The 2010 Book Roundup

If your holidays are at all like our family's, there are a whole lot of flatish rectangular packages under the tree. Basically, we see holidays as a chance to give each other books. Lots and lots of books.

So, in case you are like me and like to give (and get!) books and haven't finished (or, ahem, STARTED) your holiday shopping yet, here's the roundup of books I've read in the past year. Perhaps you will find something for someone on your list. Perhaps you will be so moved as to tell me what to give to the impossible-to-buy-for people on my list! (PLEASE!)

I set out this past year to keep track of every book I read. The running ticker to the lower right on the blog over there lists them. And without further ado, here is what I thought of them all. I will not cheat and flip through them, I will write only what I remember. Since I have a terrible memory, this should be interesting.


"The Middle Place": This best thing about this memoir is the concept of being in "the middle place": managing your relationships with your children and your parents at the same time. There are unique challenges to this time of life, especially if your father has cancer like me and the author, and you do too, (like the author, NOT ME). I did, however, find myself wanting to punch her several times and I'm not a puncher.


"The Bean Trees": I love Barbara Kingsolver but had never read this, her first novel. I remember liking it fine. But I wasn't wowed and now I can barely remember it. (Sorry, Barbara! Love you!)


"Olive Kitteredge": I LOVED THIS BOOK. Olive Kitteredge, the character, is at the edge of some of the chapters/stories and in the center of others. I often wanted to strangle her (perhaps I am actually quite violent!?) I often didn't like her. I ALWAYS understood her and believed in her as a character. She was a living, breathing person to me, as real as anyone I've ever met. I loved the perfectly defined characters and dialogue. Such a gem of a book.


"The Book Thief": Well, this was a bit of a rough transition after Olive Kitteredge but I liked this Holocaust centered young adult novel. Very creatively written, heart-felt and touching. (I totally cried. Several times.)


"Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children": I remember totally LOVING this book. And now? I completely forget everything it said. I will go back and reread it soon. I remember enough vague goodness to recommend it as a good gift for the wanna-be-zen mama in your life.


"MommaZen": Ditto above.


"A Homemade Life": Do you all read Molly? Oh, you should. This is her foodish memoir. Some of the recipes are TO DIE FOR (Try the chocolate chip banana bread with crystalized ginger and see if you can ever go back to plain banana bread. Go ahead, I DARE YOU.). Her writing is crystal clear, spare, lovely. A great gift for the twentyish/early-thirty something gourmand in your life.


"Devotion": I liked this, I think. But I barely remember it. Mom memoir, "family of origin was religious so where am I now?" , working motherhood, child was sick at some point making her question her faith.... Yeah, that's all I got.


"Still Alice": HOLY CRAP. This novel still haunts me. For someone who reads, and promply FORGETS, a lot, I am shocked by how many specific details I remember from this book. I was so rocked by this book that I still lie awake at night thinking about it. The narrator is a successful professor and mother who finds out she has early onset Alzheimer's. If that sounds like a downer, it is. It's also beautiful, uplifting and thought-provoking. A great one for book clubs.


"The Curse of the Good Girl": I liked this book and found it thought provoking. As I read, I tried to file things away for when the girls are older but since I can't remember much about it now, I obviously need to read it again. In a few years.


"Manhood for Amateurs": This is personal essay writing at its best. Michael Chabon is simply a divine writer. This would make a great gift for guys who like to read great prose.


"Bel Canto": I read this for a book group years ago and then again for a book group this year. I remember liking it then and I was pretty wowed by it this time as well. But it's not so current, if you're looking for new novels to read or give, look on.


"The Host": This book pissed me off. Really pissed me off. I actually laughed out loud at several plot points and moments of dialogue and not in a good way. But I finished it, which I don't always do with books that I'm annoyed by. Stephanie Meyer ain't no poet but she's got a knack for making me turn pages (sometimes to skip some of her ridiculous prose, sometimes to find out what happens next.) Your twenty-something babysitter who loved Twilight would love this book.


