January 10, 2011

The Best Books in 2010

A little birdy told me late last week that I'd completely forgotten to pick my best books of 2010 as promised about halfway through December. What can I say - things got busy during the holidays. So, without further ado, here are my top picks from last year in no particular order because trying to figure out the very best after already cutting down the list to the handful below would hurt my brain.

Eating Animals (Jonathan Safran Foer). It's rare that non-fiction makes it onto a "best of" reading list but Eating Animals was a truly exceptional book. The book chronicles Foer's own investigation into the production of food rooted in his desire to make an informed decision about what to feed his son. It is a completely unbiased evaluation. It's not until the end that you learn what Foer ultimately decided. It also serves as a fantastic companion piece to the documentary Food Inc.

The Old Man And The Sea (Ernest Hemingway). There's absolutely no way I should have been allowed to make it to age 37 without reading The Old Man And The Sea. Yet, somehow that's precisely what happened. I haven't read much Hemingway and haven't been a fan of the work that I have read. I found an old copy of Beth's while I was cleaning off a few shelves, took it upstairs and started it before bed one night. I was, no pun intended, hooked. It was a marvelous story told by a master. Only someone of Hemingway's caliber could have packed so much story into such spartan prose.

The Serialist (David Gordon). The Serialist is probably the strangest thing I read all year. It is about, let's see, a ghostwriter, a freeloading prep school brat, vampire novels and a serial killer. Odd, yes, but it works. It works so well, in fact, that I still remember my disappointment when I turned the last page. It's crude, funny, literate and touching all, somehow, simultaneously.

Cut, Paste, Kill. (Marshall Karp). There's no way I can't include my buddy Marshall's latest. Cut, Paste, Kill is the fourth fantastic adventure of detectives Lomax and Biggs. They're back, better than ever and in rare form as they investigate a series of murders. The common denominator? A scrapbook left at each scene. Marshall's a good guy and a great writer. If you haven't checked him out, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

Evening's Empire (Bill Flanagan). Evening's Empire tells the story of a fictional band - The Ravons - and follows its members from its founding in the sixties alongside the Beatles and The Stones, through present day. It's about music, sure, but it's also a wonderfully told story about friendship, greed, fame and getting older. Flanagan is an excellent storyteller and the tale he tells is massive, detailed and a fantastic experience.

Savages (Don Winslow). With one book - The Winter of Frankie Machine - Winslow became one of my favorite authors. His ability to tell a compelling story while painting such a vivid back-story without slowing the momentum of the story is amazing. You walk away from his books feeling as though its events happened and its people existed. Savages is slightly different. It's brief, it's violent and it's spartan. And yet somehow this departure feels very much like Winslow and works brilliantly.

The Human Bobby (Gabe Rotter). I'd never heard of Gabe Rotter nor any buzz about the book. The description sounded intriguing. And it was. It was really nothing short of amazing - a mystery wrapped up in a life's tale which kept the reader blind to the approaching twists and turns. I read a lot of books. I'm not easily surprised or impressed. This was checked both those boxes.

What kind of literary awesomeness did I miss?

Posted by Chris at January 10, 2011 6:45 AM

Did you catch The Passage by Justin Cronin? I'm usually put off by excessive hype, but glad I made an exception for this one. Huge, sweeping storyline that kept me interested the entire time.

Posted by: Leslie at January 10, 2011 8:14 AM

Did you read Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart? My husband bought it for me for Christmas after hearing several interviews with the author. Crazy tale. Almost too real. It's sweet and sad and chilling and kind of a mind-bender all at the same time.

Posted by: MJP at January 10, 2011 9:30 AM

I can't think of any recommendations but I just started a new page in my book notebook labeled "Rude Cactus recommends."

Also, did you know that Goodreads seems to think you're a woman?

Posted by: Jess at January 10, 2011 11:02 AM

Room by Emma Donohue. A very different, at times difficult to read (written in the voice of a 5 year old) but I could not put it down.

Posted by: meanie at January 10, 2011 11:55 AM

I, too, was going to recommend "Room". I read it in two days, it was mesmerizing.

Posted by: Erin at January 10, 2011 12:55 PM

Me three on "Room". As a father of a little boy, you might find this a tad more difficult to get through emotionally but at the same time you KNOW that it's really how he'd see things.

Being a corporate flunky worker bee, I also embrace Tony Hsieh's Delivering Happiness. Inspiring for the future of looking for such a good place/job to be that passionate about. And depressing for the corporate hell hole that I'm in. ;-D

Posted by: oakley at January 10, 2011 3:20 PM

Woah! Impressive list! Maybe browsing on Amazon for recommended reading.. ? :)

Posted by: Eliz at January 10, 2011 5:12 PM

thank you!

Posted by: Lisa at January 10, 2011 8:29 PM

Room by Emma Donohue
GREAT QUICK MIND BLOWING READ!! Yay blog commenters for telling you about this waaay before me!

Posted by: CHERYL at January 10, 2011 9:03 PM

Hi Chris, just wanted to say that I read the first two Marshall Karp books last week because of your recommendations. Loved them, first was a little long for my taste, but second was awesome! Waiting for book three from the library! Thanks for the suggestion, and keep em coming!

Posted by: DeAnna at January 11, 2011 12:23 AM

One more thing my recommendation is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Best read of 2010 for me.

Posted by: DeAnna at January 11, 2011 12:25 AM

Awesome list. I've heard great things about Room, but haven't managed to pick it up yet. I've found that making time for writing cuts into the time I used to have for reading. What's that all about?

Posted by: seekingelevation at January 11, 2011 6:28 AM

I just finished "The Book of Joe" by Jonathan Tropper. Loved it!

Posted by: bacioni at January 12, 2011 1:00 PM