The Cult's 'Top 10' Books of 2010
It's that time of year again at The Cult when we appropriate Valentine's Day (close enough) for our own celebration as book smitten fiends. That of course, means publishing our second annual Top Ten list of books from the previous year. It's not only fitting to post this on V-day, but pragmatic too, as I get a lot of books in December and need a month or so to finish up my year-end reading.
These go to eleven.
Or rather, this list goes to eleven, but let me explain. Friday, a friend mentioned a book to me with such an intriguing title that I immediately looked it up and read an excerpt. After reading a couple of pages, I downloaded it and finished it over the weekend. (Thanks, Richard!) As it turns out it was released in 2010 and I would feel remiss in not adding it to the list. I promise not to let this evolve into a top twenty or thirty over time, but in this case, this list goes to eleven.
Caveats: This list is based on my own highly personal and promiscuous reading habits and does not necessarily reflect our other voracious readers at The Cult, nor are they Chuck’s personal favorites or recommendations. I notice there are quite a few short story collections this year, and I wouldn’t say I’m inclined towards that form in particular, it was just an amazing year for story collections. So without further ado…
(In alphabetical order!)
"Sunset Park" by Paul Auster
I enjoyed this nostalgic paen to a Brooklyn neighborhood with its topical but understated observations on the American housing scandal- but with some reservations. The ending was abrupt and kind of unsatisfying and the birth-control choices of a seventeen year-year old character, creepy and unrealistic, but overall this short novel was an elegant and deeply engrossing study of a small slice of America with compelling characters.
"Slut Lullabies" by Gina Frangello
The title of this one grabbed my attention and the first sentence hooked me and I was useless until I finished it. I don't have super enough superlatives to convey how perfect these stories are; every story is meaty and complicated and satisfying. If you are tired of "slice of life, no resolution" stories, this collection is the antidote.
Frangello doesn't shirk away from the sordid and contemptible in human affairs but she also doesn't condemn, and I think that lilt of empathy that shines through is remarkable.
"The Ones That Got Away" by Stephen Graham Jones
I'm a huge fan of Stephen Graham Jones and was eagerly awaiting this collection since I'm in awe of his 2005 collection Bleed Into Me. I was freaked the hell out at first because this is nothing at all like that meditative, haunting and heart-breaking book, this is HORROR. Think Shirley Jackson, early Stephen King kind of horror where you're lulled in by the ordinary and completely unprepared when the blood and gore hits the fan.
Jones simply can't write a bad sentence and I love so much that he chose to explore this genre. It's hard to find a really well written story that satisfies that need to be terrified and horrified every once in a while.
"Great House" by Nicole Krauss
Kruass is a fantastic novelist and I've been waiting for Great House for years it feels. The story revolves around a desk as it impacts the lives of four different characters and Krauss explores their stories in a meticulous yet seemingly arbitrary way. One of Krauss's many skills is the deft way she elevates what could be a cumbersome gimmick, but each individual story is absorbing and fully realized.
There are so many ways that grief and loss are dealt with in this book that as a reader you almost forget that the heartbreak isn't your own.
"The Orange Eats Creeps" by Grace Krilanovich
The Orange Eats Creep reads more like a poem than a novel, and a hallucinatory one at that. There's not much of a story which is either really frustrating (as two people I recommended the book to complained) or kind of inconsequential once you sink into the writing. I loved it, and I loved not knowing what was real and what was imagined and I'm going to keep recommending it even if someone throws it at me in rage. It has that kind of polarizing reaction.
"Sourland: Stories" by Joyce Carol Oates
I can't remember where I read it, but a review described one of the stories in this collection as "lacerating" and, well, they're all pretty much lacerating and difficult and depressing. Reading this collection in one sitting seems suicidal to me, but reading them is a must. Just pace yourself.
I honestly am in awe that anyone can understand desolation to this degree and somehow get it on a page.
"Foreign Bodies" by Cynthia Ozick
Apparently this is based on a book by Henry James which I haven't read (The Ambassadors), and there is definitely an old-fashioned feel to this kind of storytelling which I've rediscovered this year after going on a Philip Roth bender. There is a lot of attention to small, telling details, an assumption that the reader is paying attention and has patience, and a wonderfully slow and sickening reveal.
Ozick's post-war saga of family deceit and contrivances is oddly hypnotic. Odd, because, though, it's hard to empathize with their motivations, it's impossible to look away from the havoc they wreak.
"Nemesis" by Philip Roth
Did I mention that I'm on a Roth bender? I devoured Nemesis. It read like an outraged rant, (erm, yes, it's Roth) and I have a thing for epidemics in novels. Some favorites: Blindness by Jose Saramago, The Plague by Camus A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan and The Andromeda Strain by Michael Chrichton...
There is something incredibly compelling about how a community or/and an individual reacts when having to balance a threat of such proportions. Roth's meditation doesn't dethrone O'Nan, Camus or Saramago but is a definite contender.
I'd recommend this one to both new and similarly obsessed Roth fans.
"The Mind's Eye" by Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks writes brilliant books that reflect on the existential implications of neurological anomalies. If you haven't read "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" or "An Anthropologist from Mars," I urge you to do so immediately. You will never take anything for granted again.
In The Mind's Eye, Sack's subject is vision and how varying degrees of "blindness" affect the brain. He explores the plasticity of the brain as well as psychosocial adaption. It's probably his most personal book as he shares his own experience with ocular cancer with candor and courage.
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot
I'm a huge fan of meticulously researched non-fiction that reads like fiction (Into Thin Air, Columbine) and Skloot's delivered that and more in this remarkable odyssey of one woman's inadvertent yet significant contribution to medical research.
Skloot honors Lack's life and legacy in this broadly encompassing study of medical research and medical ethics, history, racism, and family ties with diligence and compassion. She properly celebrates Lacks while tackling the moral implications of consent and dignity in that behemoth that is the medical "industry".
"Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
This book is such an outrageous and hilarious and brilliant depiction of technology and its effect on our humanity. I'm resistant to any book that begins 'Dear Diary" and I was ready to hate it, but three pages in and I was utterly and gleefully absorbed in this Dystopian love story.
The love story aspect is sad, but so unabashedly honest that you can't help but root for his "lovers," though you probably wouldn't want to know either of them in real life. His real triumph is nailing a world gone crazy with social "networking" excess. And it's a grim world regardless of how lovingly or cleverly it's presented.
This Top 10 does not constitute Chuck Palahniuk's favorite books of the year. This is a very personal list by me, Mirka Hodurova, and the first person that identifies the writer in the frame in the image below gets a PRIZE! (EDIT: It's Ranier Maria Rilke, it's been figured out by gypsysoul08!)