September 26, 2011

Best Books of 2010 (and my 2011 challenge)

Here are my favorite books of 2010 (originally published in January on my mommy blog).

Bill Bryson is arguably my favorite nonfiction writer. I always swore that I would name my first son Bryson after him, and actually I seriously considered putting Bryson on the boys’ list when we were coming up for names for Eleanor, but it joined the annoyingly trendy Jaden/Braden/Bryson/Mason crowd, so it had to go.

Anyway, Bryson finally had a new book out last year, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and it is hands-down my pick for best nonfiction book I read in 2010. It’s quite different than other books of his that I’ve read— it’s a sampling of an astounding range of topics from Victorian poorhouses to the 17th century spice trade to 18th century wigs to American millionaires to why British people don’t use ice cubes to how many dust mites live in your pillow. The book is grouped into chapters by rooms in his house; “The Dining Room” is a history of food, crops, and dishes. “The Stairs” is a history of architecture, “The Bedroom” a history of social interactions and sexual mores, etc. A fantastic book. (4.8 out of 5)

Other honorable mentions for nonfiction: The Know-it-all by A.J. Jacobs (he decides to read through the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica in one year—hilarious factoid overload ensues) and The Imperial Cruise: A True Story of Empire and War by James Bradley (a history of American expansionism into Latin America and Asia. A fascinating read, but the rampant racism of Roosevelt and Taft is hard to stomach sometimes). (Both around 4 out of 5)

Fiction is a lot harder for me to narrow down, probably because 84 of my 105 books read in 2010 were fiction. The most engrossing book I read all year was definitely The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; I read it all in one day, and then promptly ordered the next 2 books in the trilogy on Amazon as soon as I was done. Lisbeth Salander, the main character, is a tattooed, antisocial, bisexual, 4’11” hacker who rides a motorcycle and has a photographic memory. She’s one of the most amazing and unique fictional characters I’ve ever encountered. But, I hesitate to make it my book of the year, because of the rough language and the horrifying sexual violence.

Hm. Ok, I’m gonna call it a four way tie for best fiction of the year.

1. The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson (see above). (4.2 out of 5)

2. False Colours by Georgette Heyer (this feels slightly like cheating since it was a re-read, and Heyer is my favorite author, but I hadn’t read it in more than five years, so it counts!). Set in Georgian England it tells the tale of Kit and Evelyn Fancot, who are twins. Evelyn is engaged to Cressida, a lovely young lady, Kit has returned from serving as a diplomat because of unease about his twin, and the twins’ mother has run up a lot of debt. Hijinks ensue, Austenesque minor characters abound, and the dialogue is Heyer at her witty best. (4.8 out of 5)

3. Speaking of Austen, Emma by Jane Austen is third on my list. (Somehow I had never read this—or I read it so long ago that I don’t remember it). Miss Emma Woodhouse is a schemer, who has the best intentions of matchmaking those around her…although somehow her plans always go awry… (4.2 out of 5)

4. The Shetland Quartet by Ann Cleeves. Raven Black, White Nights, and Red Bones are the only 3 published so far. [Note: Blue Lightning is now out, but I hated the end. Just read the first 3 and pretend it's only a trilogy!] These are excellent mysteries, starring the emininently likeable Detective Jimmy Perez, who goes about solving crime in the tiny, insular society of the Shetland Islands. The imagery in these novels is so vivid that I really want to visit the Shetlands now. I can’t imagine living somewhere so far north that it never gets dark in summer, or somewhere where there are no trees for that matter. (4.5 out of 5)

 As for 2011, so far I've finished 87 out of my goal of 100! If you look in the left hand column you can see a little widget that says 2011 Reading Challenge. Whenever I update my Goodreads it updates the little widget, so you can see how I'm progressing!

What was the best book you read last year? How many books have you read so far this year?

Full Disclosure: all book titles and covers are Amazon affiliate links. If you use the link to buy the book on Amazon, I will get a small referral fee.