Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: Books I loved, and read

Here is my favorite post of the year: 2010 Books. I love writing this post and remembering all the good (and horrible) books I read (or didn't finish reading - those are marked with an asterisk). The rules: to make the top ten list of favorites, I had to have read the book for the first time in 2010. I've given credit for recommendations where possible but since I started using Goodreads last year, that distinction has become a bit murky. I can't always remember whose page I saw it on and sometimes it was a long chain of clicks that led me to a certain title. Links lead to blog posts or my Goodreads review (where it was too long to include in this post).

Finally, here are the links for the book lists from 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Now, the best and brightest of 2010. I was interested to notice that this year was more muted than past years in terms of favorites. I didn't have any huge standouts like I have before. I was pretty sure about four or five books but there were 15 good, solid contenders for the last few spots on the top ten list. Make of that what you will.

My Favorite Ten Books of 2010, in no particular order:

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart). I think several people read this on my recommendation a few months back and as far as I know, none of them really loved it like I did. Someone please read this and love it so we can gush about it together, mmmkay?

Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins).

North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell).

The Killer Angels (Michael Shaara). No good guys, no bad guys. Just war. Riveting.

Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer). Recommended by Jeremy. At the moment I put down the book, I thought, "what a sad story." But upon reflection I don't think it's a sad story at all. At least not for Chris.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Barbara Demick).

Balkan Ghosts (Robert D. Kaplan). This book gets a rave review from me even though I thought the prologue and the end chapters about Greece were a little choppy. The rest of it was just that good. I'm sure this was a fascinating book back in the early 1990s when it was published. It is even more so now, because we have the benefit of an additional 15+ years of history to fill in the story. Be sure to have your atlas handy when you read this.

Slob (Ellen Potter). Recommended by Miss Nemesis. You know a book is good when you find yourself happily identifying with the obese 12-year-old male protagonist. This is YA fiction like I remember reading when I was a kid.

A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson). This book was a beast to finish but it was very worth it. At times it was all I could do to read a chapter and then let it simmer for a bit. There was just so much to think about. Seriously, SO MUCH. However, I'm glad I believe someone is in charge of this crazy planet because otherwise I think I would lose sleep over some of the issues Bryson raises, namely, that it is entirely possible that Yellowstone will up and explode one of these days and take most of North America with it. I loved that this book reviewed everything I learned in elementary, junior high, and high school science class, except that it was interesting. Well done.

Little Dorrit (Charles Dickens). This was the perfect book to read during our summer in Egypt. It was detailed, dense, entertaining, and filled with varied characters and plots and settings. If I had had access to a public library and lots of awesome books I might not have been as excited about reading plain old Little Dorrit, but as it was, I really enjoyed the long, drawn-out story. By the way, I think my order of favorite Dickens books (that I've read, favorite first) is A Tale of Two Cities, Our Mutual Friend, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol. PS - PLEASE watch the BBC adaptation of this book.

And now for the rest:

Young Adult/Juvenile Literature

Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, & Breaking Dawn (Stephenie Meyer).

All seven books in the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling). I love books 3, 4, 6, and 7. I only really like books 1, 2, and 5.

Fablehaven (Brandon Mull). I can't believe I read a book called Fablehaven. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a fan of Brandon Mull ever since he was in (and then in charge of) Divine Comedy about 11 years ago. I couldn't stop the reading voice in my mind from sounding like him. If I were about 18 years younger, or if my kids were about 5 years older, I think I would have loved this book more. As it was, I recognized that it was clever and well done but I couldn't muster up more than a "like."

Tomorrow, When the War Began (John Marsden). I don't know, man. Australians are weird. The premise of this book was great. The execution...not so much.

If I Stay (Gayle Forman). Stupid and unrealistic.

The Hunger GamesCatching Fire (Suzanne Collins).

Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver).

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (Stephenie Meyer). I liked it. That is all.

On the Jellicoe Road (Melina Marchetta).

The Book Thief (Markus Zusak).

How I Live Now (Meg Rosoff).

Fire (Kristin Cashore). I think I liked this one nearly as much as Graceling.

When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead).

Shiver (Maggie Stiefvater).

Princess Academy (Shannon Hale). Yes, I still love this book.

Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer).

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow (Jessica Day George).

Princess of the Midnight Ball (Jessica Day George). This was a great "Jeremy is out of town" book - a quick, engrossing, enjoyable read.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Victor Hugo). I didn't think I liked this book very much until the end, when I realized I actually liked it quite a bit. I didn't know Hugo had this much capacity for tragedy in him. It reminded me a lot of Dickens, but without the happy ending. Sorry if that's a spoiler, but I think classics are fair game.

Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy).

My Antonia (Willa Cather). I do love me some Willa Cather but this book was nothing spectacular. It was kind of like Little House on the Prairie for grown-ups - no major, exciting story arc, just a bunch of interesting stuff that happened.


Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia (Janet Wallach).

Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark (Jane Fletcher Geniesse). The perfect follow-up to Desert Queen. A very well done biography, even though at times I got the strange sense that the author didn't like her subject very much. Huh.

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire (Amanda Foreman).

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance (Elna Baker).

Goodbye, I Love You (Carol Lynn Pearson). An amazing story and very well told. Also: heartbreaking.

Kabul Beauty School (Deborah Rodriguez). This reminded me quite a bit of Three Cups of Tea, except maybe not as noble. MAYBE. I don't want to look down on it just because the author was doing perms and manicures instead of building bridges and schools. She certainly made a difference in her way. I had some minor quibbles with the author's personality and I thought one or two chapters were more than a little exploitative, but on the whole it was a good read. (Well, listen, since it was an audiobook.)

Zeitoun (Dave Eggers).

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (David Grann). I wanted to really like this one more than I actually did. The author was just so dang earnest. Like Jeremy, however, I thought that the end of the book "disappeared into the jungle" a little, as it were. I was underwhelmed by the last chapter. Now, people, can we just leave the Amazon alone? There are way too many bugs there.

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail (Malika Oufkir). A truly amazing story of survival, capably told. I guess Morocco is not all smiles and sunshine after all. Who knew?

Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortenson). This was the first book I read in 2010. What a great book to start the year with. I really enjoyed the unusual story and great example of this guy.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times (Jennifer Worth). Recommended by Shannan. This book is like a less tidy version of Baby Catcher. The stories in The Midwife aren't quite as pat and refined as Baby Catcher's, which they shouldn't be, considering the differences in time and place (post-war East End London vs. modern-day California). But the writing in The Midwife is slightly clunkier, too, which makes the birthing and medical scenes abrupt and visceral. The stories in this book are at once inspiring, heartbreaking, nauseating, disturbing, and entertaining. But prepare to be shocked - midwifery and medicine among the very poor in 1950s London was a messy business and the author tells it like it is (was).

Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage (Joseph E. Persico). Even though it took me a whole month to read this book, I really liked it. It was heavy at times but always interesting. Persico is one of my favorite authors - his book about the Nuremberg Trials is fantastic. This book read like a specialized, alternate version of Legacy of Ashes, in that it dealt very much with the beginnings of the CIA as seen through FDR's eyes. While reading this book, I learned a lot of interesting things about WWII, code-breaking, the OSS (pre-CIA), military strategy, Communism, and FDR himself.

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Jon Krakauer). This is a brutal book. Don't read it if you don't want to be seriously disillusioned. Click here for a more thorough indictment.

Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey Of A Desert Nomad (Waris Dirie). I really liked the desert nomad parts. The supermodel parts, not so much. Also, the book has an air of inauthenticity about it that I just couldn't seem to shake for some reason.

Taxi (Khaled al-Khamissi). Recommended by Jeremy.

NPR-type Books (either I actually heard about them on NPR, or I could have)

Blink (Malcolm Gladwell). Mildly interesting, perhaps slightly less so than Outliers.

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (John Heilemann). Recommended by Scott. This book almost almost made my top ten list on the merits of its structure, depth of research, and narrative alone. After reading this book, I was equal parts disillusioned, vindicated, horrified, and enlightened. The story of the 2008 presidential election - especially the democratic primary - is a fascinating one. I do kind of wish I never had to find out that the f-bomb is a favorite word among politicians, though. (Except for Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, bless their hearts.)

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children (Po Bronson). Great insights. One of the chapters discussed Cornell BABY lab language development experiments, which Magdalena participated in. I'm guessing it referred to an earlier round of the experiments but still, it was neat to see the research from the other side.

Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World (Tom Zoellner).

SuperFreakonomics (Steven D. Levitt). Good, but not great.

Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell).

Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History (Scott Andrew Selby). I really enjoyed this book, which was surprising considering I picked it out at random at the library. It's like a real-life Ocean's 11 story. I actually found myself feeling bad that the thieves got caught (but of course they did, or there wouldn't be a book about how they did it).

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Nicholas D. Kristof). Recommended by Andrea. I can't really review this book. You just have to read it.


Zorro (Isabel Allende).

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See).

Falling Angels (Tracy Chevalier). Absurd.

The Actor and the Housewife (Shannon Hale).

*The Postmistress (Sarah Blake). Blech. I didn't come close to finishing this one. It somehow managed to be both boring AND offensive.

