What to Read Wednesday: Best Books of 2010

Ok, confession time. My reading list this year did not include as many new releases as I would have liked, therefore, instead of doing a top 10 list of books published in 2010, I’m going to do my favorite books that I *read* in 2010.  I just didn’t read enough new books to even justify having a top 10 list, but I swear, I'll do better next year!  I picked my favorite new book of the year along with my favorite non-new book out of the top 10.

In no particular order (or more accurately, the order in which I read them this year):

10. Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter

I picked up this book on a whim while I was going through my NYRB phase (which I’m still going through actually).  The summary on the back intrigued me and the book didn’t disappoint.  I have to admit that I have a big soft spot for gritty, down-and-out narratives taking place in Pacific Northwest/California during the 1940s and 50s. This is the story of an unwanted kid who, upon escaping from an orphanage, grows up in rough pool halls and makes his way down the western coast hustling money and getting into fights, which at one point lands him in prison.  This grim book follows the journey of a man who is unable to escape his fate and is very similar to Georges Simenon's roman dur novels.

More after the jump!

 9. And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs
Though written early on in Kerouac and Burroughs’ careers, this book was finally published in 2009, more than 60 years after it was written and is a true account of the murder of one of their friends.  The story is told in alternating chapters by both Kerouac and Burroughs and it’s quite enjoyable to see the two different writing styles back to back as well as see the different points of view on the incident.  The story itself is intensely compelling and I really liked the window into the seedy and often poor bohemian lifestyle of the beat generation.


8. Burmese Days by George Orwell
I started really getting into Orwell this year and my life is better because of it.  Of course, I read 1984 and Animal Farm in high school like most people and adored them, but his other novels are something altogether different in a good and surprising way, and it’s a shame that he’s mostly known for the previous two books.  This is one of his classic colonialist books and does an excellent job of transporting you to 1920s imperialist Burma, where the white British soldiers have exclusive clubs where they can drink gin and look down on the natives, whom them employ as servants and mistresses.  Based on Orwell’s own experiences as an expatriate soldier in Burma, this is a story about the waning days of Britain’s imperialism after World War I.  The novel touches on race, class and politics while keeping a dark sense of humor and ultimately draws a bleak picture of 20th century colonialism.

7. Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
This debut novel from Adam Ross was a close finalist for my favorite novel of 2010 and I'm sad to see that it wasn't on any of the "Best Of" lists that I read. That’s unfortunate because this is an extremely dark and fascinatingly imaginative book that has the best opening line of a book I’ve read in a long time: “When David Pepin first dreamed of killing his wife, he didn’t kill her himself. He dreamed convenient acts of God.”  The book itself follows the lives of several men and explores the dark side of marriage.  When David Pepin’s wife indeed ends up dead, Mr. Pepin is investigated by 2 detectives, Ward Hastroll and Sam Sheppard (yes THE Sam Sheppard who in real life was accused of murdering his wife Marilyn).  The investigation eventually leads them to a bizarre wife murdering hit man named Mobius and further alludes to the repetitiveness and futility of marriage (mobius strips and M.C. Escher play minor roles in the book).  Along the way,  the book explores the grim marriages of the three male characters and the most intriguing, in my opinion, was the re-imagining of Sam and Marilyn Sheppard’s relationship and eventual downfall.  There are a few weak areas of the book including some dreamy sequences and leaps of imagination, but overall this is a richly complex book that will make you think and ask questions for weeks after finishing.

       See review here

       See review here

       See review here

       See review here




Now for the good stuff! My favorite "old" book of 2010:
I’ll be honest, I’m always wary of hugely popular authors that seem to churn out a million books, so I wasn’t really eager to read any of Irving's books.  However, I discovered that Modern Library had republished three of his best known novels (The World According to Garp, Prayer for Owen Meany, and Cider House Rules) and the edition for World According to Garp was so nice that I bought the book despite my stubbornness.  When I finally got around to reading it, I wondered what took me so long! Narrated by T.S. Garp himself, the book covers his mother's eccentric beginnings and anti-men ideology and follows both her and Garp throughout their lives.  The story takes you to a private boys school where Garp falls in love, to Vienna where Garp and his mother live while he tries to become a great author, to the suburbs where Garp raises a family and endures tragic heartbreak. There's also a group of women who cut off their tongues, grimy circus performers and a transsexual woman who used to be a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles. This is an epic and beautiful book that held me captive for all 720 pages and I already can't wait until I read it again.

and, DRUMROLL, my favorite "new" book of 2010:
I wasn't really sure what to expect after reading the vague but inruiging book jacket summary, so the book took me by surprise with how absolutely incredible it was.  And like the book jacket summary, my review is equally vague because the plot simply covers so much! This story begins at a somewhat prestigious boys school called Seabrook in Dublin and follows the life of a gang of boys who live at the academy year round. Within the first few pages, the protagonist, Skippy, dies on the floor of a donut shop after writing his love's name in the jelly squeezed out of a donut. The rest of this darkly comic novel is spent backtracking to the beginning of that autumn when a mysterious and rotund new student named Ruprecht Van Doren transfers to Seabrook and becomes Skippy's roommate.  The circle of boys ponder quantum physics, lust after girls, get in fights and generally act like dirty minded teenage boys.  At the same time, there are also salcious and entertaining sub plots involving drugs, slutty pop star adoration, pedophilic priests, adulterous teachers and sexy coed liasons. This is truly a sweeping novel and is so deliciously captivating that despite its length (672 pages), you won't be able to put it down and won't want it to end.

Honorable Mentions:
Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky and Livability: Stories by Jon Raymond

Now it's your turn, what were your favorite books of (or just read in) 2010? Seriously, I wanna know.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Oh Deanna says:

    Looking through my list I barely did any reading this year (by my standards), but I think mine were (in no order):

    - The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
    - After the Fall by Kylie Ladd
    - Room by Emma Donaghue
    - Blacksad (graphic novel) by Juan Diaz Canales

  2. Jon K says:

    I think my 10 would be:
    1) Arkansas by John Brandon
    2) Citrus County by John Brandon
    3) Mr Peanut by Adam Ross
    4) Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
    5) Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy
    6) The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian
    7) Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
    8) The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell
    9) The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
    10) Big Machine by Victor LaValle

Leave a Reply