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.
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!