Here they are, YOUR favorite reads of 2010! Thank you so much for sending in your lists – as ever they give us all great tips on new writers to try out. May 2011 be filled with as much literary goodness. 🙂 Click on ‘more’ to see the lists.
Freedom is a modern day epic that sweeps the reader along with the tale of the Berglund family. Not since reading War & Peace had I been so intrigued by a family saga and completely immersed in their world. It is an absolute masterpiece, flawless in every sense of the word.
My third reading of this classic and it only gets better every time. I love this gem about tribal African culture and its take on slavery.
Powerful. Coetzee’s prose hooked me from the onset and stirred some deep emotions. The protagonist, David, loses everything and is disgraced when he sleeps with a student that rats him out. He seeks refuge at his daughter’s farm who is eventually raped and impregnated.
This is a remarkable collection of Sci-Fi short stories by Ted Chiang. Each and every story has won one of the major awards for Sci-Fi… and these are the only stories he’s written.
I found the characters in this book very likable with their openness to sexuality and relationships. In the contemporary setting of Manhattan’s art world, Peter’s insecurities towards his relationship with his wife and his envy of her younger brother who visits them (and seduces Peter) creates an unexpected tension.
The writer spent a year with a battalion in Iraq. This is their story. Moving, honest and hard. The Good Soldiers is about a war with no winners. Read chapter seven – it’s the best anti-war story I have ever seen.
The most romantic and original book about two friends who fall in love, hate each other, fall in love again, get into relationships with other people, and in the end… well I can’t spoil it for you. Utterly original and moving without being sappy. An instant classic.
This reads like a well-produced documentary. All the facts from the high school shooting in Columbine told in chronological order. Hits you like a ton of bricks but you want to keep turning the page to see what’s next. Even though you know the outcome.
The book that closes the Harry Silver trilogy. Touching and recognisable for everybody who is, or is about to be forty.
Brilliant book about a boy growing up and the wisdom he learned from the orginal Star Wars trilogy. Must-read for every Star Wars fan.
In 2010 I discovered some (new to me) writers which have become safe bets for me (I know I will like whatever I pick up by them). These are Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami and Margaret Atwood. To pick just five books out of the over a hundred I read this year is very difficult, but I will try. In no particular order, they are:
1. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
This was my first read by Neil Gaiman, and I was pleasantly surprised by the modern fairy tale style of his writing. An added bonus was that I read this book while in London (the book deals with the city underneath London) which made the read extra special.
2. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
I am a great fan of dystopian novels, and I loved this book (as well as its sequel/counter part The Year of the Flood) for its ideas and the style of writing. A very interesting and depressing book, because the global apocalypse it predicts might come true.
3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Murakami came recommended to me by fellow members of the reading community at LibraryThing. What I love about Murakami, and especially this book, is the magical feeling he gives you. For me it compares to the feeling Hayao Miyazaki gives his viewers with the Studio Ghibli movies. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was weird, but magical and wonderful at the same time.
4. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
David Mitchell’s books are, for me, comparable to those by Murakami. When first reading The Thousand Autumns it felt like a historical novel, interesting to me because of its links to The Netherlands and Japan. However, on closer inspection, some things in the novel aren’t quite right, and this was confirmed when I later read an interview with David Mitchell in which he said as much, and also said that there might be two more books following this one.
5. Bone, The Complete Edition by Jeff Smith
I have to include a graphic novel into my list, because I have discovered that graphic novels are so much more than superhero comics. I loved Bone from cover to cover, and wish there was so much more to read. The book follows the journey of Bone and his cousins, and ends up with an epic battle between good and evil.
This posthumously published work by a respected historian goes through medieval and out at the other side, challenging and clearly argued and – not something I usually look for in books about medievalism – beautifully produced.
More reflective than his earlier novels, in By Nightfall Cunningham brings you very close to the thoughts and feelings of his protagonist, in a way that looks casual and is anything but.
One of those authors you never see mentioned anywhere, and heaven knows how I found out about him, but I awaited his latest eagerly. Arditti writes originally structured books that make you think, and this is no exception.
I’m tempted by now to entirely stick to authors called Michael, but that would mean missing out a book by another one of my favourites. Like Cunningham, Colm Tóibín has a knack of saying things in just the right way, so unobtrusively that it takes a while to sink in how well he does it.
Enough said, I think.
