I read about 65 books in 2010, which is a recent record for me. Even during years involving the most-reading intensive semesters of grad school I think I only hit about 50ish books — a book per week. And in recent, busy years in which I spent far too much time on the Internet instead of with my nose in a book, my yearly reading totals plummeted to about 30. There were costs to hitting 65 books. The biggest was that I stopped reading the New Yorker regularly, for the first time in about a decade. I actually unsubscribed, since at any one time there might be (and still are) about 12 magazines laying around that I hadn’t gotten to (and might never?). I miss it, but I enjoyed the fact that I got through so many more books instead. So now I’m well-read, but under-informed. Hrm. We’ll see how long my New Yorker hiatus lasts. There must be a way to balance books and a weighty weekly magazine.
Anyway, so what did I read in 2010? I’ll spare you the entire list, but here are some highlights:
Best books I read in 2010:
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver: This may be the best book Kingsolver has written yet. Trotsky! Diego Rivera! Frida Kahlo! As you’d expect from her, it’s precisely researched and beautifully written — to the point where I often found myself reading a sentence and then stopping in wonder to read it again and again. How does she do that?
The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen: I count this novel, along with The Great Gatsby and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, as three stunning examples of “the great American novel.” It’s hard work, this novel, and it’s pretty depressing at times, but worth the effort.
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin: I picked this one up at the library on a whim, knowing nothing about it or the author, and ended up devouring it in a weekend. I find myself thinking back to it often. Toibin managed to create a vivid portrait of Brooklyn in the 50s, of Ireland in the 50s, and of a young woman who leaves one for the other.
This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolfe: No doubt this book makes the best-of lists of 20th century memoirs. Wolfe handles a troubled childhood with care; this material could have easily veered toward overwrought or angry. It doesn’t, and Wolfe’s talent for subtle humor in unexpected moments makes this memoir all the more powerful.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte: Shocking but true: I had never read this novel before. It absolutely blew me away. It’s one of only a few novels I’ve ever read that when I finished I wanted immediately to begin again.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender: A review I read of this novel described it as “subtle surrealism,” which I suppose is an apt description. Whatever you want to call it, I loved the quiet strangeness of this novel, and the rainy-day mood it evoked.
Some other books I read in 2010 that I highly recommend:
Delicate Edible Birds and other stories, by Lauren Groff
Old School, by Tobias Wolfe
Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby
Book of Clouds, by Chloe Aridjis
Miles From Nowhere, by Nami Mun
Ron Carlson Writes a Story, by Ron Carlson