Thursday, December 30, 2010

Beth's Best Reads of 2010

And now for my most anticipated post of the entire year - a look back on the ten best reads of 2010! I love lists and I love ranking books against each other, so it's always fun and frustrating in equal measure to come up with a list of favorite reads. You've probably predicted a good chunk of these, but hopefully there's a few you forgot I even read. Hopefully, something on this list might find its way on your to-read list for 2011.

Here's the rules. The books can be any age, but I had to read them for the first time in the calendar year of 2010. No re-reads allowed. The books are listed in a countdown fashion, so my favorite read is at the bottom of the list at #1. I'm also attaching my original review for each book. Not all of these books are classics or even particularly outstanding, but they all entertained the hell out me in a year when I really needed entertainment. Enjoy!

10. 20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill: This short story collection by Hill (Stephen King's son) features some of the most moving stories I've ever read. Some are strictly horror tales, but several others were simply stories about humans being human. "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead" is a fantastic spin on the zombie tale, where everyone is a living person but finding themselves surprised by their own resurrections. It's a classic tale of regret and redemption. Meanwhile, the story "Pop Art" made me cry my little heart out in its final pages. A moving and beautiful piece on childhood friendship, it surprised me in its surefootedness and emotional complexity. Seriously, if you only read one short story in the next year, make it "Pop Art." It's totally worth every second.

9. Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase: This was the year I discovered a profound love for historical romance. The sole originator of that love was this book. Considered one of the classics of the genre, it did not disappoint. I'm not sure what makes this book so great, but much of its success definitely lies in Chase's writing, which is witty and charming. Dain and Jessica make an intriguing couple, and the way the book creates such a neat narrative circle in the end made the form nerd in me very happy. This was perhaps the single most entertaining book I read all year.

8. Alcools: Poems 1989-1913, by Guillame Apollinaire (Translated by Frances Steegmuller): The World War I-era French poet Apollinaire has been one of my favorite poets for a few years now, but it wasn't until this June that I got around to reading one his most famous collections. Alcools is compulsively readable, a rare thing for a poetry book. Once I started it, I couldn't stop. Everything here is so strange and beautiful and modern.

7. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman: Gaiman's most famous novel for adults is on this list simply for introducing one of my favorite characters not only of 2010 but of all time: Shadow. Shadow is maybe one of the most perfect creations I've ever come across in literature: a badass who's loyal to a fault, a good guy who can't stay out of trouble. He's amazingly complex, and the scenes where he hangs out in the mysterious town of Lakeside, Wisconsin, are among the coolest passages I've ever read. As a bonus, American Gods became my non-reading brother's favorite book when he read it this summer. He's even talking about re-reading it. Yay!

6. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins: A three-for-one deal made up of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, this young adult trilogy was one of the most flat-out entertaining reads I've ever encountered. I was sucked in from the very beginning. The tale of Katniss Everdeen, a teenager in a ruined, post-war state of government, is violent and extremely bittersweet. The final book featured some of the most pessimistic passages I can remember in contemporary literature. Yet, it's honest and terrible and a truly original reading experience. Awesome.

5. Galveston, by Nic Pizzolatto: Without a doubt, this debut novel by a former DePauw professor featured the best sense of place I encountered all year. The story of a convict and the young woman who travels with him in hiding, it's Southern noir in all its glory. The characterizations are good, the plot is strong, and the writing is incredible. Some of the best descriptions of setting I have ever had the joy of reading.

4. Harmonium, by Wallace Stevens: I spent years hating on Wallace Stevens. He's considered one of the greatest American poets of all time, but I always found him too weird. Well, that's changed. The man is a fucking genius, bar none. His inventiveness with language is playful and profound at the same time. He's a poet that's actually fun to read, and I loved this collection - his first - more than any other book of poetry I read all year.

3. Resurrection, by Leo Tolstoy (Translated by Rosemary Edmonds): Tolstoy is second only to Fitzgerald on my list of favorite writers. He just blows me away every time. This novel isn't one of his most famous, and it definitely has some major flaws, but you can't argue with the way he sets up scenes and cathartic moments. He's a master of quiet devastation, even in the middle of his longest epics. This book, despite all its queasy philosophical inquiries, was a wonderful, wonderful read.

2. Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: I love love love this book! It was one of my first reads of 2010, and it set the tone for the entire year. It's funny and witty and has some of my favorite characters of 2010, particularly in the love-hating friends Aziraphale (a pretentious angel) and Crowley (a too-charming demon). This book is such a perfect blend of Pratchett's bizarre humor and Gaiman's obsession with mythology that it had to be a winner. Seriously. I could read this book once or twice a year and probably never get sick of it.

1. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak: It shouldn't surprise any of you that this teen novel takes the lead prize. It's a tearjerker, but it manages to make you cry without being overtly sentimental or treacly. It earns its emotions through its puzzling narrative and strong characters. The figure of Death makes a wonderful narrator, and Zusak uses some fantastic foreshadowing to move his story along. All the main characters have a grace that's admirable and honest. The tale of a girl coming of age in Nazi Germany, it's a book about holding onto humanity in the face of evil, as well as an exploration of the power of language and writing. If you can make it through the end without bawling like a baby, you might not be human. This book is a major accomplishment, and I am so very happy to make it my #1 read of 2010.

Honorable Mentions: Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach; Beyond Heaving Bosoms, by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan; The Help, by Katherine Stockett

Well, I hope you all enjoyed this list. What were your personal favorite reads of the year?

1 comment:

  1. My favorites are definitely dominated by genius author Jasper Fforde. I first started reading his Thursday Next series this past spring, and now that I've read everything he's written I am anxiously awaiting the next book to be published.

    I also loved this obscure fantasy series by Maggie Furey, called the Shadowleague. Kitschy, probably, but I could not put the books down; I ended up reading the 1000+ page series in a week.

    I agree with the greatness that is The Book Thief; fantastic book!