"The Kids are Alright": (PSA: Not at all related to the movie of the same name that came out this year. ) Holy moly, the poor kids who wrote this memoir were most certainly NOT alright for a long time and I kept wanting to go back in time and retroactively adopt these siblings who lost their parents and found themselves adrift as children and young adults. The youngest, poor child, was adopted by some less-than-loving couple who cut her off from her siblings and any love of any kind. SO WRONG. Great gift for the "Angela's Ashes"/"Glass Castle"-loving reader in your life.


"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"- The feel good novel of the year! Lovely! Two thumbs up! Read it with someone you love! Give it to someone you love! I am!


"Making Toast": Grandfather loses doctor daughter to sudden heart event, moves in with her family (including 3 young children). Makes toast. Writes a memoir of his year with them. Simple. Profound. Probably not the kind of book to give to anyone, unless they've been through something similar or just love to read this kind of tear-jerky memoir. (That would be me).


"Testimony": An intriguing beach-y read, this novel is set in a New England private school. From the beginning we understand there has been a sexual event between students, questionable in origin and consent, followed by a cover-up by the school administration. Catastrophic fall-out ensues. I was put off by the first chapter, wherein the sex-act is described in graphic detail as the head master views a videotape of it. But I'm glad I kept reading. Other chapters are completely riveting as each one tells a slice of the story in a different character's voice/point of view. I remember going to bed super early to read as much as I could several nights in a row.


"The Thirteenth Tale": Two ladies in olden times. Old books. Missing tale that told a hidden story. ....... ehhhhh......That's all I remember.


"Every Last One": SCREW YOU Anna Quindlan. I love you, normally. Really, I do. And it's my own fault for not even glancing at the synopsis of this novel before reading it which is unlike me. I picked it up at the library on a whim and started it that night only to be BLINDSIDED by the horrific act (yes, truly horrific) and I really wanted to not read it anymore but the damage had already been done and now I'm depressed again just thinking about it and it didn't even actually happen. GAH. NOT a gift book.


"The Art of Racing in the Rain": This was a great palate cleanser after the last one. A novel told from the point of view of a dog (Wait! Don't run away!), it follows the dog through the last few years of its life with his owner and family. Touching, beautiful. Cry, laugh, CRY SOME MORE (but in a GOOD way!) Give it to the dog-lover in your life. Also good for guys since it includes a lot about car racing which I don't really know anything about or really even care to know anything about and yet now I feel like I almost both care AND know something about it after reading this book.


"Nurtureshock": OH SO INTERESTING. We're talking about this in my book club TONIGHT. Find out why your baby is racist (yes really!) Consider up and moving to Neptune New Jersey! Buy for the parenting-book-reading friend/loved one in your life!


"Marriage and Other acts of Charity": Read it for the title alone, though you might want to cover the title up when reading around your husband. Beautiful, wise memoir about the power of truly charitable love in the marital relationship.


"It Sucked and Then I Cried": It was okay and then I read another book.


"One Day": OMG. FUN ROMANTIC NOVEL. Perfect for those who liked the Time Traveler's Wife or any other almost-literary romantic-type books. I can't wait for the movie. BRING ON THE MOVIE. Buy for your sister or sister-in-law or sister-from-another-mister.


A Visit from The Goon Squad: Tied with Olive Kitteredge as my favorite novel of the year. Intensely good. So well crafted you will marvel. Buy it for the literary reader in your life, male or female.


"The Year of Magical Thinking": Joan Didion is a goddess. Never cared for her novels but her personal and critical essays are unparalleled. This memoir of the year after she lost her husband suddenly to a heart attack is beautiful and it has been very helpful to me and CG's family after losing my father-in-law this summer.


"Millionaire Babies and Bankrupt Brats": This book started us on the road to giving Z an allowance in an attempt to help teach her money management. Ask me in twenty years how we did. (I'm hoping for a millionaire! GO MILLIONAIRE!) It's not a prettily printed book and therefore, not a good gift, IMO.


"Little Bee": Bestselling novel about two people, one a black African girl, the other a white English woman, whose lives intersect in devastating ways. This is a brutal novel, not one for the faint of heart. But very well written, compelling and thought-provoking. Good for the "Kite Runner"-lover in your life.


