Monday, January 03, 2011

Top Ten Reads of 2010

I had a difficult time narrowing it down to a top ten this year.  In part because my favorites were spread over many different genres and a good number of those genres had two books vying for the top spot but neither was good enough to justify kicking any books out of other spots.  I finally whittled it down, but only by adding a second level of top ten honorable mentions.

Top Ten, in no particular order

 Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I'm a late comer to Austen.  I tried a few of her other books and sort of forgot to read them a few chapters in.  I was enjoying them but... I don't know, I got distracted by more blingy books.  I was determined to read this one however, so I  could move on to reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which I never did manage to read this year) and once I settled in I was hooked.  Romance the way it was meant to be.  Sigh.  I think now I'm ready to read some of her other titles.

Green Grass, Running Water

Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

This book stumbled across my path years ago and something, I can't remember what exactly, intrigued me enough to stick the title on my Amazon wish list, where it sat until I discovered I could order it from my library.  It's not a new title (newer than Pride and Prejudice though - hah!  I guess it's a matter of perspective) but it's worth dusting off and enjoying. 

It's presented in one of my favorite book styles, the story keeps changing voices.  Each character gets to tell a bit of the plot and then hands it off to the next and so on.  At first no one or anything is really connected to each other, but events spiral tighter and tighter and you know they're all gonna end up at the grand finale together.  And what a finale it is!  Most amusing of all, the "Old Indians" who step outside the story for a while to quibble amongst themselves and tell us a bit more of a older story that backsets the main story.

 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This was a book club choice and since it had been recommended to me from several different sources already, I was happy to pick it up.  At first I was a bit wary, I wondered if I'd stumbled into a lighthearted romance novel, not something I usually bother reading.  But as the story moves on, the somber settings (it switches back and forth between Britain during WWII and Britain in recovery post WWII) tempers the whimsical writing style.  The entire story is told in correspondence between all the characters.  The characters are people you wish you could meet in person and I ended up learning a lot of about a time and historical event that I only superficially understood beforehand.

 The Highest Tide

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

This was my choice for our book club last year.  I was struggling to find a tidal... er, I mean title that would be unique and yet still appeal to the varying tastes of our book club members.  I think my book choice the year before, although the adventurous few who read it loved it, scared off most the others.

I found this book by accident.  Someone had placed it face first in the stacks at Barnes & Noble. I was passing through the general literature section and it caught my eye.  A quick perusal and I knew I would be buying it for myself and that maybe I'd found my book club choice.  After reading it, I knew it was the one. 

The protagonist is a precocious boy on the cusp of puberty who stumbles across some unbelievable clues to a bigger issue.  The question becomes, does anyone believe him?  He's not your typical kid.  But ironically, the bigger questions are the things that all kids face - love, loss, identity, self worth, family.  It is at times poignant and sad and others laugh out loud funny.  A cherry on top was that it was set in the tidelands of Puget Sound and filled with all sorts of wonderfully descriptive natural history facts and scenes.  This book comes very close to warranting a spot my favorite books of all time list.

Traveling with Pomegranates

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

I've heard mixed reviews about this book.  Some called it too whiny, too personal, and too repetitive.  I found it none of the above.  Well, yes, it is very personal, and it's repetitive as well.  But I find stories far more fascinating and powerful when they ARE personal and not watered down in an effort to make them more identifiable to the reader.  I hate that.  Readers aren't stupid, we can hear someone elses story and make the leap that ties it to a lesson or experience in our own life.  And repetitive is how these sorts of life lessons happen in real life.  At least in mine.  The symbol that one suddenly stumbles upon everywhere.  The same message that arrives in a hundred different ways.

It helped a lot that I'm a big fan of the mother/author and that much of the book is set in locations I either long to visit or revisit - Greece and France.  It also helped that I had read two of her earlier books, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and The Secret Life of Bees, and understood the significance of the references that she makes to the evolution of these books in this autobiographical story. 

The book is cowritten

If I had any complaint about this book, it's that it added a number of locations to my "Must Visit Someday" list!

Bones of Faerie

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

I read a lot of young adult urban fantasy this year.  There's just so much good stuff out there.  I think I liked all or most of it, but this book stands out because it had a unique new twist on many myth and fantasy elements that are... well, I won't say overused since I LIKE the themes... but let's say that have saturated the young adult book market.  It gets to the point that it's hard to keep track of which vampires are good, which are evil, which can glamour people and which threaten to get all sparkly on you.  Ditto on faeries.  It was great to find something DIFFERENT. This book had a fast plot, gritty edge, and great characters.