Special mention for lifetime achievement: Penelope Lively
I’ve reread a lot of Lively’s books recently and a quick look through the records confirms that there hasn’t been a year in the last ten when I didn’t read at least one of her books. Her latest is Family Album. My favourite, although I couldn’t tell you why, is Next to Nature, Art. (Sadly, no longer in print, but usually available via our used and rare books service. — Hayley)
Pauline Nguyen was a young child when her parents left post-war Vietnam. They started a successful Vietnamese restaurant, The Red Lantern, in Sydney. The part of the Nguyen’s family history is written honestly and is just stunning and captivating to read, not often we read such an insight story of what it means to flee your country and how to build up a new life in a new country. Pauline Nguyen is awarded for this book, and I really think she deserved this, this is by far one of the most impressing stories I have ever read. Both family saga and Vietnamese cookbook, already made a few delicious Vietnamese dishes out of the book!
Almost everyone has seen the famous picture of the young running Kim Phuc, whose Vietnamese village Trang Bang was attacked with napalm bombs during the war.
In this book, the reader gets a realistic view in the story behind the picture, about Kim’s childhood, family history, the day her village was attacked and she was caught in the midst of the napalm, how this event changed her life forever, her struggles under the post-war communism regime and how she finally settled in Canada.
An amazing and gripping book!
Terra is just a normal girl, but she is trying to hide the fact that she has a birthmark on her face. Another thing she is trying to hide is her father’s over-controlling and mentally abusive behaviour towards her insecure mother. Terra’s dad thinks Terra isn’t smart enough to go to college, but the talented and artistic Terra knows better.
When she accidentally runs into a guy named Jacob with her car, her life takes a positive turn.
The story takes the reader to China, where Terra and her mom are escaping the growing abusive behaviour of dad, and where a complete new world opens up to them. They are traveling to China with Jacob and his mom, and together they try to visit the orphanage where David lived before his adoption.
In China, Terra learns more about herself, about Jacob, her mom, and about what true beauty really means.
An amazing young adult novel about the high school senior Andi Alpers, whose little brother Truman tragically died in a car accident. Andi flunks her grades at her Brooklyn prep school, and because of that her divorced father takes her with him to Paris, where she stumbles upon an ancient guitar case, which she discovers only can be opened with the antique key she inherited from Truman (which she now wears as a necklace). In the case she finds the diary of Alexandrine Paradis,who lived over two centuries ago.She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want–and couldn’t escape. Andi discovers many resemblances between her and Alexandrine, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages–until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present..
Olivia has just moved to San Francisco with her mom and dad, after the sudden death of her twin sister Violet. Olivia mother tries to cope with the grief of this loss by being almost never at home from her attorney career. Olivia feels lonely at her new school Golden Gate Prep. When her mom wants to take her with her to an official gala party at her firm, Olivia wants to wear Violet’s old dress, and she goes to a seamstress to make it fit for her, and the eccentric seamstress tells her the dress has the power to grant her one wish. The only thing Olivia wishes for is to get her sister back.
At the party Olivia finds herself wearing a beautiful custom creation with a butterfly that bursts from fabric into life as Violet is wished back into Olivia’s life. No one else can see or hear her, but Olivia’s confidence is soon enough that she soon becomes friendly with Calla, the most popular girl in school, and catches the eye of skater cutie Soren. When Soren breaks up with Calla, Olivia can now legally date him, and she still can make a few magic wishes..
Move over Mr Darcy! There’s a new hero in town (well, an almost equally old but still dashing one) and his name is Mr Thornton. I always loved Jane Austen’s books and I still do, but Elizabeth Gaskell is EVEN better. I can’t believe I didn’t discover her sooner! Her portrayal of the industrial revolution and the great contrasts between the agricultural south and the industrious north of England is riveting. I can’t wait to get stuck into Wives & Daughters (it’s a bit hefty, it may have to wait until 2011).
Very haunting story about a girl who tries to save her baby brother from the Nazis by locking him in a secret cupboard.
I really said it all in my review on this blog, but just to recap: I LOVED IT!
Great book set in the 19th century of a young girl who becomes a world famous fossil hunter. By the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Moving story of the abuse and humiliation suffered by African American housekeepers at the hands of their white employers in the 1960s.
Many, many more fabulous books were read in 2010, but these really stood out.
Essential reading for anyone interested in health issues and in particular the obesity epidemic currently being exported by the US to Europe and Asia. Mark makes a deeply-researched case and convincing case for a return to a “Paleo” lifestyle which is more in tune with our genetic heritage. I’ve been following his recommendations for some time and they’ve transformed my life ( and by normal standards I was very fit and healthy already ). I’ve been boring the pants off all my friends about the virtues of this approach, despite which several of them have followed me with very satisfying results.
I reviewed this book earlier for this blog, and have since re-read it with much profit. Karen follows the development of religious thought and places it in the context of movements in many other fields such as the social sciences, psychology, economics and literature, making some very insightful connections and improving my understanding of current issues such as religious terrorism.
A portrait of an Irish family, languorous, infinitely subtle, the characters drawn with pointillistic accuracy, in a luminous and poetic style, but with gentle humour and affection. Cold Comfort Farm meets Henry James meets Remains of the Day. Entrancing.
