Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best of 2010

The year began with rereading, Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout and ended with Lady Susan, by Jane Austen--both books I liked a lot. (Well, actually, the year seems to have ended with Half-Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls, which I didn't like so let's pretend it was Lady Susan.) In between were books that delighted, amazed, and revolted. Here are my favorites:

Best Fiction: The Lake Shore Limited, by Sue Miller
To be honest, I reread my favorite book of 2009 this year--Little Bee, by Chris Cleave--and it was the best book I read this year, too. But I thought I should choose something new, so it's The Lake Shore Limited, which is in fact a wonderful book. At the heart of the book is a play of the same name; the play deals with the aftermath of a terrorist attack and was written by Billy, whose lover died in the 9/11 attacks. In addition to detail about the fictitious play, the novel also has other theatrical elements that are beautifully done. The story is told from the perspectives of four characters: Billy; her late lover's sister Leslie; Rafe, an actor in the play; and Sam, with whom Leslie is trying to set up Billy. Through their stories, Miller explores how relationships change, the futility of guilt, the difficulty of being the partner who lives, and the way in which art works. I was deeply moved by The Lake Shore Limited and it remains fresh in my mind, months later (something of a feat at my age).
Perhaps the most innovative book I read this year was A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, a writer who may well reinvent the novel. The chapter of the book that was written in the form of a PowerPoint journal was amazing.

Best Nonfiction: Open, by Andre Agassi
Choosing a memoir--and a sports memoir at that--as the best nonfiction book I read in 2010 goes against the grain, but Open is really a very good book, well-written and insightful. Open is an incredible window into the mind of a world-class athlete who is not afraid to lay out his fears, his neuroses, and his bad decisions--along with his triumphs and his slow progress toward a happy and meaningful life. Given Agassi's talent and the success he experienced in his two decades in tennis, I would have expected that the man had a strong sense of self. Nothing could be further from the truth--Agassi seems to have been doomed to years of angst by his childhood at the mercy of his tennis-crazed father and adolescence as a commodity at the factory-like Bollettieri Academy. His frankness makes it possible to have sympathy for gifted athletes who have been pushed in a way the rest of us cannot comprehend.

Best Poetry: Where I Live, by Maxine Kumin
I must admit that I did not read much poetry this year. In fact, this may have been the only collection I read. I did, however, enjoy Kumin's accessible poems about nature and animals, her connections to people, her grief over her husband's death, and her passion about the world and how we live in it. One sample: ". . . life was bleak and sweet and you/made marmalade." I love that.
I did subscribe this year to the Writer's Almanac, a daily email newsletter from American Public Media and Garrison Keillor. Thus, I start the day with a Garrison-selected poem (you can also opt to hear Garrison read the poem, though I usually don't). Today, for example, the poem was "Be Mine," by Paul Hostovsky, which begins with two lines that resonate: "I love mankind most/when no one's around." For more information on the Writer's Almanac, go to

Best Mystery: I'd Know You Anywhere, by Laura Lippmann

I've been reading a lot of mysteries for about 30 years, and I'm beginning to think I should stop. Too many mysteries are lamely plotted, involve way too much "telling" at the end, and frankly aren't worth even the short amount of time it takes to read them. I'd Know You Anywhere, a stand-alone thriller from Laura Lippmann, was worth the time it took to read it. It is a psychological thriller that finds its tension in the interplay between a woman and the man who kidnapped and raped her 20 years earlier.
Sara Paretsky's Body Work was the best series mystery that I read this year.

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