Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Top 10 Books I Read in 2010

How ya doin', kiddos?  In your "I-just-voted-now-what" revelry, I've gone ahead and made a list of the best books I've read in 2010.  Now, that isn't to say that all of these books were published in 2010, though some of the were, but these books are the ones that resonated with me the most.  A few I've read before because I reread them every year.  They're that good.  As with my Top 10 Records, there's no numbering system.  I absolutely refuse to put a number on things I like!

I wanted to give a fairly equal share of the love between non-genre and genre, fiction and nonfiction, because I read all of these; however this year I was accepted to Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop in San Diego and I decided it was worth it to read a lot of genre work in preparation for the six-week workshop (and yes, two of the instructors are mentioned below, not because I'm trying to kiss their asses, but because their books are seriously two of the best books I've read this year; and okay, a little ass-kissing can't hurt).  The genre trend, even after the workshop, has kept up and, unfortunately, this year I've read very few nonfiction works.  I intend to change that at the beginning of the new year.

Okay.  Away we go.

Top 10 Books I Read in 2010 (not a David Letterman sketch)

The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich (Two Dollar Radio, 2010)
Hobo teen vampire junkie wandering the Pacific Northwest, high on meth and robitussin, and haunted by the disappearance of her sister while being chased by a serial killer.  And that's what the back of the book says.  What is this book really about?  To tell you that, I'd have to read it again and maybe a third time after that.  And I will read it again.  The first time through, however, is a stream-of-consciousness experience and the language is so vibrant, Krilanovich's sentences come to life.

The Hot Kid  by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow, Phoenix, HarperTorch, 2005)
Breezy crime noir doesn't get much better than Elmore Leonard.  This one takes place in Depression-era Oklahoma and it concerns oil and badass US Marshal, Carl Webster.  This is the kind of book you read in two days, but it's a fun and gloriously thrilling two days.

City of Saints & Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer (Tor, 2004)
Jeff happened to be one of my instructors at Clarion and I thought it was a good idea to get acquainted with my instructors through their work.  I was not let down here.  The book is four novella-length stories and then 400 pages of appendices, based on the fictional city of Ambergris.  There are more details about this city in this book than in a lot of history books about Rome - it's a good thing: Ambergris is one of the most fascinating places I've ever visited.  You've got the Festival of the King Squid, a fictional but realistic religion called Truffidianism, strange mushroom people who dwell beneath the city called gray caps, and so much more.

Nova by Samuel R. Delany (Doubleday, 1968)
Chip, as he's known in the field, was also an instructor of mine at Clarion.  I'd grown up with his divisive behemoth, Dhalgren, in my house as a kid.  I still see that deep orange sun on the cover, that first half-sentence, "to wound the autumnal city."  Say what you will about it, but I loved it.  It was, according to my father and I trust him, a testament to the fucked-upness of the sixties.  Nova is nothing like that.  Its plot is pretty typical space opera, but with Delany's singular disillusionment of  our dependence on resources and depth of character and detail.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books, 2009)
Bangkok, the near-future, a calorie-fueled soceity, genetic manipulation, dirigibles.  This is pretty much everything I could want in reading a novel.  We're talking violence, heartbreak, sex, love, cruelty, ignorance, empowerment.  Bacigalupi is the writer to watch, in my opinion.  Not only is this book full of ideas and warnings for our own future, but it's extremely well-written too.  Bacigalupi is creating a new kind of cyberpunk and I'm in, definitely in.

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2009)
This is Denis Johnson writing an Elmore Leonard novel! The only thing that could be better than this is if Quention Tarantino made a scifi movie.  Nobody Move was  an easy, swift read and excellent crime noir, definitely Johnson at his lightest.  After a heavy-hitter about the Vietnam War and intelligence or lack thereof in Tree of Smoke, I'd want to do something light too.  The rundown: dude gets caught up in some shit he shouldn't have, things get out of control, everybody wants a cut of the dough, and there's a pretty girl.  Awesome.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2002)
This is a book I read once every couple of years.  I love the hermaphrodite narrator, Cal/Calliope.  How s/he is able to back in time and be her grandmother and her father, witnessing the exodus from Asian Minor to Prohibition Era in the US, all of it a love story about Detroit, the ruined city.  It's heartbreaking.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver (Harvill Press, 1983)
This isn't a novel.  It's a book of short stories.  Carver writes about the regular guy purely, without any sentimentality and this is his finest collection.  I read this every year.  No other story like the first story, "Feathers," with its crazy peacock has influenced me more as a writer.  The final story, "Cathedral," is also worth the collection alone.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW Books, 2010)
I reviewed a few weeks ago.  Okorafor's future world is a bleak desert with broken-down computers and strange sorceries.  But it's about so much more: genocide, feminism, technology, etc.  And written with such lovely style and grace.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Pantheon, 2010)
I reviewed this book, too, way way way back in September.  If I had to choose (and I'm not, I tells ya, I'm not!) the number one book I read in 2010, it would be Yu's masterful, How to Live... Normally, I hate time travel stories because they're usually done very poorly with gaping holes and fundamental flaws.  If Yu's novel has any of those, I've yet to see them.  He has written the perfect time travel story; and, not only that, he's written a moving piece about a son searching for his father.  Kudos, sir, kudos.  You've won me over twice.

So there they are in all their glory.  I have about 25 books on my bookshelf that I still need to read this year.  I'm currently in the middle of Ian McDonald's Brasyl and it's swimmingly good (all about the multiverse and quantum computers and the country of Brazil, wild!).  Some more books on my list:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jeminison
Oblivion, More or Less by Alan De Niro
The City & the City by China Mieville
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Anything else I should put on this list?  What are you reading?


  1. Have you read 'Romance of the three kingdoms'? - it was recc'ed to me a few months back and I haven't put it down since =)

  2. I haven't read "how to live.." yet but it must be great if you think it beats "the wind up girl."

  3. Till Human Voices Wake Us, by Mark Budz. I haven't had time to review it yet, but I finished it a book and a half ago and it still resonates.

    Three storylines, all connected in non-obvious ways, set apart in time and space, all coming together in mystical, non-obvious union in an ending that blew my fawking head open.

    Also, prose so achingly good that it will break your heart open so it can grow bigger. Seriously. Read that shit.

  4. @Clurra: I haven't heard of this book, but it's going on my wishlist after checking it out on Amazon. Thanks for rec.

    @The Good Doctor: Far better than Windup. Even though Windup is amazing.

    @Dallas: Definitely buying this. You should check JVDM's list too, if you haven't. Some good stuff on there.