As befits a book-blogging accountant, I’ll begin this look back at the year in reading with a little number-crunching:
Total books read: 56
Other: 1 (music)
Number of pages read: No idea, although I suppose I could do the math…but I’m really not all that interested in crunching this particular number at this point, so never mind! (Do you keep track of this statistic? How meaningful is it?)
Published in 2010: 32 (includes reprints and paperback editions of books previously published in hardcover)
Authors by gender (does not add up to total books because I read multiple books by several writers):
Personal copies (purchased/gifts) 24 (includes re-reads)
Furnished for blog tours: 12
Furnished for online book clubs: 3
Furnished for review from other sources (publishers, authors, etc.): 17
Re-reads reviewed for the first time (counted in total books read):
4 – 5: 23
3 – 4: 22
2 – 3: 9
Unrated: 2 (includes 1 book counted in “read” totals but not yet reviewed at year-end)
****Books of the Year****
As mentioned in the previous section, I gave 23 books a rating of 4/5 or higher this year, including three of my five re-reads. Two of the re-reads received full 5/5 marks, but as re-reads, I’ve made them ineligible to be singled out as Books of the Year. However, that still leaves 20 out of 55 books for honors consideration, and I’d consider that a pretty high-quality reading year…although it did make it more challenging for me to choose my very favorites from such strong contenders!
After some struggle, I decided not to limit myself to just one book in each category. My selections are books that I’ve recommended to others this year, and that I believe will stay with me once this year is long over. The titles link to my reviews. (Book-cover images via my Amazon.com Associate links)
This work of historical fiction has a fascinating and fact-based hook, a unique and memorable title character, and didn’t get nearly the attention I feel it deserved. Lisa Grunwald builds a compelling and compassionate story around a bit of recent history that seems very hard to grasp from our modern, child-centric, post-feminist perspective. It’s not hard to believe that Henry becomes the person he is given the upbringing he had, and while his behavior is often unsympathetic, I never found his character to be.
The author of my 2009 Nonfiction Book of the Year makes my 2010 list for a quietly moving novel about grief and survival. Telling her story from multiple viewpoints, Ayelet Waldman seems to maintain a slight distance from her characters through much of the novel, which makes the times when she drops it all the more affecting. There are stretches in the novel where it seems that not much happens, as Waldman explores these complex characters’ responses over time, effectively conveying that there’s no prescribed method or schedule for “getting over” something, and that what may seem like letting go at first may really be a way of holding on. …For much of the telling, Red Hook Road is a quiet novel, and its emotional impact snuck up on me a bit.
Since novels set in the mid-20th century can now be considered “historical,” my third choice is another work of historical fiction (which is not a genre I generally seek out). Lauren Belfer covers a lot of territory in A Fierce Radiance. She explores the research-and-development work that helped lay the foundations of the modern pharmaceutical industry. She draws a portrait of wartime life on the home front, and a detailed picture of 1940’s New York City. She follows the investigation of a mysterious, sudden death that may be somehow connected to the drug research. And she ties it all together by bringing everything back to her well-drawn protagonist, Life magazine photojournalist Claire Shipley.
This is the first time that I’ve read enough young-adult fiction during one year to count it separately, but I don’t think it will be the last. This was also the easiest category to decide – the standouts were clear, as both received 4.25/5 ratings.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is propelled by subterfuge and secret plots, but there’s more to it than that. It’s about challenging expectations and traditions, girl power vs. Old Boys, identity politics and social maneuvering. It’s not just about high-school life; it’s boarding-school life, where the intensity of high school ramps up because you’re always there. Frankie is one of the sharpest characters I’ve met lately, and I adored her. The story is smart, and so is the writing – it’s funny, yet thoughtful, and rings true. Ms. Landau-Banks is a favorite among book bloggers, and once you meet her, it’s not hard to understand why.
Beth Kephart has a gift for voicing thoughtful, eloquent teens, and Georgia, her protagonist in this novel, is no exception – the author made the heart and mind of this sixteen-year-old thoroughly vivid to me, and drew me fully into what she was experiencing during two weeks on a service project in Juarez, Mexico. In addition, the author showed her understanding that a summer can be just as significant to the learning and growth of a teenager as the school year. She also never wavered in conveying the narrative voice as that of a teen – I never felt that Georgia’s voice was more adult than it should be.
This category got short shrift in 2010 – which I hope to make up for next year! – but it included some of the most thought-provoking reading of the year.
One of my last reads of the year was also one of the best. While the 1970s and the decades that followed saw progress made for women in the areas of economic and educational opportunity, personal protection, family law, and reproductive rights, the underlying debates continued. Feminism may appear to be fragmented in various directions these days – because it is – but Deborah Siegel shows that even from the beginning of the second wave, feminist “sisters” never spoke with a single, unified voice, and her story here is about what’s gone on within the feminist movement more than its effects outside it. I was very impressed by Siegel’s even-handed, balanced discussion and her disciplined approach.
I was fascinated by this memoir. Trying to get a grasp of the forces driving much public opinion and political action during the last decade, Gina Welch decided to go to one of their sources: Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Understanding that she wouldn’t learn much approaching as a reporter or an outsider, she chose to go within, presenting herself as a prospective church member. The “will she be unmasked?” element added a bit of suspense, but I was absorbed by Gina’s undercover journey, particularly as her ambivalence grew. Welch is honest about her skepticism, which doesn’t ever really go away, but her portrayal of the people she gets to know at TRBC is pretty even-handed, even compassionate.
I thought I’d hit on some other highs and lows of the year in books by answering a few of the questions from the 2010 Reading Survey. I lifted this from The Avid Reader’s Musings, but it’s been going around.
Favorite new author(s) you discovered in 2010? Having read four of her beautifully-written young-adult novels this year, my Author of the Year is Beth Kephart – and since she would not have come to my attention without bloggers (most notably Amy, Melissa, and Anna), I thank this community for making the introduction!
Book you most anticipated in 2010? Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. Much of the anticipatory fun of this one came from sharing the eager waiting and speculation with other book bloggers…and my 16-year-old stepdaughter.
Most memorable character(s) in 2010? They were in two of my Books of the Year: Henry House and Frankie Landau-Banks.
Most beautifully written book in 2010? Lit: A Memoir, by Mary Karr. The author’s third memoir, Lit‘s basic arc is familiar – downward spiral, hitting bottom, finding one’s way back up – but Karr’s telling of the story is all her own. While a successful memoir needs a compelling story – and Karr certainly has one – it’s her writing that has made her books stand out in the genre. It’s clear from her prose that her background is in poetry, and while I’m not a poetry fan, I found myself noting and appreciating her craft.
Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? It was a book I originally read almost six years earlier: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. I was excited to co-host a Read-along for it, and I found it just as affecting – maybe even more so – the second time around.
Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace. I loved the author’s Betsy-Tacy books when I was young, but somehow missed this stand-alone, related novel (although, granted, it was out of print and hard to find for a number of years). I’m glad that oversight has been remedied now!
As you look back over your 2010 reading, what stands out for you? And if you’ve done a wrap-up post, please feel free to include the link in your comment!