Here's the deal: These are the best books I read in 2010, not the best books published in 2010. I feel like I didn't read much this year, but the truth is I just didn't read much that was very good. There are only a few knock-your-socks-off books out there, you know? Whenever I hand people a copy of Time Traveler's Wife or The Book Thief or The Road, I warn them: I will not be able to recommend you other books as good as these. Because there just aren't any. Many.
Full disclosure: I may or may not have actually read these books in 2010.
In no particular order:
The Reapers Are the Angels, Alden Bell.
This title just wormed its way into my brain and wouldn't leave. I was right ticked that someone else had come up with this beautiful, haunting phrase and not me. I wanted to write a book just to fit this title. Then one night I was reading about angels on wikipedia. And I clicked on a link to a parable. And it turns out, Alden Bell didn't coin this phrase. Jesus did. So at least I don't have to feel too bad for not being as good as, you know. Jesus.
If Cormac McCarthy and Joss Wedon teamed up to write a book about zombies, this would be that book. I'm always up for a good yarn about an apocalypse.
You know you are a Joss Whedon fan when: You refer to it as AN apocalypse, not THE apocalypse.
The Book Thief, Mark Zusak
Another book that found me. Death observes humanity during the terrors of World War II. Observes us with deep tenderness and awe. Liesel restores your faith in humanity. Papa was like an accordion. This book might change you.
The Jacqueline Carey Kushiel Novels.
I loved them. I don't recommend them to most of you who read this blog. They are very sensual. The first fantasy I have ever read that was written directly for the female eye, if you get my drift. Phedre kicks ass and takes names. Joscelin (a dude with an unfortunate moniker) challenges Waldemar Skelig to the holmgang and I had one of my 'spells'.
(If you read these books, and enjoy them, you're going to be too embarrassed to ask for more like them. Anne Bishop is the closest thing I've found, though hers are considerably darker. You're on your own from there.)
The Painted Drum, Louise Erdrich
I think this is Erdrich's most approchable novel, if you will forgive me for using that term on my blog. Her writing is so thoughtful and tender. My dad didn't like it, but he's only into lad lit these days. (Yes I do call DeLillo and McGuane lad lit, dad. Bite me.)
Faithful Place, Tana French
This was my favorite book of the year. It's technically a 'mystery', don't let that scare you off. I don't suffer Patterson, either. One seriously dysfunctional Irish family has a dark secret or two. Tana French's characters are so real to me. For weeks after reading this book I'd be chopping carrots and find myself wondering why Frank never comes round for dinner anymore.
Frank is the main character in the book.
Delicate, Edible Birds, Lauren Groff
I absolutely did not read this book in 2010. Lauren Groff's words are delicate and edible. Like birds. I'm a motherfraking lyrical genius. Motherfriggin wordsmith.
When The Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd, and Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Anne Kidd Taylor. Good old Sue's approach to Christianity just works for me. One day last spring I was wondering around a bookstore feeling lost and empty. When The Heart Waits literally fell off the shelf and landed in front of me. It was exactly what I needed. Traveling With Pomegranates is a mother-daughter memoir about several trips they took to visit sacred sites around the world. Sue Monk Kidd delights me because she is so darn different from me. She is deeply introspective and contemplative and is capable of finding deep meaning out of things like glass pomegranates in a window display or a bee on her shoulder. Some of my happiest moments this year were spent reading this book and considering things deeply the way Sue and her daughter do. Also commendable for its frank look at depression and the complications of mother-daughter relationships. I recommend this one highly. (Sidenote: I couldn't finish The Secret Life of Bees. Just in case you couldn't either.)
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins. The world needs much more Katniss and much less Bella. If you haven't read them, you are a sorry sonofabitch. Apologies. I'm feeling feisty today.
Books I'm most looking forward to reading in 2011:
1) The Reapers are The Angels (I just can't stop saying it). Temple is my favorite character since Buffy. Who was my favorite character since Starbuck. Who was my favorite character since Katniss. It all started for me in about 1989 with a feisty redhead named Anne. With the 'e'.
2)The Orange Eats Creeps, Grace Krilanovich. It's about vampires. I was over vampires before they began. I read Anne Rice in 1991, ok? But someone on NPR's book reviews said "the book feels written in a fever. It is breathless, scary, and like nothing I've ever read before. As critic Steve Erickson wrote, 'If a new literature is at hand then it might as well begin here'. Krilanovich's work will make you believe that new ways of storytelling are still emerging from the margins." Sold.
My Mother, She Killed Me, My Father, He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales. Francine Prose, Karen Joy Fowler, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates all have entries here. I'm into new-spun fairy tales right now. If the title didn't sell you, I don't want to be your friend.
4) Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, Alissa Nutting. I think it's another sort of dark magic-realism deal. On the cover is a naked woman holding a fish.
5)Temperance, Cathy Malkasian. This was from some other list on NPR. It's a graphic novel and I have yet to finish a graphic novel. I'm not highly visual. I get the characters confused.
6) YA lit. It's a brave new world. In YA, if you don't write like 2010's Hemingway, it's a-ok. I dig the elbow room.
Final thoughts on books of 2010: I don't like anything by Kate Morton, but for some reason I wish I did. When will Oprah pick a book written by a woman? Freedom was just not up my alley. Martha Beck, I like your style. You sly, sly minx. I've started Kingsolver's The Lacuna three times now but haven't finished. J.V. Jones, please get your groove back. Jordan/Sanderson, foot-stamping and braid-pulling does not a character make. That's enough, World War II books. The Book Thief is the only one anyone needs to read. How many days 'til Tana French has a new book?