Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The happiest time of the year

by Jim

Now that we’ve passed Thanksgiving, we’ve entered my absolute favorite time of the year. I’m not talking about the Christmas season which totally clogs New York streets with shoppers (though we love all the additional book sales!). It’s something much more magical than the holiday season: December means it’s officially time to rank things. And I looooove a good list.

Largehearted Boy has launched his annual Best-of compendium which includes lists as general as “Best of 2010” and as specific as “Best Hockey Coffee Table Books.” You just know there’s one hockey coffee table book out there that didn’t make the cut, and it’s author is pissed.

I haven’t started compiling my lists yet, though yes, I’m totally nerdy enough to do so. I can, however, easily pick my favorite novel, memoir, and YA novel of the year pretty easily. They are:

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: I just don’t understand how Egan does it. Each of her books feels like a revelation, and she gets away with things no one should be able to. 75 pages of this book are a Powerpoint presentation for gods’ sake! Goon Squad is funny, moving, and brilliant. It’s even a quick read!

Just Kids by Patti Smith: I do wonder if my reaction to this book is a bit biased. I love New York stories, and Smith transforms the city into a magical place filled with strange, wonderful, beautiful people. She romanticizes everything which could become grating in lesser hands, but to me just reveals a depth of spirit and wonder.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: Okay. I know that there are those who didn’t care for how the Hunger Games trilogy ended. I also know that when I last brought this up, there were those who balked that the series is a Battle Royale rip-off (though I’d argue that novel had its own direct antecedents). But here’s what I have to say: Collins took the trilogy down the darkest of all possible roads, showing us that even the strongest among us have our breaking points and that everyone will at times crumble. At the same time, she ended the series with just the right glimmer of hope—sometimes it’s enough just to believe there’s a reason to try. And that, to me, was beautiful.

So those are my three. And hey, they all happen to be by female authors. Take that, Michiko Kakutani.

Anyone else ready to disclose their top picks for the year?

UPDATE: In the time it took me to send this to Lauren to check for typos, I realized that there was another novel that I actually loved even more than the Egan this year. ROOM by Emma Donoghue was simply exceptional. Written in the voice of a five-year-old who has grown up imprisoned in a single room with his mother, it is a virtuoso feat of storytelling and voice. It's simply mesmerizing. I haven't cried as hard at a book in ages, but in the end it's hugely uplifting and deeply special. But the Egan is still amazing!


  1. I recently read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in eight days. I, for one, thought it ended perfectly. There couldn't be a nice whitewashed 'happily ever after' to this story. They'd survived, they'd found a measure of happiness, that was all that could be asked for.

    I haven't read your other 'tops.' I'll have to check them out.

  2. You Lost Me There -- by Rosencrans Baldwin
    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks -- by Rebecca Skloot
    Room -- by Emma Donoghue
    Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter -- by Tom Franklin
    Just Kids -- by Patti Smith
    The Invisible Bridge -- by Julie Orringer
    Red Hook Road -- by Ayelet Waldman
    The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake -- by Aimee Bender

  3. The one that immediately comes to mind is Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. Fabulous!

  4. Oh, I love best-of book lists!

    It's hard for me to pick my favorite YA novel of 2010 since I've read some great ones this year. If push comes to shove, I'd probably pick BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver. I simply loved how the protagonist developed over the course of the novel. And such a great premise!

    When it comes to MG novels though, I have a hands-down winner: ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia. The writing is just wonderful and full of rich details from 1960s Oakland. If this novel doesn't win the Newbery or a Newbery Honor, I'll be really shocked.

    Thanks for the rec for ROOM! I've been wondering if I should shell out $$ to buy it...

  5. I'm not a big 'list' person, but I also loved Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver and would easily pick that as my fave YA of the year. I'm reading her new one, Delirium, and loving that as well.

  6. I LOVE lists. And I agree with you about Mockingjay. Many of my writer friends seem disappointed, but I wasn't.

    I am going to look through the list of books I've read this year and highlight some favs.

  7. Wow, I'm so ashamed that I've only read one of those three! I'm going to have to remedy that.

    I had things I loved and things I hated about Mockingjay, but in my opinion, that's really the mark of something good--when I'm so passionate about the book that I feel that strongly about the author's choices, it means she's managed to get me really, really invested in the series. In the end I loved it, and I'm definitely with you on it making a "best of" list.

  8. A further comment on Emma Donoghue's ROOM. It was the only book I bought the day it came out. I started reading it that afternoon and finished it the next day. Of all the wonderful books I read this year, ROOM was the one that broke my heart, had me scared witless, and made me see so, so many everyday things in a new light. And Donoghue's skill with the present-tense child-narrator was crazy-good.

  9. I don't read many memoirs so I'll just go with the Top 3 Favorite Books I Read in 2010:

    1. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

    2. The Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot (though the book was released in 2006, I didn't catch on til this year)

    3. Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead -- (Promise I'm not sucking up here, Jim) Technically, I haven't read the whole book yet, just the first chapter...but I've been waiting since May to get my hands on this thing! I don't see how it can't end up on my favorite list for twenty-ten.

  10. Seriously, I've picked up A Visit from the Goon Squad twice in the bookstore and put it down for something else. Next time, I'm going to have to purchase it. Sounds like a great read. Thanks for the recommendation! :D


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