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Top 10 Books of 2010

One of the hardest things about putting together this list is that, like a lot of readers, my reading habits tend to incorporate both new releases, old classics, and everything in between, so unfortunately, unlike all the rest of the lists we've posted up till now, this one won't be comprised entirely of books published in 2010--just books I read in 2010. That said, I'll mark each 2010 release with an asterisk, but something tells me y'all might not really care when these books were released. Let's get started!

1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins*: This was probably my favorite YA novel both released in 2010 and that I read in 2010. Anna and the French Kiss chronicles the Parisian adventures of a girl named Anna (obvs) whose father sends her to an American school in France for her senior year. Anna is reticent to leave behind her friends and family and especially Toph, a boy friend who might be becoming a boyfriend, if you know what I mean. More complications arise upon her arrival in Paris, when she meets the boy masterpiece Etienne St. Clair, a gorgeous American-English-French guy who just so happens to have a girlfriend. Still, as Etienne and Anna grow closer, and as Anna learns that the people we leave behind continue to live their lives without reference to us, their relationship becomes more and more complicated. What I loved about this book is that it's quite obviously a romance, but the twists and turns and mistakes and misunderstandings feel completely natural to the characters and to what we know about how human teens behave when they're head over heels in love. Perkins side-steps cliches and tropes easily; Etienne is no cad, he's just honestly confused and afraid. Anna is no doormat; she loves Etienne, but is willing to walk away with her dignity when she feels like what she's being taken advantage of. Plus, Paris! If you have ovaries, you should have read this back in December, because it is the best YA romance I've ever read, and I think Perkins has a long and exciting career in front of her.

2. How the Universe Got Its Spots by Janna Levin: I reviewed this book back in August, and I've read quite a few popular physics books in the past few months and this one has remained my favorite. I put this down to the intensely personal way it is written--part memoir, part epistolary narrative, part Physics 101. This also makes it sad in places, poignant in others, and is a huge testament to how big a part of oneself one's own work can be.

3. Faithful Place by Tana French*: I thought I had reviewed this on The Blogulator, but perhaps not. While not as deep or beautiful as French's previous two novels, In the Woods and The Likeness, Faithful Place still exhibits some of the best mystery writing being published today. French's prose is just so lovely to read, full but not dense, poetic but not overwrought. In this book, loosely tied to The Likeness through its main character, Frank, who played a medium-sized role in The Likeness, Faithful Place begins when Frank, a long-time cop who manages undercover detectives, gets news that a suitcase belonging to his childhood sweetheart, Rosie, is found in an abandoned home on their old street in Dublin. Rosie and Frank were supposed to run away together back when they were younger, to escape the poverty and alcoholism of their neighborhood and find a way to be with each other despite the feuding between their families, but Rosie never showed up the night they were set to leave. Now, twenty years later, Frank believes the suitcase, rotting with age, shows that Rosie didn't leave him and that something might have happened to her. Determined to discover what had become of his long lost love, Frank mounts an investigation in his own former backyard, digging deeply into the closely kept secrets of his old neighbors and even his family to get to the truth about what he believes was Rosie's murder. The solution leaves something to be desired, but perhaps this is because Frank was too small of a player in The Likeness--I'm not the only French fan who would've preferred she return to Rob Ryan, the damaged anti-hero of her first novel, In the Woods. But Faithful Place still delivers in many ways, and was one of my most anticipated--and most enjoyed--reads of 2010.

4. Heaven by Lisa Miller*: One of the only straight up pieces of nonfiction I read this year, Heaven is a woman's quasi-personal investigation of the history of the concept of heaven in the minds and hearts of human beings. It's a short book, by no means an exhaustive text, but more like a survey course that collects many complex historio-religious ideologies into sound bites, perfect for the casual reader and certainly worth reading for anybody interested in learning more about how other cultures view and have viewed the afterlife. Also, she can hold her own against Stephen Colbert, which is pretty impressive.

5. How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley*: Like all of Crosley's writing so far, this book is only enjoyable if you like Crosley as a person, or at least as the person she presents herself as. I happen to like that person quite a lot, and find everything she writes funny in a personally pleasing way--it's not laugh-out-loud comedy, not joke after joke after joke, but more of a meandering journey through one life's more comedic flourishes, which gives Crosley room to be poignant and sometimes shocking as well. While not quite as enjoyable as Crosley's first full-length collection of essays (I Was Told There'd Be Cake), probably because most of Number's stories take place out of New York City, which is one of the most fun parts about Crosley's stories, Number is still hilarious and compelling reading. If you don't emerge from it wishing you could get a beer with her, I'll be shocked.

6. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff*: Trends being what they are, it's hard to find the truly original paranormal YA novels in a sea of Twilight knock offs these days, but The Replacement was one of 2010's best. The story follows seventeen-year-old Mackie and his life in Gentry, a small steel town that has recently gone to seed. Almost from the beginning, it is clear to the reader that Mackie is suffering from an increasingly debilitating illness that sets him apart from his fellow classmates, and it soon comes to light that he is not, in fact, Mackie Doyle at all, but a "replacement" sent up from the underground world of Mayhem that exists below Gentry. The Replacement draws heavily off the folklore of the changeling, a fairy child sent to replace a human child stolen by the fey, and it is the steel (myth tells that fey are hurt by iron) that is causing him to grow ill and possibly die. Mackie descends into Mayhem to find a cure for his illness, and eventually is pulled into a battle with the dreaded ruler of Mayhem in order to rescue a child that was recently stolen from her home. The book is dark and gothic and truly original, even though it draws off of tropes that have been used in many ways by many different writers. For fans of YA that have no interest in the vampires v. werewolves debate, I highly recommend this book.

7. Mockingjay by Susanne Collins*: Mockingjay is the much-anticipated third installment in The Hunger Games trilogy, which, if you haven't read The Hunger Games, get thee to a bookstore, stat! First of all, it's relevant because they're making it into the movie. Also, it's about A TELEVISED FIGHT TO THE DEATH with TEENAGERS. You're going to want to know what people mean in two years when they're all wearing t-shirts that say TEAM PEETA on them (or TEAM GALE, but those people are losers, don't talk to them). Anyway, yes, a televised fight to the death that turns into an insane take-down of a government run by heartless bloodsuckers in Mockingjay (there is an intervening installment, Catching Fire, as well). I will say that Mockingjay was the least fun book of the series to read, mostly because it's so bleak and the experiences of the main characters are so incredibly awful, but hey, that's war. It's still compulsively readable and intense, and one of the best YA series since Harry Potter.

8. Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas*: Hm. I seem to be saying, "It was good, but not as good as the first book/the author's previous novels" a lot in this best of. Oh well. 2010 wasn't an awesome year, I guess, in most respects. Because Our Tragic Universe, while one of my favorite books of 2010, did not compare to Thomas' previous novels, PopCo and The End of Mr. Y. Which is okay, I guess. It's still really well written--her prose is just a pleasure to read--and interesting, but by necessity (since the book is constructed to discuss the possibility of a "plotless novel") it is a plotless novel, which I find irritating, as a plotless novel can obvious exist, but isn't at all interesting to most people. There's nothing wrong with a plot. Our Tragic Universe is a great book to read if you've already read and enjoyed Thomas' backlist, but if you're just trying her out for the first time, go for PopCo. You'll like it better, I promise.

9. The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer: The Thieves of Manhattan was a book that got a lot of media attention and nice bookstore placement, but which I never felt compelled to read until I ended up with a free copy from the publisher, saw that it was a not-too-long paperback, and decided to give it a try. And I'm really glad I did! The Thieves of Manhattan is a piece of meta-fiction, which I usually do not like at all, but Langer is no Jonathan Safran Foer (i.e. he's not an obnoxious self-obsessed git). The Thieves of Manhattan, I have to admit, is a book best appreciated by people who have been published, want to be published, work in/have worked in publishing, or follow the publishing industry closely. It is about a young man who works in a coffee shop and dreams of being a celebrated short story writer, but for some reason cannot get anyone to appreciate his stuff. This is probably because he's an obnoxious self-obsessed git who cares more about the trappings of authordom than the craft of writing. One day, he meets another man who makes him an offer he can't refuse. The mysterious man has a Da Vinci Code-style novel that he can't get published because the publishers think it's too unbelievable of a story to sell as fiction, so he enlists our friend to pretend that it all happened to him and publish it as nonfiction, his reward being any money and celebrity that comes as a result of publishing the book. As the narrator gets pulled deeper and deeper into the conspiracy the mysterious man has built around this manuscript, one thing becomes frighteningly clear--the events of the story are real, and he has just become the target of the villains of the novel. It's a short book and hopelessly meta, but also compulsively readable and really well done.

10. Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales*: My last top ten book of the year (that I have read) is another YA novel, although this time it's not dystopian, not paranormal, and not even a romance. Mostly Good Girls is just a story about two friends who are in prep school outside of Boston and the evolution of their friendship over one year. Told in little vignettes by a hilarious and lovable narrator, Mostly Good Girls is just an exceptional piece of literature about teens. It doesn't take itself too seriously and it manages to make its characters sympathetic without attempting to cover up or distract from their flaws, and it's one of the best books I've ever read in the YA genre; though funny, it's unexpectedly poignant and true in many places, witty and clever and such a great read. I highly recommend it.

Now that I read it over, this list is a little bit more jumbled than usual. I had an odd reading experience this year; my end of the year "bookshelf" was very heavy on YA, light on adult and nonfiction in general. There were so many more books I could've put on, and I'm wondering now how I came to highlight the ones I chose, but what are you going to do? On to 2011!

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 4:26 PM |  

    Where the hell is All Unquiet Things?! This list is bunk until I see it occupying at least 3 of the top spots.

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