Peter Pan

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

I try to catch up on a few unread classics every year and this year's Neverland inspired Neverworld area at Faerieworlds was behind my decision to choose to read Peter Pan.  It's one of those stories that most of us think we know, we've seen the Disney version, we've used the famous one liners in our speech, we know the characters.  But like other classics (Dracula, Frankenstein, Pride and Prejudice, to name a few), it surprised me how much I didn't know about the original work of literature.  The biggest surprise, how frightening the story is in it's true form.  The most annoying aspect, trying not to get hung up on the stereotypes of "a woman's place" in the culture of Victorian England.  I spent the book bouncing back and forth between mentally agreeing that boys and girls are admittedly different creatures, and chaffing at the fact that poor Wendy got stuck cooking, cleaning and sewing.

 Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

There's a huge irony in this book making it into my top ten as I spent a long time after finishing this book wondering if I liked it at all!  My problem with the book revolved completely around a pivotal point in the plot where a decision was made and sets in motion the outcome.  The author, I felt, hadn't come close to making me believe that the decision was necessary or consistent with the characters personalities.  Everything had been going along swimmingly until that point.  I loved the dark mood, the intriguing characters. After that point, I couldn't stop thinking that somehow the author had failed at her job, of making that particular outcome, in hindsight, inevitable.

Still, I loved the characters.  And I loved.... no, let's capitalize that... I LOVED the setting, which was in and around Highgate Cemetery in London.  I now must, MUST I tell you, not only visit Highgate Cemetery, but somehow find a way to wander alone and unhindered about it's gothic beauty.  The short, crowded visit the required tour would allow just won't be enough.  Anyone know how to sneak me inside?

As for the plot point that tripped me up, I've decided to give the author a pass on that for the moment.  Maybe I'll reread it and see if I can pick up some foreshadowing I missed the first time, details that will make me understand the characters on a whole new level.  It wouldn't be the first time I finally understood a book after a second, or even third read through it.

 Faeries' Oracle by Brian Froud, Jessica Macbeth

The Faeries' Oracle by Brian Froud and Jessica MacBeth

An odd book to make my top ten, as it's not a novel.  It's not even the sort of book that one reads all the way through or in any particular order.  It's the companion description/meaning book for The Faeries' Oracle cards, something like a set of Tarot cards.

I've had the book and the cards for years but my approach to incorporating symbolism into my life/brain is to work organically and let the cards, and in this case the faeries themselves, a chance to speak to me from the heart, before I let the words of others influence my relationship with them.  So, I had a basic understanding of the deck for some time now, and I had a personal relationship with some of the cards that I tended to work with on a regular basis.  Still, other cards remained a mystery to me.  And this year it just felt time to "do my homework".

I spent much of the summer walking and reading through two or three pages, a few cards at a time, and practicing layouts on myself and others.  Before this I felt more comfortable with a traditional Tarot deck as I felt I had a deeper understanding of the card meanings and the symbolism, but now that I've allowed the faeries deeper into my life, this is always my deck of choice.  The faeries advice is almost always spot on, firm but gentle, and quite frequently amusing. 

 I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Last but not least.  In fact, if I had to pick a favorite book of the year, I'd have to go with this one out of loyalty and love.  I love the characters in the Tiffany Aching series with all my heart.  It takes place in Pratchett's entertaining Discworld universe that he populates in his adult novels, and there are a number of characters who make the leap back and forth, most notably the trio of Ramtop witches who are as wise as they are eccentric.  Other characters, including Tiffany herself, her little blue friends, and the locals that live in her beloved chalk country, are specific to this series.

It originally wrapped up as a YA trilogy, so I was ecstatic when I discovered in late 2009 that a fourth book was in the works.  My hardcover edition was still warm from printing when it arrived in the mail.  If you want to read this book, and you should, you need to start from the beginning.  The first book is The Wee Free Men.

A serendipitous side note, at the same time my book arrived, I also won and received a wonderful original watercolor from an English author, Danielle Barlow.  Here's a photo of it: Winter Chalk Hare.  As far as I or the artist knows, there isn't a chalk hare in real England, but amazingly enough, a chalk hare plays a pivotal role in I Shall Wear Midnight.  Coincidence?  Of course not! 


And that's the end of the list.  Or it's not the end. Stay tuned.   I have ten more titles that are saved for special mention in an upcoming post.  In the meantime, what were your favorite books of 2010?  Let me know in a comment below or leave a link to your Top Reads blog post.  I'm always on the lookout for more books to add to my toppling stacks of wondrous words.


Blogger Jan said...

What? Laume posted? Are you all right dear? Okay sorry, I had to give you a hard time.
I have read only 3 of the books on your list so I shall have to make note of the others. I really liked Niffenburgers other book, Time Travelers Wife, does that mean I would like this other one? I'm sure I will find out some day. Thanks for the post. Hope you are having a happy new year.

10:59 PM  

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