The Mad Aggregator strikes again! A bevy of Best Books lists for the year 2010

December 20, 2010 at 2:20 am (Best of 2010, books)

I used to dread the yearly appearance of these lists:  “Oh no – look what I haven’t read and should have!” (This, after months of intense, nay compulsive book consumption.) But this year, as my interests became more esoteric and I began to focus more on classic novels and short stories, my fears pretty much evaporated. It’s a good thing, too, as I’ve read very few of  these titles, and that includes the “Best Mysteries” lists. I have no immediate plans to remedy  this situation, as I’ve been so deeply gratified by the path I’m currently following (about which more in a subsequent post). But enough about me! On second thought, can that ever  be – enough about me, I mean? Should the title of this post be “The Mad Egomaniac strikes again”?

Nay – enough of these errant and rambling ruminations – Here are the lists. I’ll start with The New York Times and the Washington Post. I’m always on the lookout for these come December. The Times first compiles a list of One Hundred Notable Books for  the year, from that list, the ten best are culled. This year the Washington Post more or less followed suit. The first part of the list, in the online iteration, is called “The best novels of 2010.” This is an awkward heading as it makes no provision for short story anthologies, although William Trevor’s Selected Stories is on the list. The print version is called “Fiction & Poetry,”  the same heading used by the Times. Here’s the Post’s nonfiction list. And here is the list of   Ten Best, presented for some reason in the form of a slide show. (These titles do not appear on the longer lists.)

A few observations: two novels made the top ten for both the Post and the Times. One is Room by Emma Donoghue. Room also appears on numerous other lists this year. I admit to being daunted by the subject matter; however, critics and reviewers alike have been singing its praises for months, so I will probably give it a try. The other novel that achieved this distinction is Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I haven’t read this either; the reviews make it sound rather experimental for a lover of the traditional chronological narrative like myself.  Joanne, another savvy reader friend from the library, liked it with some reservations. I might give it a go – we’ll see…sigh… I really am trying to keep an open mind…

I tried The Big Short and it did not work for me. This happened with quite a few of this year’s titles: read a few pages, sigh, read a few more pages, think about my age (66), the longevity (or lack of same) of my eyesight – and put the book aside. I began listening to The Likeness by Tana French a while back, but lost interest after the first disc. And there were nineteen more! This has been one of my problems with French; her books tend to be very long. But Faithful Place has turned up on so many  best-of  lists – and my discriminating friend Cristina is such a fan of this writer – I’ll probably give it a go.

Finally there’s Freedom, Jonathan Franzen’s eagerly awaited new novel. It placed among the top ten in the Times but did not make the cut at all at the Post. I’ve rarely seen such a polarized – and polarizing – reaction to a work of fiction. Freedom made many other best-of lists, but opinions on this novel remain sharply divided. It has received numerous accolades from critics and readers who consider it on a par with The Corrections, if not better. But it was also the object of a withering take down by B.R. Myers in the October Atlantic Magazine.

I loved The Corrections. I was one of the readers waiting in hopeful anticipation for Freedom. And well, you guessed it – several pages in, I put the book down, feeling deeply disappointed. I have not picked it up again, but I don’t rule out the possibility.

Of the eighteen different titles on the two top ten lists, the only one I consider myself to have already read is Selected Stories by William Trevor. I say this because I’ve been reading his collected stories as they’ve come out for several years now. They are, of course, wonderful. As for nonfiction, where I’ve lately had some of my best reading,  I haven’t read any of the titles named, but I have a reserve on, and am eagerly awaiting, Stacy Schiff’s biography of  Cleopatra and Apollo’s Angels: A history of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. (I put the covers at the top of the post – they’re so gorgeous!)

I recently read in the New Yorker Magazine a lengthy and  fascinating review of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. I commend it to you. I have no doubt that this is an outstanding book, but I don’t plan on reading it. At my age, one must struggle not to live in constant fear of this disease, and not to be angry and bitter over loved ones lost to it. (I gather that that Mukherjee  explores these issues with great insight and sensitivity.)

Any and all comments, suggestions, and/or recommendations concerning my thoughts and yours on the year in books are most welcome. Meanwhile, here are more lists: Best fiction, from Salon’s Laura Miller; also her selection of the best nonfiction.  Best of 2010 from Kirkus Reviews. Same from Publishers Weekly.

NPR went about the task in what I think is a different and creative way. The Daily Beast did some aggregating of its own. And finally, Largehearted Boy really went to town!

I’ve already posted a Best of 2010 list of my own that goes through July. I’ll soon be posting my picks for the remainder of the year. Be on the lookout…

6 Comments

  1. Pauline Cohen said,

    Roberta,

    I just want to put in a good word for Tana French’s “The Likeness”. It kept me in a state of suspense, and I really sweated through it until the end (figuratively not literally!). Perhaps reading this particular book might work better than listening to it–some books are that way–better read than listened to, and others are the reverse. I shall definitely read the author’s latest work.

    Pauline

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thanks, Pauline!

  2. kathy d. said,

    I agree. I like Tana French’s writing. Read “In the Woods,” and “The Likeness.” The flavor of the latter may not resonate if one doesn’t read it.

    One has to get into the head of the protagonist, which is complicated.

    I cannot wait to get my hands on “Faithful Place,” which is getting rave reviews everywhere.

    Read Michael Connelly’s latest, “The Reversal,” which is brilliant, yet devastating.

    Can’t wait to read your Best of 2010 reads. These are always fun.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      thanks, Kathy!

  3. Angie Boyter said,

    Wrt your comment on The Likeness, we had it for a 14-hour car trip(round trip), and after investing thatmuch time feel we need to finish it, but if I had been at home with lots of other books around, I am sure I would have put it down. It is really boring. A somewhat unlikely situation becomes increasingly incredible as the story develops. The male half of “us” completely agrees.
    Since we have invested so much time in the book we will probably finish it and will be prepared to retract our evaluation if she pulls off a great ending, but we cannot see it happening.
    I had picked up The Likeness eagerly because Faithful Place was so good. I do not understand the critics’ reviews. One of them mentioned the wit and humor??? That was one of the delightful features of Faithful Place but is totally lacking in The Likeness.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thanks for your comment, Angie. I made the mistake of starting FAITHFUL PLACE while I was reading several other books for book club purposes, etc. I agree with you – it was witty & intriguing. I’ve put it aside for now but intend to pick it up again, possibly as an audiobook.

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