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Favourites Reads of 2010

January 10, 2011

Oddly enough for my nerdy self, I don’t particularly feel like analysing the books I read last year! I’ll content myself by noting that of the 303 books I read, 190 were written by women. That’s about two-thirds! This is particularly interesting since until recently, say 2006, I tended to read more men than women (a trend I wanted to change). Last year, I didn’t even pay conscious attention to gender when I was choosing books to read, so I’m particularly happy to have read so many women! I’ll also be breaking my reads down geographically, like last year, but that’ll probably take another couple weeks to finish up.


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But I can’t resist playing favourites; here are my top reads of 2010. I decided to allow myself about 10% of the total, so there are 31 books here; 19 fiction and 12 nonfiction. I arranged them alphabetically by title and have linked up my thoughts. Originally, I was going to annotate the list, but there’s only so many ways I can say “I loved it!”. So instead, I’ve included a quote from my post.

Fiction

  • The Blue Castle by L.M. Montomgery: “it had a bit of the flavour of I Capture the Castle, but with more of a fairy tale feel…in fact, it almost felt like something Anne Shirley herself would have written (violet eyes! the heroine named Valancy! a Lovers Lane!).”
  • By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah: “Because Gurnah’s prose is so tight and perfectly achieves what it needs to, I can just sit back in breathless admiration as it continues to unfold.”
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko: “This book ripped directly into my soul. I suppose I wouldn’t call it a comfort read, but there was something deeply right about it that gave me the sense of ‘homecoming’ I usually associate with comfort reads.”
  • Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope: “Trollope’s writing is so marvelous, the pages flew by and I loved every second!”
  • The God of the Hive by Laurie King: “God of the Hive completely lived up to my highly-strung hopes, no easy task.”
  • The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine: “I seriously loved every single thing about this novel: the characters (including lots of strong women!), the plots, the sense of place, the fun little twists on traditional stories, the hints at ‘issues’ (i.e. GLBT stuff, women’s rights, etc.) without them becoming the focus of the book…it was all completely perfect.”
  • Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie: “The book had me entirely within its grip, and when I realised I had read another hundred pages, I was shocked, because it felt like no time or effort at all. I didn’t read Indian Killer so much as devour it, which was a wonderful feeling.”
  • Medicine River by Thomas King: “He writes just enough into the book, and trusts the reader to make of it what they will, and it results in a perfect story. It also has one of the loveliest friendships I’ve come across in fiction.”
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville: “it’s hilarious, I love seafaring stories, the characters are unforgettable.”
  • Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie: “this is one of the books where Christie’s at the very top of her game.”
  • My Mother’s House and Sido by Colette: “While reading the book, I felt suffused with that love, and I highly recommend it to everyone.”
  • The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones: “after desperately staying up to finish it all in one go, forgetting about food or drink or the entire outside world, I think it’s safe to say that I’m now a firm DWJ lover.”
  • Purge by Sofia Oksanen: “I highly, highly recommend that everyone read this.”
  • Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh: “this is what reading should be….this is the kind of book that leaves me pitying anyone who doesn’t read for pleasure. Because why would you deny yourself this kind of magic?”
  • Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston: “this is a wonderfully written book, featuring vivid characters, that I highly recommend to everyone. “
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy: “This was a rich read, the kind that promises to make an excellent reread in a couple of years.”
  • Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome: “The book’s a patchwork, really, of minute descriptions and advice of the various stretches of the Thames, hilarious anecdotes, and moments of real, earnest reflection.”
  • Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana: “! I really loved it; in addition to that wonderful sense of place, the book is full of the universal issues girls face as they grown into womanhood. I identified with all of the sisters, and while Baingana occassionally broke my heart, she also made me smile and laugh.”
  • Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni“I find it hard to explain just how much this book got under my skin, but I truly urge you to read it. Also, there’s a lot of humour and insights into Japanese culture that are the cherries on top!”

