Monday, January 31, 2011

2010 Book Oscars!

 (Warning: This widget does not translate well into a reader. Scroll down.)

Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species

The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life

Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

A Christmas Carol and Other Stories

The Remains of the Day

The Fever Trail: In Search of the Cure for Malaria

The Odyssey

Lilith's Brood

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The New Frugality: How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better

Spoon River Anthology

Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces

Life of Pi

The Old Man and the Sea

North and South


Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

The Happiest Toddler on the Block: The New Way to Stop the Daily Battle of Wills and Raise a Secure and Well-Behaved One- to Four-Year-Old


In 2009, I was at various times uncomfortably pregnant, on maternity leave, taking care of a newborn, and taking frequent breaks to pump breast milk at work, and I read a record number of books - 43, to be precise.

I spent 2010 chasing a crawler, then chasing a toddler, then chasing a toddler some more, and, yes, chasing a toddler even more. And the only record I set for reading was my all-time low. I only read 27 books in 2010, almost entirely on my 13 minute BART commute to and from work (and the time I spend on the platform, and sometimes, on my way up the escalator and into the elevator to get to my office). Those were a really great 26 minutes per day, though: a relaxing respite from parenting a very spirited child. I may not have read as much as I did in 2009, but I enjoyed every minute of reading I was allowed in 2010.

Without further ado, here are the awards!

Best Contemporary Fiction Featuring Old, Uptight Men

I read several novels published after 1900 this year! Picking the top two is easy, because not only were they the best contemporary fiction I read in 2010, but they are in the running for the best novels I have ever read. They are, indeed, that good. Go read them.

Tied for First Place!

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz.
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day.

Only Contemporary by My Standards Honorable Mention (Cross-referenced under "Books I should have read in High School but skipped")

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (Thanks to my education in baseball over the past several years - thank you Steve! - I even enjoyed the baseball references!)

I continue to strongly prefer novels that feature the reflections of uptight, pensive old men and old-fashioned prose. What can I say? Old men and me - we get along.

Best Victorian Fiction Read Last Year

I read quite a few 19th century novels in 2010, including a sampling of Anthony Trollope, Elizabeth Gaskell, Dickens, and even a Brontë. 

Much to my surprise, clear first place goes to Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. I am not a die-hard Dickens fan. I loved Great Expectations, but I thought David Copperfield was at least five-hundred pages too long, and Oliver Twist bored the living daylights out of me. But A Tale of Two Cities is just expertly well-done. The one-liners!! Really, the man could turn a phrase. For example: "Those were drinking days, and most men drank hard." 

It's Dickens, so don't expect much in the way of characterization, but between the clever, funny writing and the smack-you-upside-the-head awesome plot, who needs realistic characters?

Honorable mention to Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, which has great characters, an epic class struggle, and only a little bit of drinking.

Best Farming Memoir Featuring Oakland!
Novella Carpenter, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.

I expected to enjoy this book primarily because it takes place in my back yard - downtown Oakland. But it is a delight - a thoughtful, well-written memoir about urban farming that avoids all of the usual cliches about "urban homesteading." She donated lettuce to the Black Panthers! She fed her pigs from dumpsters in Chinatown! She lives in a scarier part of Oakland than I do! Loved. It.

Best Only Poetry Read in 2010
Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology

Luckily I didn't discover that this is most popularly known for providing monologues for high school drama students until after reading it, because I am still working through some traumatic memories of high school drama classes. This anthology is a bit uneven but paints an incredible picture of small-town life in turn-of-the-century midwestern United States. And a good number of the poems are just gut-wrenchingly beautiful. I can't remember the last time I read a whole volume of poetry, but I really enjoyed this one.

Book I'm Most Glad To Be Finished
Homer, The Odyssey (Robert Fagles translation)

One of my new year's resolutions last year was to finally finish the audio version of the Odyssey that I had been listening to for over a year already, so that I could finally move on to something less ... epic. And thank goodness, I did, and I did! What I learned is that some (really long) books are very hard to get through on audio, especially if narrated/sung by Ian McKellan pretending to be some kind of ancient minstrel. Get the hard copy.

So, did you read any good books about old men in 2010? Do tell!


  1. No old men for me this year, sorry. I notice you don't have a "Best Parenting" category...

  2. I thought about doing a "Worst Parenting Book" category, but it was too tedious to even consider which was worst. Blech.

  3. Ha! So many bad parenting books! I can't read most of them.
    Anyway, I loved Farm City as well! I had a slow, slow, slow reading year in which very few captured my interest. I did just read Bloodroot and enjoyed it!

  4. You are inspiring me to keep better track of books I read each year. Off the top of my head, I read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (loved), The Help (really liked, despite some flaws), Girl With the Dragon Tattoo AND Girl Who Played With Fire (extremely problematic -- why did I read both??), Never Let Me Go (!!!), Zeitoun (highly recommend), Positive Discipline (pretty good), a smattering of poets and a few cookbooks. I think cookbooks should count, especially if you pored over them.

  5. I've been wanting to do a whole post on my favorite cookbooks for a while!

  6. I love the idea of this post! I wish I had gotten around to reading as many books as you were able to. :) I did squeeze in some though.

  7. Hi Julia! It's actually pretty amazing how much I get through in approximately 26 minutes a day. Ability to read fast and completely tune out your surroundings is obviously a plus. And the occasional longer commutes required by my work help me get through a couple audio books a year. But I understand that is about three hours of alone time per week than most moms get! I love being a mom, but I'm not going to pretend I hate those little breaks. :-)


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