22 December 2010

My Top Ten Books for 2010

Since I read on average about 2-3 books per week (I include listening to unabridged audio here in this total), by the end of the year I've read somewhere in the range of 100-150 [would that I were a speed-reader and could get through that many more!].  Narrowing down to ten favorites is pretty difficult sometimes, but I love the chance that it provides me of revisiting beloved titles and characters that I encountered months ago, in the long, dark nights of January and the long, hot days of summer vacation.  Because I'm a bookseller and frequently read books months ahead of their publication date, I'm modifying this list to reflect the best books published in 2010, even if I might have read 1-2 of them in 2009.  By the same token, books forthcoming in 2011 that I've already read and loved will have to wait for next year's list. I did consciously try to include both fiction and nonfiction as well as some books published for young adults. In no particular order, other than my ability to recall them:

1) The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart.  For its heart, its whimsy, and its British charm & sparkle. Published in cloth in August 2010 by Doubleday, a division of Random House, given to me by my sales rep, Ann Kingman.

2) As Always, Julia: the letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon.  For its intimate look at two extraordinary women who wrote marvelously entertaining and worldly letters.  Published in cloth in November 2010 by Houghton Mifflin.  I picked up a comp copy of this book at NEIBA.

3) Little Bee by Chris Cleave.  For asking the haunting questions: how far would you go to save a stranger's life, and what would you do to preserve or sever that connection afterward?  Published in paperback in February 2010 by Simon and Schuster.  I bought this book to read on summer vacation, only to belatedly discover that my sales rep, John Muse, had given me a finished copy when it was published in cloth the previous year.

4) At Home: A History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.  For being a new book by Bill Bryson.  Does it need more reason than that to make my Top Ten list?  Okay, for being a non-fiction book written with his trademark humor and for his ability to draw startling & fascinating connections between two seemingly unrelated pieces of history.  Published by Doubleday in October 2010.  My Random House rep, Ann Kingman, pressed an advance reading copy into my hot little hands as soon as they were available (and for which I am forever grateful) AND she gifted me with a finished copy the day I met Bill Bryson because I was so pathetically enthusiastic about driving 4 hours to spend 30 minutes in his company.  I also purchased outright the audio version of it, ostensibly to give my husband for Christmas, but which in reality will take up residence in my car.

5) Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay.  For being a beautiful novel whose sense of place completely drew me out of my own circumstances and into the harsh world of dancing for the Bolshoi, whose glittery surface belies the treachery and betrayal and hunger lurking just beneath.  Published in cloth by HarperCollins in September, my sales rep Anne DeCourcey suggested I read the book for my store's signed first edition club.  I did, and we promptly selected it.

6) The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow.  For being a splendid debut novel that probes what racial identity means to a girl who seems to fit neither here nor there.  Published in cloth in March by Algonquin Books, one of my favorite small publishers, and given to me by Craig Popelars, who is the heart and soul of that company.  We also picked this book for our signed first editions club.

7) Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.  For being a 21st-century novel of manners and for being so utterly delightful, charming, and old-fashioned.  Published in cloth by Random House in March 2010, I think I requested this book from my sales rep, Michael Kindness, but it's also possible that it arrived in the "White Box."

8) Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog.  For being the most provocative and readable book I've ever encountered on humankind's complicated relationships with animals.  No other single book has made me think more about what I'm eating or made me consider the socio-economic implications of our treatment of animals. Published by HarperCollins in cloth in September 2010 and discovered in the staff kitchen in the bookstore one day over lunch--it was an advance reading copy left by our sales rep, Anne DeCourcey.

9) Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.  For being one of the best boarding school books I've ever read and for having a deliciously complicated protagonist in Taylor Markham, who is simultaneously curious & indifferent, strong & vulnerable.  This book was published in paperback in March 2010 by HarperTeen and I purchased it for a summer vacation read after the enthusiastic recommendation by Rebecca, my store's former children's buyer.

10)  White Cat by Holly Black.  For being such a pure-dee fun romp through magic and organized crime.  I love heist stories and this one was really good.  Published in cloth by McElderry books, a teen division of Simon & Schuster in May 2010.  I'm fairly sure that my sales rep, John Muse, gave me a copy of this one in advance reading copy form, but I also picked up a complimentary finished copy at a NEIBA educational session.

And one to grow on, because I couldn't stop at just ten, and because this book really was extraordinary:

11) Room by Emma Donoghue.  For being an utterly gripping and inventive book, for keeping my attention even when I became frustrated with the 5 year-old narrator, and for braving the psychological depths and twists inherent in long term hostage situations and their aftermaths.  Published by Little, Brown in September 2010.  I grabbed a galley of this book that came in the "White Box" and read it during a weekend of travel this summer.

I'd like to thank all of the wonderful sales reps in western New England who keep me in books all year long, those I've named here and all of the others who are always quick to send me titles I express interest in.  Without them, my reading life would be all the poorer!


  1. since I am back to the US for part of the winter, your reading list inspires me...thanks Ems

  2. Emily, Thank you for that list. Something to look forward to in 2011. I'll post this posting on my facebook page. And I'll bookmark it so I can easily come back to it. You are a speedreader by the way. I can only read one book a week is that many!

  3. Great list, Emily. The only one I've read is Little Bee, which I thought was well worth it, but petered out about two-thirds of the way through. What a great job you have with someone feeding you amazing new books all the time! I have three more books to read and I will have read 100 books this year, which will feel like quite an accomplishment.

  4. Interesting list...thanks.

    I have only read two of the ones on your list.

    Little Bee and Room


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