Nonfiction

  • The Age of Homespun by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: “This book is about women, living, breathing, individual women, and we can all connect with that.”
  • A Human Being Died That Night by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela : “I think what makes this book so powerful, other than the sheer perfection of Gobodo-Madikizela’s writing, is that she humanises de Kock, and looks at the societal context, without ever dismissing his crimes. “
  • Letters from a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruit Stewart: “What I loved about the letters is Elinore herself…she’s so optimistic and cheerful, and she’s so good at telling stories, that she reminded me a bit of a real-life Anne of Green Gables. :)”
  • The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller: “Miller’s writing style is perfect: smart but accessible, with frequent forays into lyrical inspiration. Her knowledge is on full display, and she mixes that with her personal stories and (acknowledged) biases in way that is informative and accessible all at once. This is the best book-about-books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read my fair share.”
  • Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon: I never reviewed this essay collection (whoops!), so I’ll just say that I adored it because of Chabon’s perfect writing, his willingness to be deeply personal, and the topics he addresses.
  • Microcosm by Carl Zimmer: “pop science at its best: engaging without being condescending, full of wonder without being mystical, intelligent without being dense.”
  • My Mother’s Wedding Dress by Justine Picardie: “If you love good writing, vivid characterisation, heartfelt nonfiction, and a quiet, ‘British’ style, you owe it to yourself to try out some Justine Picardie. “
  • Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers by Stephanie Wellen Levine : “I seriously loved every single page, often nodding my head up and down or smiling in recognition, and I was crushed when I finished it and discovered this is the only book Levine has written.”
  • No Place Left to Bury the Dead by Nicole Itano: “Itano is a strong writer; even if you don’t have a lot of inherent interest in the topic or any background in international relations, you will enjoy the book and get a lot out of it. And for those who do have a background, she offers enough complexity and history to make her work convincing. The structure is perfect.”
  • The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagan: “while Shonagon’s life in a medieval Japanese court is about as far removed from my life as possible, I didn’t find it obscure. Instead, since her focus is on the little details, it had an eerily universal, relevant tone to it.”
  • The Poisoner’s Handbook Deborah Blum : “This is a book about 1920s New York, about the futility of Prohibition, about the dedicated men who brought forensic science to the US, about various puzzling NYC deaths (some homicides, some accidents), and about chemistry. Blum brings that world to life, and she makes chemistry sound fascinating (not as easy feat for me, since it was my least favourite subject in high school), and her love of the subject really comes through in every page. “
  • Samba by Alma Guillermoprieto: “t’s about dancing, of course, but it’s also about povery and race relations in Brazil, and about the stories of individual Brazilians dealing with individual circumstances. I’m a huge fan of this mix of micro- and macro- focus, especially in international relations books. “

It was definitely difficult for me to narrow it down that far, but every book on this list deserves to be there. There are quite a few new-to-me authors up there too: I can’t wait to read more of them this year!

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74 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2011 10:43 am

    I do love a list! Although I’ve only read two of these (Three Men in a Boat and Moby Dick) and not heard of many more… of those I have heard of, the Agatha Christie is one I want to read – even though I already know the ending…

    • January 12, 2011 12:04 am

      Roger Ackroyd was a reread for me, so I think you’ll enjoy it just fine even knowing the killer beforehand! :)

  2. January 10, 2011 10:51 am

    I have a copy of The Blue Castle which I bought after so many bloggers raved about it, but I’ve been putting it off because the cover illustration is so cheesy! Is that wrong?

    I just borrowed Dr. Thorne from my mom so I can continue the Barchester series and I am greatly looking forward to it. I’ll have to go back and reread your review.

    • January 12, 2011 12:05 am

      No: that’s the cover I got from the library, and it’s SO awful. I want my own copy of the book, but I want the re-issued one where it doesn’t look like a bad Harlequin thing. Just open the cover quickly so you don’t have to look at it!

      Isn’t Trollope lovely?

  3. January 10, 2011 10:55 am

    I haven’t read a single one of these books! Eva, what am I doing? Clearly I just need to read every book you rave about and I will have an amazing reading year :)

  4. January 10, 2011 11:41 am

    I love books that are “magic”… I’ll have to look for Sea of Poppies. Thanks for this rundown! The quotes give me just enough of a feel…

  5. January 10, 2011 11:49 am

    I ve read for of your list Eva ,I agree with purge which is such a powerful book ,all the best stu

  6. January 10, 2011 11:51 am

    I loved ‘Sea of Poppies’ as well. Do you know the second in the trilogy, ‘River of Smoke’ is due out in June?

