Everyone’s been posting “best” lists so here’s mine, but it’s a little different than most. It’s not my take on the best books published in 2010. It’s a list of some of the most memorable books of fiction and nonfiction I read this past year, no matter what year they were published. There are so many others, but I feel it would be overwhelming to list any more than this. So here they are, alphabetically by author, grouped into fiction and nonfiction. Forgive me for not ranking them, but they’re so diverse it just wasn’t impossible.
Bender, Aimee. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Doubleday, 2010, 293p. A heartbreaker of a story told by a young girl who suffers from exquisite sensitivity to the emotions of the people around her. It’s haunting and lovely. This is on the Great Group Reads list for 2010.
Boyden, Joseph. Three Day Road. Penguin Canada, 2006, 400p.
Thanks to Katherine Johnson at NoveList for directing my attention to this remarkable novel about two Native Americans who enlist in the Canadian army in World War II. Spare and very affecting.
Gwin, Minrose. The Queen of Palmyra. Harper Perennial, 2010, 432p.
I’m so sorry this came out hard on the heels of Stockett’s The Help. I liked that one, but I liked The Queen of Palmyra even more. It’s set in the summer of 1963, in a town in the Deep South, where racial prejudice rules the lives of black and white like a nasty, pervasive drug. This is also on the Great Group Reads list for 2010.
Daniel, Susanna. Stiltsville. Harper, 2010, 310p.
When Frances Ellerby goes to Miami for a wedding, she makes a best friend, Marse, and falls in love with Dennis DuVal, whose family owns a wonderful beach house on stilts in Biscayne Bay. No plot to speak of, except life itself with all the subtle and seismic changes that come from marriage, motherhood, and friendship. An author to watch.
Jones, Sadie. Small Wars. Knopf, 2009, 352p.
Hal Treherne, a young British soldier and his wife Clara are stationed in Cyprus in 1956 as part of the British occupying force. As the terrorist campaign escalates, Hal finds that his responsibility to quell the violence puts him in untenable moral situations while Clara feels the effect on their marriage and young daughters.
Lamott, Anne. Imperfect Birds. Riverhead Books, 2010, 278p.
Lamott’s a great, insightful prose stylist and this dissection of the life of a family in Marin County, CA is a stunner, a painful account of high school senior Rosie, drug addicted and unmoored and how her parents are unable–or unwilling–to push through the layers of lies and deceit that are dragging her down.
Moody, Rick. Four Fingers of Death. Little, Brown, 2010, 725p.
The story is loosely based on the 1950s scifi flick The Crawling Hand, but Moody turns it into a serio-comic dystopian tour de force. It starts with a voyage to Mars that goes horribly wrong; back in the U.S. we are treated to an outrageous vision of our future. You’ll love it—or not, but you won’t be indifferent.
Shteyngart, Gary. Super Sad True Love Story. Random House, 2010, 334p.
This almost indescribable sad and hilarious novel tells the story of 39-year old Lenny Abramov and his doomed love for Eunice Park. Lenny and Eunice live in some not-so-distant future USA where books are considered smelly artifacts and a constant stream of data from a device that you wear around your neck sends your rankings to everyone you pass on the street. Just read it.
Soli, Tatjana. The Lotus Eaters. St. Martin’s Press, 2010, 384p.
Soli recreates the moral quagmire that was the Vietnam War from the perspective of a group of photojournalists caught up in trying to convey the horrors to the folks back home. Unfortunately the concerns about war reporting that she raises are still quite relevant. This is on the Great Group Reads list for 2010.
Toibin, Colm. Brooklyn. Scribner, 2009, 262p.
Toibin tells this haunting story from the point of view of a young Irish woman, and it’s a triumph of character creation that we are completely inside Eilis’s head, seeing, hearing, and feeling what she does. Eilis leaves her village to come to Brooklyn in the early 1950s in hopes that she’ll have more opportunities here. Loneliness and inexperience combine to change her life. See my review.
Trollope, Anthony. The Way We Live Now. Orig. published 1875, many editions.
I read one of Trollope’s Barchester Towers novels a few years ago, but it just didn’t grab me. This is brilliant, with a cast of characters from all social classes, satire that’s still timely, and a plot that barrels along propelled precisely by the foibles and pretensions of the characters. It was the first book I read on my nook and I was totally absorbed. I’ll eventually get to the TV movie as I work through my Netflix queue, but I’m glad I read it first.
Chabon, Michael. Manhood for Amateurs: the Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son. Harper, 2009, 320p.
I listened to Chabon read this collection of memoir-essays and was charmed by his voice, candor, and scintillating prose.
Flynn, Nick. The Ticking is the Bomb: A Memoir. W.W. Norton, 2010, 240p.
Riveting and raw, Flynn manages to combine some unusual topics. See my review.
Kennedy, Edward. True Compass. Twelve, 2009, 544p.
I listened to Kennedy’s memoir, written shortly before his death in 2009, and loved hearing his stories about growing up as the youngest brother, idolizing his older, charismatic brothers Joe, Jack, and Bobby. The portion about the 1960s is riveting; Kennedy’s recounting of his family’s losses in this decade is painful to hear but it also recalled for me the incredible energy of this time and our certainly that we were on the cusp of momentous change–in politics, personal relationships, and culture.
Pan, Philip. Out of Mao’s Shadow: the Struggle for the Soul of a New China. Simon & Schuster, 2008, 448p.
Pan personalizes issues of human and civil rights in China by telling the stories of people who have defied the government. My book group read it and loved it.
Skloot, Henrietta. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Crown, 2010. 369p.
There’s hardly a “best” list that doesn’t include Skloot’s book and deservedly so. It has everything for a compelling read. See my review.