Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My best books of the year

My custom as the years end is to start taking account of what was great and what sucked, and what I should do better next year.

And since I spend a lot of time reading books, I decided this year I am going to list the top nine books I think you should read. Nine, because there were nine really good ones. I read 31 books this year overall (on the Kindle. I know I read some actual books borrowed from people I worked with, but the only one of note that I can remember is Little Bee, which is stab-your-eyes-out heartbreaking, if you're into that kind of thing).

I would tell you which books you should NOT read, but I just don't have the heart to slander anyone who's even attempted to write a book, given my current situation.

So, in order from least awesome to the most awesomest ever, I give you .....

9. The Dead Zone by Stephen King. OK - disclaimer! I have a bit of a weakness for books with characters who can read minds. And also, this book was first published in 1980, so I'm about 31 years late in getting to this. But there's no denying that Stephen King is a craftsman who knows how to grab his readers early on. And this book is full of the awesome. It climaxes into a semi-unexpected, but very satisfying finish.

8. Dead Man's Walk by Larry McMurtry. This is the first book in the Lonesome Dove series and Oh Lordy, it's going to be 2011 before I get to the second book because McMurtry's writing is so stark and the suspense is intense. It's a Western novel written on the side of the cowboys, and let me tell you the first chapter is legendary. If you read the first chapter and are not completely screwed into reading the whole book, you are a stronger person than I am. The book first came out in 1986, and McMurtry went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for the third book in the series - Lonesome Dove. I truly love that title.

7. Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater by Frank Bruni. I counted, and this year I read something like four books related to dieting. At this point, I feel that I know why I am pudgy. The problem would be getting off my butt and getting rid of the pudge. And not eating food that I love. I dearly love food. I love cooking it, staring at it, smelling it, and mostly, eating it. I've always thought it would be awesome but also devastating to be a food critic, which is what drew me to this book by New York Times food critic Frank Bruni. He is very relatable and interesting -- not to mention it's nice to read a book about weight issues that's written by a man, for a change.

6. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Holy crapola. Simply a devastatingly awesome novel. It's so splendidly written, and so unique as it's written from the point of view of a little girl. It goes places you don't wanna go, but you can't not go there. Another disclaimer, actually: I also have a weakness for ghosts as characters, so take that into consideration. I loved Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger for that same reason, aside from the fact that it was truly bizarre. And the ghost thing also kind of/sort of relates to my #1 pick.

5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Great title and fascinatingly true story of the African American woman whose cancer cells were taken from her in the 1950s and used without her or her family's knowledge. Her cells were used to cure polio and advance medicine in a whole host of other ways that will astound you. Her family has never seen a single dime as a result of all this. You get to meet Lacks' relatives and learn about how she grew up. It's a heartbreaking but fascinating story.

4. Born to Run by Christopher Mcdougall. How did a nonfiction book about running make it onto my reading list? Well. Firstly, yet another disclaimer: I fancy myself a runner. No, I do not actually run. But I think I could if I really tried. But the real reason I read this book is because it's actually a captivating story about a race of people who live in BF Mexico and run ultra marathons as part of their lifestyle. Mcdougall explores the question of why these people run, what makes them so good at it, what they eat, what kind of shoes they wear. My explanation doesn't do the book justice. Suffice to say that if you read the book, you're going to want to run, and you're going to want to do it barefoot.

3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Don't read any spoilers about this book. Don't watch the movie. Don't even read the jacket cover. Just read it. The book is about a group of kids growing up together in a special home in the UK. They're different from other people, and they have a different purpose for being. The book lets you take a glimpse into the minds of people who know their purpose and feel no need to escape it. It's a bit of a love story but written in a detached way that leaves you feeling sad and cold. Ishiguro also wrote The Remains of the Day, which is obviously well-known. I haven't read it but added it to my "to read" list when I finished Never Let Me Go.

2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This novel is full of such richly developed characters, you can see them. Their personalities are so distinct and well thought out, you can't help but love a handful of them, and truly hate a few more of them. The book is about African American maids in the early '60s in Mississippi, right about when all that crazy civil rights crap was going down. It's the tale of the maids speaking out in their own way. It's written from the point of view of three characters -- one is a white, female, recent college graduate who's searching for the maid who raised her. One is a maid whose son was killed and she's just trying to get through each day, raising white people's kids. And one is a sassy maid who does a "Terrible Awful" thing that will have you rolling on the floor. Overall the book is very moving and satisfying.

1. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Written from the point of view of a sixth-grader in the late '70s, this book is a mystery that is spine-tingling, heartbreaking, and wonderful. Here's the kicker: It's written for kids, ages 9-12. Oopsie daisies! But that's what happened with the Harry Potter series, right? All the adults started reading them, too? I honestly didn't know this was a children's book, which is part of the magic of Kindle. You really can't judge a book by its cover, because you can't really see its cover. I think When You Reach Me is a lovely book to read if you're of the generation that read A Wrinkle in Time in grade school. I clearly recall reading it in my own sixth grade class, and loving every moment.


  1. 6 and 3 going on my "to read" list. 2 is already on there, even though I know the "terrible awful" thing. Thanks, mom and sister. :)

  2. I didn't notice any of my stuff on your list. The only possible reason being that I didn't grease the wheels with a Swiss Colony gift basket. Consider it done, love.

  3. Katie I can't believe they told you about the Terrible Awful! That will ruin that bit of suspense for you but there are still other suspenseful things.:-)

  4. I'm impressed with your book reading. I think I may have read 31 books over the past 10 years, legitimately. I'm ashamed.

    Out of all of those, the only one I read was The Lovely Bones, right around the time when it was first published. I thought it was brilliant...