Here’s the list, in the order that I read them this year:
The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt
This story follows several families in Britain from the end of the nineteenth century through World War I. The characters and settings are rich, but what Byatt does that is most memorable is show how the attitudes and actions of one generation bear upon the next. I thought about this book for weeks after finishing it.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
The story of Mary Anning, a nineteenth-century woman who found and identified dinosaur bones, and her friend Elizabeth Philpot. Their shared obsession with fossils occurred in a time when women were not allowed to be so engaged. Their friendship crossed class lines (Elizabeth was an aristocrat and Mary was not) and endured through misfortune and success. A wonderful story because so much of it is true.
The Conjurer’s Bird by Martin Davies
Fitz, a modern-day conservationist, is searching for the remains of the Ulietta bird which went missing from the extensive collection of nineteenth-century naturalist Joseph Banks. The novel moves between Fitz’s search and Bank’s life. Both stories are exciting: Fitz must find the bird before another who wants it only for its monetary value; Banks falls in love with a mysterious woman, whose existence is linked to Fitz’s search for the bird. Great book.
The Bells by Richard Harvell
I reviewed this for HNR and will import an abbreviated version of that review: When I look at my copy of The Bells sitting in front of me, I cannot believe it lies there immobile and lifeless. The sounds and music within its pages should make the book throb and vibrate across the table. During the time I spent entranced with this story, my body rang like the bells within its pages. The Bells is a fictional autobiography, a letter written by a castrati father to his son, explaining how their relationship came to be. The Bells is a love story, for Moses falls in love with a woman who is forbidden to him. The Bells is also a mystery – for how can Moses, a castrati, a musico, be the father of the recipient of this novel-length letter? Finally, The Bells is music. Harvell’s magical prose gives sound to Moses’ life: the bells, the arias, and the uneven breath of true love.
The Hunger Games / Catching Fire / Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I wrote about this trilogy in an earlier blog. The story takes place in a dystopian future where children are put into an arena to fight to the death on national television. I know, it sounds awful, but it is a brilliant series. Collins’ minor characters are some of the best ever written. Powerful.
Ender’s Game / Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card
These two books are the same story told by different characters. Earth has been attacked twice by insect-like creatures, uniting the nations of the earth. The most brilliant children are found and trained to be an elite corps of soldiers to fight another invasion. Ender is one of these children (first book); Bean is another (second book). Exciting reads, but they make this list because of the complicated psychology of the characters.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Jasper Fforde may be one of the cleverest men alive. I re-read this book and haven’t quite re-read the others in the series—but I recommend them all. The stories take place in a sort of alternative reality Britain where the Crimean War is still being waged, and where people go door to door trying to convince residents that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Thursday Next is a female literatec, a sort of police officer to keep literature safe. A bad guy goes into the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnaps Jane, making the story stop abruptly as Jane Eyre is a first person narrative. Screamingly funny, incredibly clever, and impossible to describe well. A must read for anyone who loves English literature.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Is it the best book ever written? Quite possibly. Another re-read for me. A comfort read.
I read sixty-seven books this year. It is the first year I’ve kept track, so I don’t know if that is a lot or not for me. I’d love to hear what you think of this list. Also let us know what were some of your best books of 2010.