Friend of this blog Shirley nails the Dutch cycling culture with a delightful selection of photos showing the Dutch in all their glorious eccentricity on their favourite method of transport !
A painfully honest account of the life of a great, tortured artist, much of it told in Richter’s own words through his notebooks. Richter was intensely critical of both himself and those around him and no-one is spared, regardless of stature or reputation.
Absolutely brilliant, it doesn’t need much more explanation. Wilde’s characters have the sharpest tongues in literature. They’re immensely clever, charming, and a little bit evil, in a way that will have you re-reading lines or underlining them with an enamored smirk on your face.
After reading the rave review in the NY Times hailing Keilson as a genius for this work, recently re-introduced in the English translation, how could I not read it? The main character is reminiscent of Raskolnikov of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a man convinced he can intellectualize himself out of a situation: you agree with what he says, you see his intelligence and reason… and yet, you know he is going to fall. It’s painful to read in the context of the history of WWII because his arguments are so empathetic and hopeful, assuring others it will never go too far, while as an audience we’re well aware how far things were taken indeed. Keilson’s writing is quite wonderful. It’s dark and romantic, his sentences are crisp and poetic.
My first foray into the written world of Robbe-Grillet, and it surely won’t be the last. He creates a phenomenal environment, immersive and dizzying. It’s a difficult feat to effectively demonstrate a dream-like state, and he nails it. You’re in a whirlwind, but he has you by the hand, meanwhile whispering in your ear that you probably shouldn’t trust the one leading you.
Most people know this book (or the eponymous movie) by reputation for its gruesomeness. It’s true to say that it’s a playground for perverse and violent fantasies, but to dismiss it as only this is a disservice. At its height, it’s a satire on a society of people whose shallow lives are more disturbing than Bateman’s overt violence. It’s a painstakingly meticulous work, each detail painting more of the picture of the protagonist that we’re constantly repulsed and hypnotized by. Cruel, clever, and occasionally darkly comedic.
I almost didn’t include this book because, once finished, I decided I actually didn’t like it that much. No real judgment on the book for that, mysteries and thrillers just aren’t really my genres. They become a bit too predictable in their use of misdirection. BUT, the reason why I decided to include it in this list is that I did get engrossed enough to stay up til the morning hours to finish it in one night. I haven’t done that in ages, so, credit where credit is due. The book is rather engaging, with the exception of the last hundred pages or so being denouement, which is just absurd. I’m glad I read it and enjoyed it while I was reading it, though when all was said and done, I decided it wasn’t nearly as good as the hype, and I would not continue with the series.
Christopher Boone is an autistic teenager who is obsessed with solving the mystery of who killed the neighbor’s dog across the street. Christopher’s discoveries take him on an adventure that is both hilarious and sad and brings him to places he would normally never have gone. Mark Haddon wonderfully illustrates the relationship between an autistic person and the people around him. It also gives an idea of what it’s like to be autistic and the challenges they all have to face. A great read for people of all ages.
Johnny Truant comes across a piece of work written by a blind man named Zampano and it changes his world forever. Zampano’s story about a house where the inside is bigger than the outside and where the residing family is terrorized by the house and their own inner demons as well. Johnny becomes engrossed with the story and is soon just as horrified and paranoid as the people in it. Danielewski’s novel is written in such a unique way, it makes you feel like you’re lost in the haunted house yourself. It is not an easy read, but it is a satisfying one.
Suzanne Collins shows you a chilling view of a possible future not so far from our very own. Every year 24 teens must compete in the Hunger Games. The Rules are simple; Kill or be killed. When Primrose Everdeen is chosen as the female fighter for her district, her sister Katniss volunteers herself in order to save her younger sister from almost certain death. Peta, the male fighter of the same district confesses his love for Katniss and forces her to consider whether his feelings are genuine or just another ploy to prolong his survival. The Hunger Games is a great book that fills you with suspense and you just cannot put down.
When the animals of “Manor Farm” revolt against their master, they couldn’t be happier with their newly found freedom. Soon enough however, their new democracy calls for leadership. The pigs take on the task, assuring the other animals that they are the best animal for the job. The animals soon discover that their paradise might not be as wonderful as it first seemed. George Orwell’s novel of an all too familiar dystopian setting still resonates with its reader and is still relevant 55 years after it was first published
When the ship carrying his family sinks, Pi Patel is the only survivor. That is, the only human one. Accompanying him in the lifeboat are a dangerous Bengali tiger, a hyena, a zebra and an orangutan. Pi does his best to not only survive, but also take care of the animals that could easily kill him at any moment. What follows is an adventure unlike any other and more amazing than anything ever read before. Yann Martel’s novel is an amazing account of survival at sea even when it seems extremely unlikely.