My Top 10 Books of 2010

Top 10 Tuesdays

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s theme is “Top Ten Books I Read in 2010.” Now, I am automatically excluding Under the Poppy, because I am not sure I will finish it by the end of the year (blasted overtime at the real job!) BUT I am definitely enjoying it, so I didn’t want there to be any misconceptions there.  I’m also going to do my best to pick THE Top 10, but I do want to include a mixture of genres – hopefully it will just turn out that way without my having to try. Anyway, on to the list!

1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

This was one of the funniest and saddest books (plays) I have ever read.  The characters were horrifying in their actions and heartbreaking in their loneliness. The over-the-top comedy, though, allowed me to really enjoy what was happening (the insanity!) while still being affected by the plot.

2. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Probably one of the most “majestic” books I have ever read.  Allende’s prose and style are unbeatable, and the powerfully moving glimpse of South American history we get is really a masterful achievement. This is a book where one learns so much (about history, politics, society, and the art of writing) while simultaneously being treated to one of the most beautiful stories ever written.

3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

When I heard that John Green and David Levithan were teaming up to write a novel about the life and times of a manic-depressive gay teenager, I was understandably stoked.  The authors of Looking for Alaska and Boy Meets Boy working together?  Brilliant!  What they achieved, though, is more than even I, an admitted fan of both writers, could have imagined.

4. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

The novel takes place in the course of one day – so the characterization was probably as well developed as it could be; the emotion of the novel – the desperation and sadness were genuine and personal – I felt exposed and violated, frustrated and hopeful.  I could see myself in George – the future me – and I was disappointed in myself at times, proud of myself at times, but – ultimately – I was left with the sense of knowing who I am (who George is) and of accepting things as they are.  The only truly possible way of living a satisfied (not happy) life.

5. The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu

The Boy with the Cuckoo-clock Heart is a terrifying marriage of Peter Pan and Pinocchio. We have, here the fantasy-boy, whose life and self-image are largely designed by a lonely, childless elder, similar to Pinocchio’s Geppetto, and we have the boy’s struggle with maturity and growth – the Peter Pan who never wants to grow up, or who just cannot figure out how to do it. The story is a dark and cynical fairy tale which, admittedly, will not be for everyone; in fact, I would be reluctant to recommend the book to anyone, as it is rather sad, confusing, and bizarre. That being said, the overall sentiment is the dangerous power of love – unwelcome, unrequited, unrealized, or unknown. It is one of the most fascinating and ever-present themes in literature and in life. Malzieu delivers his version of this never-ending story in an eccentric way, but it is outlandishly beautiful and poignant, despite the failures in characterization and the not-so-happy ending.

6. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

As I mentioned above, regarding the Plot, Of Human Bondage was a great story in its own right, but it also posed two very interesting ideas: the first is counter-religion/pro-Humanist. As the book was written in the early 20th Century, I found it a welcome break from traditional literature of the period; granted, there were certainly reactionary writers, writing back to their staunchly religious and pious (prude) predecessors i.e. 18th Century novelists; but, still, the atheistic sentiment in literature was not (and is not) exactly prevalent. That is not to say, by any means, that the book comes across as “religion-bashing” or “anti-Christian” or even “pro-Atheism” in any way – it is not a call to arms, so much as a subdued retraction from the mainstream. Also, the story speaks highly of the virtue of hard work and resolve. There is much mention of the great societies, particularly of the rising American ideal, and the indication is that the “American dream” has seeped into even European culture (though Americans in the story are not always spoken of in the highest regard). While the “try, try, try again” theme is common in literature, Philip’s pathos is so honest and authentic that the reader cannot help but root for him in a way that almost anticipated failure, but which allows for delight, personally, in his successes. Readers are always supposed to want their protagonists to find their happy endings, but Maugham writes Philip so brilliantly that one can actually be pleasantly satisfied by the little happiness he discovers, and about how he realizes it.

7. The Satyricon by Petronius

What makes this novel so great is really a combination of elements: 1st) that it is an ancient text written in prose, rather than verse, and in a way which, ultimately would become the “standard” for novelization in Western literature; 2nd) the honest account of social interaction and sexuality in this time period, most of which has been lost to history; 3rd) the genius satire, executed in a way that is both funny and somehow serious. Petronius obviously has a bone to pick with the political powers that be, and with the moral justices – he seems disturbed by those who are “in charge” and by the way they enact their trials and verdicts.

8. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Not since Melville’s The Confidence Man and Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have I felt an author has so completely and implicitly captured the American spirit. The only faults to find in this novel were that too much, though not much really, was left unresolved. Why isn’t this really a problem, though? Because Steinbeck knew the problem itself was unresolved – yes, characters in this novel wandered off and were never heard from again; so it was with the migrant laborers, split from their families to find work, with promises to strike it big and return with wealth and advantages. The language and dialogue were masterfully wrought, and the novel’s structure is something unique and wonderful. The interspersed chapters of detached observation give the readers a clearer understanding of what is really happening, and the realization that, left with only the Joad family’s journey, we too would continue to be hopeful when there was no reason left to be positive. It is no wonder that The Grapes of Wrath is considered by some, such as Dorothy Parker, to be “the greatest American novel.”

9. Lust for Life by Irving Stone

Upon reflection and review, I find Lust for Life to be an almost perfect novel.  It is well-written.  It is, as far as I can tell, honest to history and the historical figures it represents.  Stone does a masterful and delicate job of re-telling the life story of one of history’s greatest and most well-known artists.  Though I would have appreciated more time having been spent on van Gogh’s mental decline, I did find the decline easy to follow and to witness.  Some other elements, like van Gogh’s infamous alcoholism and “smoker’s cough” were left out (there was plenty of drinking – but a “problem” was not implied) which, perhaps, Stone did not find necessary, but I believe it detracts from some of the underlying problems (does a sober man really cut off his ear?).  Still, though, the language, the relevance, the relationships, the characterization and emotion are all brilliant.  Stone even makes an effort to present his characters in the manner which van Gogh would paint his own models and landscapes, an ingenious and, I’m sure, incredibly difficult task to accomplish.  This has been one of the best pieces of biographical fiction I’ve ever read, and even one of the best novels I’ve enjoyed in my rather large reading history.

10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

This work was truly remarkable – both stylistically and in pure entertainment and reading-pleasure regards, and in its educational value. What strikes true for the reader in this novel are two major purposes for the book: first, the desire to explain, in full-detail, the nature of the Russian people, from peasant to nobility, during the turbulent Napoleonic era; and second, the need for any historian – literary, cultural, military, or scientific- to depict every single aspect of humanity and its many types of people during an event in order to attempt to explain the event and/or its causes, while maintaining the understanding that this may still be an impossibility.  The families in War and Peace each have their ups-and-downs, some gaining wealth from nowhere, and some losing all they have – and his descriptions of how each family (and each person within that family) deals with losses or triumphs are whole, distinct, and believable – nobody reacts the same way. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book, though, is watching as the scenes of war intermingle with the scenes of peace – the reader begins to understand how one element creates a cause-and-effect relationship with the other and how, in the end, everyone was connected, even when apart.

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