"The Highly Sensitive Child"/"The Highly Sensitive Person": These were SO important to me this summer in trying to understand Z and, then, myself. We are highly sensitive and it explains SO MUCH. If you or someone you know is highly sensitive, these books are helpful. But here's a tip: it might not be a good gift for someone who is, you know, SENSITIVE about being highly sensitive.


The Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay: This young adult novel triology = crack. PLOT with ALL CAPS. Violent but fun.


"Hunting and Gathering": French novel about four strangers whose lives intertwine. I HATED this book for the first 50 pages. SLOW GOING, nothing happening, WHY SHOULD I CARE. And then, I REALLY CARED. And wept at the end. Don't know why I hated it so much at the beginning. (Could have been that I had just read fun, PLOTTY PLOT PLOT Hunger Games....)


"A Girl Named Zippy"/"She Got Up off the Couch": These memoirs of the author's childhood in a tiny Indiana town are magic. Unique, quirky, funny. Great for folks who love memoirs and poetic prose and the good old days.


"What Should I Do With My Life?": I have a crush on Po Bronson. There, I said it. He is co-author of NurtureShock and I read this book in full on crush-mode.

I still have the crush. Interesting book about the different paths people take to making a life/career for themselves. Would be a great book for the soul searcher in your life.


"The Forgotten Garden": Longish novel by Australian author. I've already forgotten it and I just finished it two weeks ago.


"Dead Until Dark": Oh yes, I will be reading ALL the Sookie Stackhouse novels now. Bring on the True Blood!


"Unbroken": I have not finished this yet but I must include it because OMG it's amazing and would be a great gift for the men in your life (are they not the HARDEST to buy for?!?!). This amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, Olympic runner, courageous WW2 survivor will have you gripping the edge of your pillow.

Well. That only took me two weeks to post. (OY.)

Now: your book suggestions, please!


Cas said...

Wow, I managed one whole book this year (had a baby in April, is that a good enought excuse?) and it was one you read - One Day. Loved it - not sure I can see Anne Hathaway as Emma though?

Read a couple of short stories from Maile Meloy's "Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It". Lovely.

Marie Green said...

I think that since you read/loved the Hunger Games trilogy, you should consider The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. The first one takes forever to get into (60+ pages), but they are PAGE TURNERS too. And I really cared about those people by the end of the trilogy. Like, as in, please don't criticize Lizbeth Salander- SHE'S MY FRIEND.

Other recent favorites: The Help (maybe you read this one already?) and A Year of Living Biblically. Right now I'm trying to La Lacuna (I love Barbara too!) but I'm having trouble getting into it.

Oh, and tonight my book club is discussing Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb. A sweet, quick holiday read, if you get the chance. (And VERY different from his other books.) (As in: not deep or depressing.)

Finally, thanks for this list. No, really. Thank you! I read basically 100% based on recommendation, so I LOVE hearing what other people loved and why. I'll be reading from this list for awhile. Well, except for many of these I've already read- probably at least 1/2 of them. We have the same taste, yo!

Marie Green said...

(I keep a "what I've been reading" list on a tab on my blog, if you ever want to compare notes.)

Two Braids said...

Thank you for this list! I've been in a reading wasteland and haven't been able to pin point what I want to read or even what genre to investigate! I can't wait to head out to the library and check out some of your recommendations.

grammalouie said...

I'm currently reading "To Kill a Mockingbird". Not again, but for the FIRST time, believe it or not. Saw the movie several times but have not read the book...until now. It is the 50th anniversary of this stellar novel, recently voted by a group of librarians as the best novel of the twentieth century. I can see why. I am absolutely drawn in to it.

Cortney said...

Oh wow. I love and miss reading so very much. But my baby doesn't sleep, you see, so neither do I. And I sleep when I could be reading.

So thanks so much for sharing...all your suggestions will be filed away for when I can read again. And no big suggestions here.

I did manage to pick through Buddhism for Mothers and Momma Zen earlier this year and really liked them. Also Mommy Mantras was along the same lines and funnier.

Gina said...