The Host (Stephenie Meyer).

*The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson). This book disturbed me so horribly that I had to stop reading not too far in. SHUDDER.

The History of Love (Nicole Krauss). Kind of bizarre, but also kind of awesome. Try to read this in as compact a time frame as possible because otherwise you'll get lost. It has three or four stories going on at any given moment and sometimes it's hard to keep track of them.

*Skeletons at the Feast (Chris Bohjalian).

The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown). "It was OK" is the perfect review of this book. I guessed a couple key plot twists early on so it was a bit of a let-down at the end. My own fault, I suppose. I did enjoy playing along trying to solve the puzzles. I thought there could have been a more complex villain element, though, and I don't really agree with what the book claimed would be the consequences of the event Mr. Langdon was trying to stop.

Historical Non-fiction

The Last Train from Hiroshima (Charles R. Pellegrino). Recommended by Sarah Rose Evans.

Daring Young Men: The Heroism and Triumph of The Berlin Airlift (Richard Reeves). This was the perfect book to read to learn more about the Berlin Airlift. What an amazing story. I really appreciated getting to read about something really wonderful the US did for a people who were very recently their mortal enemy.

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers (Jim Dwyer). Recommended by Shawn.

Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East & the Caucasus (Robert D. Kaplan). I love this book, even though the author pretty much admits that he hates Syria.

Books I read with Miriam

The First Four Years (Laura Ingalls Wilder).

Fantastic Mr Fox (Roald Dahl). Roald Dahl books are a lot ruder than I remember them being, especially when I'm reading them aloud to my four-year-old.

Charlotte's Web (E.B. White).

Stuart Little (E.B. White).

Three Cups of Tea (Young Reader's Edition) (Greg Mortenson). This Young Reader's edition was the first real chapter book we read aloud to Miriam. She liked it! But I skipped the 9/11 chapters. There were enough questions raised by this book about war, suffering, and inequality. I just didn't have it in me to explain 9/11 AND all that other stuff at once to my 4-year-old.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis).


Culture Shock! United Arab Emirates (Gina L. Crocetti). The writing quality wasn't the best but the information was very good, if a little heavy on the country's legal system practices.


Liz Johnson said...

This is my most favorite post of the year!!! YAAAAY!!!!

I read "Hunchback" many years ago and remember just LOVING IT. I love how Hugo does tragedy and how he seems to end all of his books. Love it.

Can you believe that I actually read enough books (22) this year that I can do a similar post(that won't be as cool or as long, but hey, who cares)? Thanks for inspiring me to read more. :)

Susanne said...

Loved this! I added this link to my "book/authors to read" Gmail draft so I can refer to it later in the year when I want more good books to read. Thanks much for writing these each year!

I enjoyed seeing what you read with Miriam also.

How can anyone not like Syria? Did he ever travel there? I might have to get that one just to find out why he dislikes it. Hmmm.

Now I want to read!

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Some great books in your list. I appreciate Bryson's book as well, and despised that one by Elna Baker.

Crys said...

Nice Bridget!!! Tons of stuff for me to read and even a BBC to watch. What more could I ever ask for :)

Jill said...

I love those dumb Culture Shock books. I just randomly buy them whenever I see them

Anonymous said...

I just want to recommend that you read the next book in the Fabelhaven series. I think it improves upon the ideas from the first book. In fact, much like you, I liked the first book, but didn't love it. But then I really liked the second one, and the third one really got me hooked, and then....

Bridget said...

Yay, Liz! I can't wait to read your post.

Susanne, that is exactly why I write this post - so when people are looking for something to read, they can find at least one person's opinions. Re: Syria - I have to believe Syria denied the author a visa at one point or perhaps assigned him some second-rate minders. There's just no other explanation :). What I remember is that anything inconvenient or smelly or trashy that happened in Turkey was rendered so romantically. The same thing happening in Syria was embraced as a shortcoming.

Jill, ME TOO. The Syria one is quite good. I never knew anyone else knew about these books. Hooray!

Loradona, I am planning on reading the next Fablehaven book. And whatever series comes after that. It's just a matter of getting my hands on them in the UAE...

Jeremy Palmer said...

I only read some 20+ books this year. Among those, my top 2 (in no particular order) were:

1) Into the Wild. Krakauer.

2) Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail. Oufkir.

My least favorite of the year that I actually read completely: Outliers. I gave it 2 (2.5) stars at Goodreads but my memory of this book is more in the 1 star category. He is a PhD he should know better than to do half-baked research. Really disappointing.

Becky said...

I like the top 10 list, I might borrow that idea! It's always fun to know what you're reading. I always thought I was such a reader but you definitely have me beat!


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