Monday, December 20, 2010

Diane's Top Books of 2010

Once again the New York Times has published its best books of the year, and once again I am reminded that I'll never be able to read all of the books I want to read.

But I haven't done so bad. In fact, one of my favorite books of the year is also on the Times' list.

I'm still a few books shy of my annual goal of reading 96 -- that's eight every month -- but I don't think the last three or four will displace any of my own 10 favorite books of the year.

The New York Times' list is limited to books published during the year. I'm not that strict -- I simply had to have read the book in 2010. The year it was published follows in parenthesis.

Without further ado ...

10. "The Spectator Bird" by Wallace Stegner (1976)

I reserve almost all of my library books online and rarely scan the stacks. One of the few times I did browse the library shelves, I came away with this book. As Joe Allston comes to terms with growing older, he reads to his wife his diary of 20 years ago, detailing their trip to Denmark. It's a short book -- only 224 pages -- but beautiful.

9. "Enemies of the People" by Kati Marton (2009)

Richard Holbrooke's death this month reminded me of the book I read earlier this year by his widow, Kati Marton. It's the amazing true story of her life behind the Iron Curtain, with two journalist parents in Budapest after World War II. The book is not so much a memoir, however, as a piece of investigative journalism -- Marton unearths government files and secret documents to reconstruct her parents' life while she was only a child.

8. "How Did You Get This Number" by Sloane Crosley (2010)

Crosley is a young, female David Sedaris, and I mean that as a compliment. The essays that make up this collection are alternately hilarious and touching, and often they're both. I also recommend her earlier book of essays, "I Was Told There'd Be Cake."

7. "The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman (2010)

You can take the girl out of the newsroom, but you can't stop her from reading books about the place. This one takes place at a dying English-language newspaper in Rome. Each chapter is a clip in the life of a different character at the paper -- and we all know newspapers have plenty of characters.

6. "Brothers" by Yu Hua (2009 in English)

This Chinese book has a lot of literal toilet humor, but underneath it's a serious tale about how two stepbrothers "weather the changes of the Cultural Revolution, reform and globalization," as Publishers Weekly says. I won't pretend to understand all of the references and metaphors, but I do know I'm still thinking about the book 11 months after I read it.

5. "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen (2010)

I usually steer clear of new books that get this much press -- there's always a long wait to get them at the library, and I don't want people to think I'm reading a book just because Oprah recommended it. I made an exception for "Freedom," and I'm glad I did. The book centers around a Midwestern couple's relationships with each other, their children, their parents and two college friends. At the same time, it tells a larger story about America -- one I'm still trying to unravel.

4. "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson (2003)

Why didn't I read this sooner? That was the first question I asked myself when I finished this nonfiction book about the architecture and wonder of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the murderer who was lurking just beyond its borders. I really wish I would have had a book club to discuss this with!

3. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer (2005)
This was one of those books that is simultaneous hard to read and hard to put down. Nine-year-old Oskar Schell goes on a treasure hunt around New York City to find out more about a key left behind by his father, who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. It's one of the saddest books I read all year, but it's impossible not to laugh at Oskar's eccentricities.

2. "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell (2004)

I have never read a book like this. It's really six stories. And, relying on Publishers Weekly once again, "Each of the narratives is set in a different time and place, each is written in a different prose style, each is broken off mid-action and brought to conclusion in the second half of the book." The effect is amazing.

1. "Tales of the South Pacific" by James A. Michener (1947)

I've long loved the musical "South Pacific," but I decided to read the book of stories on which it was based only after watching the show on Broadway this summer. I was surprised how much it moved me. Of course, I was familiar with several of the characters already, but the book includes so many more. It gave me a closer look at World War II -- and just an inkling about why American boys went off to fight in the first place.

1 comment:

  1. 96 books in a year is certainly impressive!! Thanks for the recommendations -- I will definitely have to check out The Imperfectionists.



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