    • January 12, 2011 12:06 am

      I knew it was coming out this year, but I didn’t know the title or the month! Thanks for the heads up. :)

  7. January 10, 2011 12:07 pm

    Aaah, Eva, I’m so glad I’m not the only one posting year in review posts, this far into 2011! I have to admit I haven’t read many of the books on your list but that’s why I like reading your blog; always good for MY reading list. ;O) Also, I noticed that I read nearly ALL female writers, this year which is SO unusual for me. I’m so excited!

    • January 12, 2011 12:07 am

      Congrats on your female authors reading! And I didn’t want to make my list until 2010 was over, in case I read an excellent book on the 31st or something. ;) Then it took awhile for me to get my blogging act together. lol I actually think posting it a bit laster is good; people have recovered from the ‘best of’ overload by now!

  8. January 10, 2011 12:12 pm

    I’m glad to see The Blue Castle on your list. I really want to read more of Montgomery’s work…after I re-read the Anne books.

    • January 12, 2011 12:07 am

      I’m curious about more of her work now too, although nothing could supplant Anne!

  9. January 10, 2011 12:43 pm

    I’m delighted that The Blue Castle made it to the top of your list; you likening it to a book that Anne Shirley herself would write was the final push for me to read (oh, how I am glad I did!) and to subsequently reread the Anne books.

    You remind me that I have to read Purge and resume reading The Pillow Book.

    Tropical Fish and Twinkle, Twinkle are both high on my wishlist; frustratingly they are not easily accessible here.

    • January 12, 2011 12:08 am

      Oh yay re: Blue Castle and Anne! :D

      I wish you could get your hands on Tropical Fish and Twinkle, Twinkle. I remember having to ILL the former, so it’s not that popular here either. Slim comfort, of course.

  10. January 10, 2011 12:49 pm

    I’m interested in your faves, but I fell off my chair at ‘303 books’ !! I’ve decided that you’ve found a way to read for a living. If not, please don’t tell me…I want to continue living under the impression that it’s possible! :)

    ps it’s a great list…I’ve also enjoyed the Laurie King/Mary Russell books and have a long-standing ambition to read more Trollope.

    • January 12, 2011 12:08 am

      Ummm, develop a chronic illness, live with your parents because you’re too sick to have a job, and you too can read 303 books a year. ;)

  11. January 10, 2011 12:51 pm

    I haven’t read many of the books you mentioned, but some of them are on my list for 2011. I’m looking forward to Doctor Thorne because I loved the first two Barchester books!

    • January 12, 2011 12:09 am

      Yay for more Barchester fans! :D Sounds like 2011 will be a good reading year.

  12. January 10, 2011 1:40 pm

    What a great list! I can’t believe your review of Age of Homespun just came out this year – I think that’s the post that turned me on to your blog, and it seems like we’ve been blog friends for longer than a year. :-) Some really great picks on this list, and thanks for reminding me yet again that I need to search out something by Justine Picardie – I’m eyeing her Coco Chanel bio covetously.

    • January 12, 2011 12:10 am

      It seems like we’ve been blogging friends for ages! Although I know I used to be far too intimated to comment on your posts, hehe.

      I can’t wait to read that Chanel bio; I’m trying to decide whether to go straight for it or give her novel a go first.

  13. January 10, 2011 1:49 pm

    Definitely want The Blue Castle now. I love L.M Montgomery. I didn’t enjoy Three Men and a Boat at all,I wish I had, it just didn’t appeal to me.

    • January 12, 2011 12:10 am

      That’s too bad about Three Men in a Boat! But I think you’ll love Blue Castle if you’re a Montgomery fan. :)

  14. January 10, 2011 2:08 pm

    Wow, that’s a wonderful list. So glad to see The Blue Castle and Murder of Roger Ackroyd! Those are great :)

    • January 12, 2011 12:28 am

      Aren’t they? :) I just had my mom read Roger Ackroyd for the first time (last year’s was a reread for me), and now it’s her favourite Christie!

  15. January 10, 2011 3:15 pm

    I went out and bought a copy of Ceremony after your review and I am planning on getting to it as soon as I can. It looks marvelous.

    I am also glad to see you liked Moby Dick. I’m a little scared of it, but I am planning on tackling it this year anyway!

