Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best Books of the Year Lists are Everywhere!

 I absolutely love it when the New York Times publishes their Ten Best Books of 2010--it is one of the first signs of a deluge of best of lists are coming.  It also validates some of my reading choices, or just the opposite (Entertainment Weekly compiled a list called the 5 worst books of the year--I read and actually liked one their worst).  The odd thing, for me at least, is my lack of having read only one or two of the books on the list, or, the horror of the thought, none of them.  This year I was saved by The Warmth of Other Suns, the sole book I did read on the list.  I meant to read A Visit from the Goon Squad and Room, but I ran out of time.  Some of my fellow booksellers have read other books on this list as well as some other lists, that I have not--that is the beauty of working in a bookshop.  If one of us has not read it, there is a good chance another bookseller has.  Most booksellers I know mentally carry around  a working, ever-changing list of their favorite books of the year.  They are just itching to talk about them.

What did I read this year?  I went through my list of books that I read, and I was surprised at the count.  So, I thought I could easily compile my very own list. I know my list will not be the perfect list--I may not have read the book that I really would have loved, and may not till 2015, but this is the list of new books that I did read in 2010:

10. Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas--Filled with questions that everybody faces in their life--this book is filled with philosophical conundrums about relationships, the meaning of life, and the end of the universe.   A metaphysical novel that is light on action but was one of the most satisfying reads of the year. The packaging of this book is brilliant as well.
9. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein-- This book hurt my brain at first--and then I fell in love with it.  Rebecca Goldstein does not pull any punches, and I can see many reasons why people would not like this book.  Her writing is compelling and challenging, and she will make you think about the people you meet in your life, in a new way.
8. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson--Wilkerson chronicles the long migration of black citizens from the south to northern and western cities.  Compelling and excellently written--I could not put this down.
7. Antony & Cleopatra by Andrian Goldsworthy--No, I did not read Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, mostly because I had already read this one.  How many Cleopatra books can one person read in a year?  Besides I love Goldsworthy, this is good, very, very good.
6. Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer--A retelling of the tempest using Steampunk as the background.  Imprisoned in an airship above a city, Harold Winslow pens his memoirs as a disembodied voice haunts him.  A great first novel.
5.Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde--You may know Fforde from his Thursday next series, and if you love those don't skip this one.  He has created a vast complex dystopian world, where everybody is organized into a colortocracy.  This could easily be his most ambitious and accomplished series, I know I am eagerly waiting for book two.
4. How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu--Charles Yu is a time machine repair mechanic.  He lives in a tiny time machine with his non-existent but real dog, Ed and TAMMY an operating system with low self-esteem, who he has hidden feelings for. After an incident that could have a paradoxical effect on the universe, Yu attempts to travel in time to locate his father.  A mind bending read, highly recommended.
3. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand--A haunting account of Louis Zamperini's ordeal in World War Two.  Hillenbrand does an excellent job of describing Zamperini's life, from his days as an Olympic athlete to his bomber duties to his days as a prisoner of war.  This book will run you through a whole gamut of emotions--but it is well worth it as this is one amazing and exhausting read.
2. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray--Okay, Skippy Dies on page four.  Paul Murray then hits the rewind button and starts over at the beginning of the Seabrook College school year and slowly explains how the year went awry.  From crazy teacher love, spiked school punch, ten dimensional string theory, swim meets, to selling prescription drugs to other students, Murray is excellent at getting in the head of the adolescent teenagers.  The dialogue is sharp and funny with a bit of dark humor. A yet another brilliant read.
1. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer--This book is as close to perfect as it goes for me.  It takes place in the years leading up to World War Two, when Andras Levi, a Hungarian Jewish Architecture student comes to Paris. Andras succeeds in school, even though he has many obstacles, and he falls in love before being separated and returning to Hungary before war erupts. The characters are brilliant, complex and memorable--there is not a throw away character in the entire book.  I only wish I could read it for the first time again.