Each December our book group members talk about books they’ve read during the year. It’s a nice change of pace and takes away any anxieties about getting your reading done at a busy time of year. Best of all, we always have a great discussion and pick up lots of good reading tips for the coming year.
This year I wasn’t able to attend our December meeting, but Jean took great notes and I’ve copied them below. Following them are my comments on selected books I read during 2010. Happy reading!
Favorite Books Read in 2010
“Winter World” by Bernd Heinrich _ Naturalist writes about nature in his backyard and beyond in laymen’s terms.
“War” by Sebastian Junger _Soldiers’ view of Afghanistan, by the author of “The Perfect Storm.”
“Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese _ Ethiopian twin boys grow up, with one becoming a surgeon in this novel that reflects the author’s life story.
Inspector Wexford series by Ruth Rendell _ mysteries with a psychological twist.
Series by Angela Thirkell _ Writer penned a novel a year about the English gentry.
Series by Lindsey Davis _ Mysteries set in ancient Rome.
“Farewell My Lovely” by Raymond Chandler _ Classic hard-boiled detective story.
“King Solomon’s Mines” by H. Rider Haggard _ Adventure story with interesting twists.
“The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch _ Final thoughts of a professor who died young.
“Days of Grace” by Arthur Ashe _ Memoir about his tennis and AIDS struggle.
“My Left Foot” by Christy Brown _ Irish writer overcomes severe disabilities.
“Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok _ Novel about a Chinese-American girl adapting to U.S. culture.
“Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick _ Journalist looks at closed society of North Korea by telling the stories of six who fled oppression and starvation in their country.
“Let’s Take the Long Way Home” by Gail Caldwell _Two women writers develop a friendship while walking their dogs in this memoir.
“Life List” by Olivia Gentile _True account of a birdwatcher who traveled the world to find exotic and rare birds, neglecting her family and at times jeopardizing her safety.
“Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen _ Story of a family’s unraveling is also a sharp-eyed satire on modern society.
“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett _ Novel traces lives of black maids and the white women who employ them in 1960s Jackson, Miss.
“The Senator’s Wife” By Sue Miller _ Novel about the troubled marriage of a politician.
“Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan _ Fictionalized account of scandalous affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and a married woman.
“Remarkable Creatures” Tracy Chevalier _ Another history as fiction about two women who discovered fossils.
“Bonk” by Mary Roach _ Amusing study of sex research.
“Neither Here Nor There” by Bill Bryson _ Humor writer returns to European spots he toured as a backpacking college student.
“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson _ English and Afghani culture clash.
“The Sharing Knife” by Lois McMaster Bujold _ Fantasy/science fiction series looks at conflicts between farmers and lake walkers
“The Old Plantation” by Susan Shames _ CW art historian’s research that discovered the painter of a well-known work depicting dancing slaves.
“Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and 2 sequels by Stieg Larsson _ Swedish journalist and troubled computer whiz team up to solve crimes.
“Push” by Sapphire _ Black teenager suffers sexual abuse in coming-of-age story that became the movie “Precious.”
“White Oleander” by Janet Fitch _ Novel about a girl’s struggles while her mother is in prison.
“Same Kind of Different as Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore _ Inspiring true story of two very different men whose lives intersect.
“Blindness” by Jose Saramago _ Fantasy tale about a society where everyone is going blind.
“Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins _ Fantasy trilogy takes a futuristic look at U.S. society.
“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman _ Brit discovers underground London in this fantasy.
“Marcello in the Real World” by Francisco Stork _ Teen copes with Asberger’s.
Mystery series by Leslie Meier
“The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and Other Stories by Joseph Epstein _ Short stories about Jewish men.
“Bringing Nature Home” by Doug Tellemy _Importance of saving our natural world.
“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert _ Memoir of travels to Italy, India and Bali.
Play Their Hearts Out (Dohrmann) – a Sports Illustrated reporter following a youth basketball team and its coach around for 8 years. About sports in our society, so it also is about what it’s like to be an African-American male in this country, and the role of adults in the lives of youngsters.
World Without Us (Weisman) – this is a non-fiction book about what the planet would be like if all the humans suddenly disappeared. The author goes to places where it’s happened (such as the Demilitarized Zone in Korea) and goes to places that humans have had an impact (such as the ocean depths) and explores what would happen to man-made structures, the environment, animals, etc. Certainly a very unique book.
Lying With the Enemy (Binding) – I wouldn’t have picked this up, but saw that the setting is Guernsey during WWII! It’s a mystery about the death of a young woman on the island. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, which I’m not sure worked for me, but it presents a much different picture of the occupation than the “Guernsey Literary ….” did.
I have to comment on two of Tory’s titles. I have been trying to read Stewart O’Nan’s books, since I enjoyed “The Good Wife” and “Last Night the Lobster” and I haven’t liked any of them.
I’ve been surprised how many people have liked and recommended “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. I found the book extremely violent and unpleasant, and have avoided the others and the movie. Even my mother recommended the book!
Tory’s 2010 Books in Review
Some books I liked –
Josh Bazell Beat the Reaper Fast-paced book about a young man who gets mixed up with the Mafia, enters the witness protection program and has a new life as a doctor. Written by an intern (when did he have the time?). Strong language and some gore.
Stieg Larsson The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (audiobook) Yes, it’s as enthralling as it’s said to be. A good story about a Swedish journalist and a complicated young woman who team up to solve a mystery. Violence to women is a theme. Well read.
Neville Shute On the Beach. A classic end-of-the world tale in Neville’s signature, restrained style. I’d love to talk about this book in juxtraposition to The Road.
A pair to compare and contrast –
Zadie Smith White Teeth I picked this book off the library shelf because I noticed the author’s unusual name (“Zadie” means “Grandpa” in Yiddish). It turned out to be a Whitbread 1st prize winner and a winner in my esteem, too. The story centers on the lives of a family of Bangladeshi immigrants in London and addresses issues of faith, extremism, science vs. religion. At times humorous and serious, at 450 pages it was a bit long but didn’t flag.
Kurt Vonnegut Cat’s Cradle (audiobook – not a great reader but a great book) Take this book about science gone bad and compare it with the portrayal of man’s use of science for good and evil and the role of religion in society in White Teeth. They have similar themes but were written in different generations. It was serendipitous to read them back-to-back.
Stewart O’Nan A World Away I’ve enjoyed his other books, this one not so much. Story of family distrust; takes place in small coastal town in New England and WWII San Diego.
David Wroblewski The Story of Edgar Sawtelle I kept waiting for it to improve. Main character is a mute boy whose family breeds special dogs. Theme is dogs are better than people.
Elizabeth Gilbert Eat, Pray, Love. I recommend you spend your time eating, praying, and loving rather than reading this book.
Not sure how to rate this but memorable –
John Kennedy O’Toole A Confederacy of Dunces (audiobook – Barrett Whitener, good reader). Set in New Orleans. Main character is very unusual and memorable, not necessarily likable. Peoples’ lives intersect in odd and surprising ways. Quirky and sometimes humorous. Published after author’s death.