    • January 12, 2011 12:28 am

      Yay for Ceremony! Moby Dick made me so nervous until I started it, but I fell in love straight away. I hope that you do too. :)

  16. January 10, 2011 3:41 pm

    So many great titles! I remember being unimpressed by The Blue Castle years and years ago but clearly it’s time for a reread. Purge and Sea of Poppies are both high on my TBR list (to the extent that I selfishly gave my mother Purge for Christmas, knowning that I could borrow it off her).

    I also loved both Manhood for Amateurs and Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers so was thrilled to see that both made your list! The Magician’s Book is calling to me even though I barely remember the Narnia books.

    • January 12, 2011 12:29 am

      Interesting! I hope you do reread Blue Castle so I can see what you make of it now! And lol @ your Christmas gift to your mom. I do that sometimes, although Purge is too dark for my mom’s tastes!

      I don’t think you need to know much about Narnia in order to love The Magician’s Book, so go for it!

  17. January 10, 2011 3:59 pm

    I loved Manhood for Amateurs, too—Chabon’s writing style is so wonderful.

    • January 12, 2011 12:30 am

      For sure! I want to read Maps and Legends this year. :)

  18. January 10, 2011 4:03 pm

    The God of the Hive is on my list and so is The Poisoner’s Handbook and I’ll be adding The Blue Castle today.

    • January 12, 2011 12:30 am

      That’s a good list! Have you read the other Mary Russell books?

  19. January 10, 2011 4:21 pm

    Great list – i only 2 non-fiction books last year, isn’t that dreadful. I was really interested by your non-fiction list.

    And 303 books! I wish I could get through that many – stupid work stealing my valuable reading time!

    • January 12, 2011 12:31 am

      I don’t think it’s dreadful! Everyone has different bookish tastes. :) I will say that all of my top nonfiction reads this year are definitely aimed at a general audience, and they’re all very very readable. So if you’d like to include more nonfiction in your life and one caught your eye, it’d be a good place to start.

      Yep: being chronically ill does have the benefit of lots of reading time. lol

  20. January 10, 2011 4:33 pm

    So glad to see The Poisoner’s Handbook on the list. It was my favorite nonfiction book last year– I am happy whenever I see it get some attention.

    • January 12, 2011 12:32 am

      The only other Blum I’ve read is Ghost Hunters (which I LOVED): can’t wait to read the rest of her books!

  21. January 10, 2011 5:48 pm

    You got so much reading done last year (and I haven’t read a single one of your favorites, so I’ll have to bookmark this page).

    • January 12, 2011 12:32 am

      I hope you give some of them a go! :)

  22. cousinsread permalink
    January 10, 2011 9:07 pm

    I haven’t read any of these,but I’m excited about that because it gives me a whole slew of books to add to my TBR list and to look forward to ~ so, thank you! {I especially want to read Purge}

  23. January 10, 2011 9:43 pm

    I think including quotes from your previous reviews is a good idea for a top books of the year post – may have to steal that for next year!

    I’m not surprised to see Hakawati on your list, as I think you’ve referred to it several times when discussing other books this year. :)

    I have Manhood for Amateurs out from the library now, so I’ll be getting to that soon. I also want to read The Blue Castle and Purge, as I’ve heard so many good things about both of them (though they are obviously quite different from each other.)

    • January 12, 2011 12:33 am

      Thanks Christy! Steal away. ;)

      I’m sure I’ve mentioned Hakawati more than once: it was so wonderful. And enjoy Manhood for Amateurs! (Blue Castle and Purge are about as opposite as one could get within fiction. lol)

  24. January 11, 2011 3:52 am

    I really love everyone’s favourites list! Lots here for me to hunt down – I have only read the Colette and the Christie from your fiction picks and agree completely with your verdict on them. So that bodes well for the rest of the books you’ve chosen! And I hope to read more non-fiction this year; the Justine Picardie arrived a couple of days ago so that is one I’m really looking forward to now.

    • January 12, 2011 12:34 am

      I’d LOVE to see you write about Picardie! Your post on Agatha Christie (and how she’s often underestimated) was marvelous. And of course, you know far more about Colette than me: I can’t wait to keep discovering her. :)

  25. January 11, 2011 10:51 am

    The Blue Castle and Small Island are both high on my list for 2011. I read and loved I Capture the Castle this year and I’ve been dyign to watch the BBC Masterpiece version of Small Island. Of course I must read the book first though.