I am a non-fiction kind of girl. This past year I have very much enjoyed:

"The Black Swan" by Nicholas Nassim Taleb (good for the philosophical and financial types)
"The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter" by Peter Singer
"Depletion and Abundance" by Sharon Astyk

We are also book people. I was rather pleased when after his birthday party Thomas asked me, "How many books did I get?" I told him four and he said to me in anguish, "But that's not very many at all! I need more books!"

There are A LOT of books under our Christmas tree.

I don't know if your local library does any thing similar but the Pasadena public library holds a number of book sales throughout the year where used books are $1.00 per bag of books and I have gotten many, many presents out of those sales.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Cas: 1. I don't think I read anything longer than New Yorker articles for either girl's first year. 2. I couldn't see Anne Hathaway as Emma but now, I'm on board. 3. I loved Maile Meloy's short stories! GREAT book.

Marie: RE: TGWTDT, I keep picking it up .... and putting it down. I will try again soon. Loved The Help. And the Year of Living Biblically is totally up my alley. Just added it to my library list! We DO have the same taste!

Gina: I'll be checking out some of your suggestions! Thanks!

miyoko said...

The only books i read this year are printed on very thick cardboard. (Yes BOARD books), or books with more illustrations than words (yes children's books) Sad sad sad sad but true. THe Book "The City of Falling Angels" has resided on my bedside table and under the bed and under the bedside table for about 6 months. A. recommended it very highly to me because of my love of Venice and my love of history.

I read some of Po Bronson's book before our cross country move.

I too am a lover of Michael Chabon books so i'll have to check that out.Especially because he writes so much about Pittsburgh and that's where i went to school.

The other book i HIGHLY recommend because every time we read it it puts a gigantic smile on everyone's faces (adults included-- yes it's a board book) was wrapped and mailed to arrive on your doorstep tomorrow or the next day, so i can't mention the title. :D

charming gardener said...

OK- so I 100% just added 6 of your picks to my Good Reads list. Eagerly, hungrily added them in hopes that someone looks at my To Read List and buys them for me. (Read many of the others on your list and felt same same - especially Anna Q's latest.)

Some to consider that I particularly enjoyed this year:
The Imperfectionists, Rachman, Tom
Her Fearful Symmetry, Niffenegger, Audrey
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Barbery, Muriel
Ordinary Thunderstorms, Boyd, William
and if you dare (you will be haunted), Room Donoghue, Emma

Thanks for another year of great writing to you too ... I don't follow many blogs but yours always resonates and makes me very glad you continue, even in rough patches.
Makes me wish to carve time our of baby naval gazing to write in mine.

Cheers from your fan in Scotland.

charming gardener said...

P.S. to all the other mums who can't find time/headspace to read ... try audible.com. I cannot go to sleep without reading - and now I listen to my books w/o disturbing our co sleeper babe. Not a perfect solution (I often fall asleep mid chapter and have to try to scan through to find where I left off ...)but for readers who need a fix it works!

Bronwen said...

Thank you for this -- saving it for when I need suggestions, though right now I'm enjoying "One Day."

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
-- Groucho Marx

Bird said...

I read a lot and then promptly forget the name of the book and am then forced to return half my library list because, oh yeah, I've already read that one. I'm excited to add some of these titles to my queue, thanks for the good suggestions!

Michelle said...

So glad you did this. I'm getting a Nook for Christmas and have asked for gift certificates since I will be shuttered away on maternity leave for most of the winter (yes, I do actually think I will have time to read. Yes, I know I am crazy).
The Sookie Stackhouse novels are pure crack. I feel so dirty reading them yet cannot stop. And It sucked, then I cried and The Bean Tree - I felt the same way.

Misha Leigh. said...

thank you, thank you, thank you.

GratefulTwinMom said...

Very, very excited to have your list. I'm definitely getting "The Middle Place," as you've recommended for me before, and I'm excited about several on this list, particularly Olive Kitteredge and The Goon Squad. Gonna check these out at Audible. I'm actually reading lots of books right now that are on your list. Po Bronson's NurtureShock (almost done -- brilliant) and Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking. Like you, I love her essays and not her fiction. (Oh, and I loved Bel Canto years ago too!)

Oh, and for you, a little treat called "Helen of Pasadena." Funny and sweet and uncomplicated. Will bring you right back here. :)

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