top 10 {books of 2010}

January 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’ve been feeling the bloggy pressure to do a top ten of 2010 list. Things I’ve learned, Things I’ve accomplished, Events…. etc. Not really sure what I had to add to the discussion until I saw this little illustration.

Now that’s something I always have a say about! So without further ado, The Top Ten Books I Read in 2010.

1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I just finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and was so glad I delved into the annals of American Literature to read this gem. It’s great for understanding the history of New York boroughs, as is The Chosen. It will remind you what really matters in life. It’s the growing up story, a bildungsroman, if you will, of a girl living with her parents and little brother in Brooklyn, beginning in 1912. It’s a precious story about the bond within a valiant, honorable, hard-working yet dirt poor family. I think I loved the mother, Katie, more than the main character. The candid glimpses into her psyche as well as each short little description of her character and her telling appearance from her daughter’s perspective were gems. Because hours of work are directly associated with loaves of bread versus school college tuition, it will really make you thankful for your wealth.

2. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is better known for The Kite Runner, but I thought this book was better. It may be my top book, had I not read A Tree more recently. This is the first book  I recommend to be people when they say they need a good read. It is a beautiful and heartfelt account of two women in Afghanistan from the 1960s until around 2000.   It made me feel so naive to realize what crazy violence and atrocities have been occurring there, not only by the Taliban, but by Afghan men towards women. It’s an educational window into a different culture, and the story of the friendship between these women is really a treasure.

3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

Chabon is a great writer. This maybe the most artfully written book I read this year.  This is the type of American book and type of  American writer that future English majors will be studying. I enjoyed rereading certain sentences to let their artfulness sink in. If one definition of art is portraying something with skill and dexterity in a new and unexpected way, thereby making that something noteworthy, then I can safely say I know why this won the Pulitzer.  Not only is it beautifully written, but  it’s a new story. There are so many secondary plots, themes and struggles that I don’t even know where to begin. Essentially, it is the story of a Jewish immigrant to New York in the years preceding WW2. All he wants to do is save his brother from the throes of warring Europe and this goal drives the rest of his life. He is a trained escape artist, meets his cousin {who has his own set of issues}, together they craft a comic book series –writing, illustrating, fighting for publication then fighting not to loose the rights and money they are owed by big, growing, corporate publishers when the 1930s comic book boom occurs. Along the way they encounter all different types of people and get tied up in a variety of messes.

I loved it simply as a historical read, because it makes the connection between a war abroad and a quest for heros within comic books, all against the backdrop of a New York City filled with dreamers, immigrants and big business booming in the grey areas of copyright and antitrust laws. So many crazy events occur in this book that would seem so odd and obscure if I recounted them out of context –some of which are a bit seedy and graphic, which is unfortunate for my book recommendation arsenal, as I feel like I must give fair warning. However, the occurrence of an arguably unsettling encounter is also so creatively and subtly rendered that I can’t help but argue that the skillful painting of base encounters is part of Chabon’s art.

4. Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Cry, the Beloved Country is another one I am pleased to have dug out of the literary canon. According to Visual Bookshelf (where I keep track of my reads)  it “is a beautifully told and profoundly compassionate story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set in the troubled and changing South Africa of the 1940s.” I think it is a treasure of a story, suffused, from the scenery to the characters, with rich, poignant emotions. It was beautifully written, but different, like nothing I’ve ever read before. It was also very educational in that I knew close to nothing about the racial issues in South Africa previous to reading this story. Stephen Kumalo is probably one of the very best characters in literature I have ever had the privilege of getting to know, if you will. Wise, loving, compassionate, patient and above all, tirelessly forgiving.

6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This is another book I will quickly recommend to those looking for a good read. It’s the story of a German occupied British Island in the English Channel during WW2. So, yes, another historical novel with a new take on this comprehensively addressed war. I was wary of its epistolary style, the fact that it was written through letters, but it turned out to be an enjoyable, very heartwarming read. Each of the characters are fun people who I’d love to be friends with.

7. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I know you’ve heard about this one. Now that I think about it, it’s certainly historical fiction as well and captures a very real racial dynamic that is arguably stronger  in but certainly not confined to the south. It is very interesting in terms of American history and our deeply entrenched racial issues. I thought the pretext (writing a book about writing a book) was intriguing and added an admittedly artful dimension. It captured the complexity and challenge of not only the situation at the time, but the issue of capturing it with honesty and dignity.

8. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

They will study McCarthy in English classes as well. For context, McCarthy also penned the Border Trilogy which starts with All the Pretty Horses and wrote No Country for Old Men; both of which, like The Road, have been made into movies. I think he is noteworthy because primarily his works are fantastic modern Texas and Mexico “westerns,” with cowboys, horses and beautiful descriptions of the nature and people in this part of the country. The Road was set in post apocalyptic America and is the story of a father and son struggling to survive. They encounter abandoned gas stations and houses, and the father explains the former uses of common household objects to the boy. It’s very postmodern. They wander. Speak in incomplete sentences. McCarthy is lax with punctuation, capitalization and even parts of speech. While not using apostrophes in contractions is interesting and curious, perhaps indicating that the grammatical rules stopped applying when the world ended, what I enjoyed and was most intrigued by was his artful conversion of adjectives into nouns. “They walked into the misty and the grey,” for example. It’s not a light read, oftentimes I wished I had a professor around to hash things out with me, but arguably it’s at the forefront of the American Literature genre.

9. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Speaking of the American Literary canon, I had to read this for work, but I am so glad I finally was forced to read it. It’s a beautifully, geniusly written tale of a family during the Dust Bowl Great Depression era traveling through the west to California looking for work. The entire book was like reading a Dorthea Lange picture. It is not a light read either, but if you’ve never had to read it, I strongly suggest it. With the symbolic and descriptive vignettesque breaks in the plot, Steinbeck shows off his multi-dimensional writing prowess –it is rich with powerful imagery and palpable, raw emotion. Like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn it will make you realize what all you take for granted.

10. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson & The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Now these are tied down here because they are similar and worth addressing. Not everyone shares my tastes and opinions on literature and you might like these books better than I did. They are books many people are enjoying, so I still recommend them, but because I wasn’t particularly enamored with them, I’m sticking them here together.

The Devil in the White City tells the true story of an unbelievably crazy man who commits all kinds of graphic atrocities while the Chicago World’s Fair is struggling to get itself off the ground. While I didn’t necessarily enjoy basking in the subject matter of the crazy man, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by his antics. I enjoyed and appreciated it more for the historical insight into the history, cultural personality and self identity of Chicago as well as its relationship, if you will, with young New York City.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is insanely popular. It was a fast-paced, compelling and interesting story, and I can see how Larsson’s series of these three books are going to make fantastic thriller movies. Call me a wimp or maybe a prude, but I just didn’t particularly enjoy the graphic and violent aspects of this book, nor did I think it was impressively written. Again, it’s a very well woven and fast paced tale, but more like reading a mystery movie than reading a novel. If you want a good story that will keep you on your toes, and if you want to say you’ve read the books before the movies begin to come out, certainly read this series.

And that’s it! Let me know if you want to borrow one of these! I actually have an audio version of A Thousand Splendid Suns on CD free for the taking, if anyone wants it.

Happy New Year, friends, and thanks for reading my blog!

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