    • January 12, 2011 12:34 am

      I need to watch that Masterpiece version too! Thanks for the reminder. :)

  26. January 11, 2011 1:10 pm

    The only book of your “tops” that I’ve read is MOBY DICK (and that was a bazillion years ago!). Your reviews always catch my interest, I need to get better about adding those books to my TBR.

    • January 12, 2011 12:35 am

      I hope you give some of them a go: they’re all so good! :)

  27. January 11, 2011 2:01 pm

    Love that list, any book list really, but this one’s especially great :) I need to get my hands on the Blum book, and I just might try Chabon again.

  28. January 11, 2011 4:45 pm

    I loved reading this list and the quotes you included from your reviews, Eva! I’m inspired!

  29. January 11, 2011 7:03 pm

    There’s not a lot of overlap between favourites on our list (you’ve already mentioned the LMM title), but a lot of overlap between favourite authors, for sure. And I’m sure that several of your non-fiction titles will nudge their way onto my TBR list, given my fresh effort to set aside the novels on occasion.

    I follow the 10% rule, too; it seems rather arbitrary but, when you read a lot, and when you’re picky about the books that you choose to read, the odds of their being great reads is that much higher: taking it down to the conventional Top Ten doesn’t seem fair, and even reducing it to 10% leaves a lot of noteworthy reads unremarked upon. Hard choices!

    • January 12, 2011 12:37 am

      We definitely have some favourite authors in common! I don’t think 10% is too arbitrary; it’s just a modification of Top Ten, isn’t it? ;) I can justify like no one’s business, hehe. And yes, I hated having to narrow it down this far. In fact, I just realised I forgot about The Far Traveller, one of the best nonfiction books I read! *sigh*

  30. January 11, 2011 7:52 pm

    What a great list! Quite a few on here that I read and loved as well – and I want to read the rest :)

    • January 12, 2011 12:37 am

      I imagined we’d have a few in common! :)

  31. January 11, 2011 10:29 pm

    Fantastic list ! I already see a few books I need to had to my TBR !

  32. January 11, 2011 10:32 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing your favorite reads of 2010. I’m adding a bunch of them to my tbr right now. I always enjoy my visits here!
    Dianne

    • January 12, 2011 12:38 am

      Thank you Dianne: I’m glad you liked the list! And what a nice compliment. :)

  33. January 11, 2011 11:32 pm

    I just added three books to my To-Get pile. Are we even yet? :-D that’s not counting Orestia from your next post, either!!! I love how you put quotes from your reviews, fab idea, Eva.

    • January 12, 2011 12:38 am

      I think that makes us *almost* even Susan. ;) Once again, it’s so nice to see you around again!

  34. January 12, 2011 4:40 am

    Should I feel bad that I haven’t read even a single book from your list? But I will bookmark it and refer to it in the future.

  35. January 12, 2011 5:42 am

    Sounds like you had a great reading year! I love your lists, because there are always so few books that I know on them. Which means there’s always something to add to my wishlist! :-)

  36. January 12, 2011 6:17 am

    Many of your favorites were (are) favorites of mine, the two Collette selections and Letters from a Woman Homesteader in particular.

  37. January 12, 2011 7:43 pm

    Thank you for sharing your favorites with all of us. I loved that you included a brief excerpt from your review!

  38. January 13, 2011 7:34 am

    I have only read two or three of these favorites of yours. And reading your thoughts again makes me want to go out and read the books! Sea of Poppies and the Blue Castle are two that I want to read sooner rather than later…

  39. January 13, 2011 11:39 am

    Wow, 303 books! I can’t even fathom reading that much in two years, let alone one.

    Although Anne is a childhood favorite, I’ve never read The Blue Castle. It’s been on my wishlist for awhile now and I’m thinking this may be the year I finally get a copy and read it. I’ve seen it pop up on a few year-end ‘best of’ lists and figure that’s my cue. :-)

    Here’s to another great year of reading!

  40. January 17, 2011 6:52 pm

    Wow, it sounds like you had a good year of reading! I too read The Blue Castle, although it was a re-read so I didn’t really count it as one of my favorites of the year. I think your description of it as an Anne Shirley story is quite apt. I’m looking forward to Murder of Roger Ackroyd sometime in the next year or so–it’s been forever since I’ve read any Christie and I’ve only heard good things about this one.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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