathan Franzen

The most talked about and written about book of the year, so I’m not going to say anything about it except if you’re a person who reads and you haven’t read it yet, why not?

3.)   Role Models – by John Waters

The brilliant and subversive John Waters writes about some of his favorite personalities- from Comme des Garcons designer Rei Kawakubo to incarcerated ex-Manson family member Leslie van Houten (who he regularly visits in prison) to various local Baltimore characters – Waters shares the love. If I were throwing a fantasy dinner party where I could invite anyone, living or dead , John Waters would be on my list.

4.)   Super Sad True Love Story – by Gary Shteyngart

A satire, and yes, a love story completely written as diary entries and texts, that takes place in the not so distant future set in NYC– where books are smelly artifacts and no one can live without their “apparat” , an iphone device that provides non stop streams of information. The country is run by the military, and China is the new superpower. In these dark times, an unlikely love blossoms between the Woody Allen -like Lenny Abramov 39 year old son of a Russian immigrant, and Eunice Park, a twenty-something Korean American. I can’t do justice to writing about this – I’m no critic, so check out this review which I hope will make you want to read my favorite book of the year.

http://www.slate.com/id/2262500/

Super true – the day I finished reading this book – I literally almost walked into the author and his girlfriend (who physically resemble the main characters of the book) walking past my house. How crazy is that?

5.)   Eating Animals – by Jonathan Safran Foer

The problem with books about vegetarianism is they’re usually preaching to the choir. I mean I don’t know a lot of unapologetic meat eaters who would pick up a book like this, but then again, this is the author of “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, so who knows? Like the author , I spent years wavering between various forms of vegetarianism so I was interested in what he had to say. The catalyst of this book, we’re told, was his impending fatherhood and how he was going to make eating choices for his child. So begins an investigation not just into the horrific industry known as factory farming but into our culture and traditions as well and why it’s necessary to make intelligent choices about what we eat. For the record – he is now a full- fledged vegetarian.

6.)   Life – by Keith Richards

“Keef” is a great storyteller and and this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, I couldn’t put it down. Of course there’s sex, a hell of a lot of drugs, and the usual rock and roll excess but through it all it’s about his love of music. He sounds like someone who still marvels at his good fortune, even now, to be able to do what he loves and to have made a life out of it.

After reading this I felt like I had spent a couple of days hanging out with the guy, You really hear his voice and you feel like he’s recounting the stories to a friend and that friend is you.

 

 

 

 

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