Saturday, December 18, 2010

Best Reads of 2010

I'm not very good at book reports and I don't pay attention much to "best sellers," but these 10 books (in no particular order) stood out for me as The Best over the last 12 months, so here's some ripped-off synopses of each.

Have you read any of these? Comments welcome!

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers - Abdulrahman Zeitoun is the real-life hero of the book. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina he paddled from house to house in a canoe, offering help to his neighbours. For his trouble, he was arrested as a suspected terrorist.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver - This novel, about a boy's consequential bonds with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky, is a call to conscience and connection.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - Opens with these simple, resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister's death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura's story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms.

Stoner by John Williams - Only two passions matter in Stoner’s life, love and learning, and in a sense he fails at both. This is the story of an ordinary man, seemingly thwarted at every turn, but also of the knotty integrity he preserves, the deep inner life behind the impassive facade.

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey - Inspired by the example of the legendary WPA American Guide series of the 1930s and '40s, an American road trip in book form: original writing on all 50 states by 50 of our finest novelists, journalists, and essayists.

Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger - An entertaining, blow-by-blow account of the life and times of an epic Hollywood couple. But to read "Furious Love" is to grasp that, for these stars, acting was something to do when they were not fighting and drinking, two of their other major talents.

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem - Projected through the prism of race relations, black music and pop art, Lethem's stunning, disturbing and authoritatively observed narrative covers three decades of turbulent events on Dean Street, Brooklyn.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson - Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, this spellbinding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men--the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, striving to secure America's place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.

The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow - A cracker of a book, an addictive, intelligent thriller that plays out like the coolest ever dope-running gangster film on the cinema screen in your mind.

Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá - Using evidence gathered from human physiology, archaeology, primate biology and anthropological studies of pre-agricultural tribes from around the world, they argue that monogamy and the nuclear family are more recent inventions than most of us would expect — and far less natural than we've come to believe.

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