Sunday Salon: 2010 in Review

It’s the last Sunday in 2010, so it seems like a perfect time to look back over the year. This, of course, means a best of list. I find it impossible to choose a set number of books that are the “best,” so I’m continuing the tradition Jenny and I started last year of putting together a “best of” list that is more about books that made an impression and that covers lots of different reading experiences. (Be sure to also take a look at Jenny’s 2010 list.)

As I write this post, my LibraryThing list tells me that I’ve read 132 books this year (although I hope to polish off a few more before the year is out). These are a few that stand out.

Favorite Book Published in 2010: As much as I admired Great House by Nicole Krauss, God of the Hive by Laurie R. King has to get the nod for the sheer pleasure it gave me. King has somehow managed to keep her Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries fresh for 10 whole books, and an 11th book is coming in 2011!

Favorite New-to-Me Author: This should come as no surprise to those who have seen me gush over Kate Atkinson since Catherine introduced me to Behind the Scenes at the Museum earlier this year. Since then, I’ve listened to the audio versions of all her Jackson Brodie mysteries and read (and adored) Emotionally Weird. She’s dark and funny and wonderful!

Favorite Reread: This year, I developed a habit of rereading favorite books during my lunch break at work, which means this category is all about amazing books. So what to choose? Lord of the Rings is one of my all-time favorites, and the readalong at the beginning of the year was great fun, but the book that amazed me the most on rereading was actually Jude the Obscure by my favorite author, Thomas Hardy.

Favorite Classic: Oh, dear, another tough one. I’ll leave out the rereads, because they are all favorites anyway, but there are so many good ones left. But The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was definitely a standout. Anne may be the least beloved of the Brontë sisters, and this book may not be as accomplished as Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, but it’s still pretty darned impressive.

Most On-the-Nose Title: Last year, I bestowed this award on Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, and this year the award goes to… Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right. (Honestly, is that not the best title ever? And it suits the book so well.)

Best Audiobook: I listened to some terrific audiobooks this year, but perhaps the biggest surprise was A Clockwork Orange. I fully expected to find Anthony Burgess’s invented nadsat language to be incomprehensible, but Tom Hollander’s incredible narration worked perfectly, better I think than it would have been in print.

Most Disturbing: I’ve read plenty of dark books this year, as I always do, but Before the Fact by Francis Iles still gives me chills. It’s not gory or scary, but the psychology of the main characters is frighteningly real. (Why is this book out of print? It’s amazing!)

Most Accessible Author Who Intimidated Me for No Good Reason: For some reason, I always though Emile Zola’s books were dense and philosophical and, well, dull. I have no idea why. Reading Thérèse Raquin showed me that his books are exactly my kind of thing.

Most Discouraging Realization: My disappointment with The Belgariad by David Eddings and The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay has made me wonder if I don’t like high fantasy as much as I thought I did (or as much as I used to). But that leads me to my…

Most Reassuring Realization: The final book in the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud made me squeal with glee and cry along with the characters. So perhaps I do still like high fantasy, just not all of it.

Most Pleasant Surprise: I was skeptical about The Uncommon Reader. The premise made it seem too twee, too gimmicky, too calculated to win the love of bookworms. Perhaps that’s all true, but it’s also a very good book.

Best World War II, post–World War II novel with a Backwards Chronology and Multiple Perspectives (tie): Despite having a lot in common, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters and Small Island by Andrea Levy are completely different sorts of books but equally accomplished and absorbing.

This year, I also made an effort to read more books by international authors (non U.S. or U.K.), more translated works, and more books by people of color. My LibraryThing records tell me that I read 17 books by people of color this year (13% of total books read). That’s a small percentage, but it is an improvement over 2009, when I only read 8 books by people of color (7% of total books read). The same trend held true with translated works: 7 books (6% of total) in 2009 and 13 books (9% of total) in 2010. I don’t have any set goals in mind or percentages that I’m shooting for, but I’d love for those trends to continue.

As for books by international authors, let’s take a look:

visited 14 states (6.22%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Only 14 countries are represented, as opposed to 16 last year, but because of a few country repeats I actually read more books by authors from outside the U.S. or the U.K. in 2010 (23 in 2010 and 20 in 2009), and the percentage has held steady at 17%. So no real progress on that front, but at least I haven’t gone backwards.

U.K. authors dominated my reading in 2010 (61 U.K. books vs. 50 U.S. books), but the U.S. won out in 2009 (57 U.S. books vs. 48 U.K. books). I think I generally keep an even balance between the two countries without much conscious effort.

The split between both men and women also tends to be even, with books by men having a slight edge in 2010 (70 books by men, 61 by women) and in 2009 (61 by men, 59 by women). I’m actually a little surprised that books by men got the edge, since I think of myself as someone who reads a lot of books by women. Still, I’m pretty comfortable with this balance. I suspect that in other years it could just as easily tip the other way.

So that’s my year. I’ve really enjoyed my reading this year, especially since I’ve become more willing to give up on books that aren’t working for me. How has your reading year been?

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31 Responses to Sunday Salon: 2010 in Review

  1. christina says:

    This time of year tends to be one of my favorites simply because of everyone’s end of the year posts. I still haven’t finished mine. My goal is to post it this evening.

    Also, I’m interested in listening to Clockwork Orange. I have the book on my shelf, having seen the movie in college. Perhaps I’ll borrow the audio from the library as well and read/listen to it jointly.

    • Teresa says:

      It is fun to see what books have stood out to people.

      I saw The Clockwork Orange movie a few years ago, which probably helped me understand the book, since I knew the basic story, but I was amazed at how easy it was to understand the language on audio.

  2. Amy says:

    I also loved The Uncommon Reader and ended up giving it to several others the year I read it. You’re right, it really rose far above its gimmick.

    I had a great reading year too, and also due to giving up on books that just weren’t working for me. I read more books this year than I have in past years. Next year I’m going to slow down and tackle some of the longer books on my TBR pile. I’m even eyeing War and Peace!

    • Teresa says:

      Yeah, The Uncommon Reader was so much better than I expected.

      And isn’t giving up on books liberating? I used to only give up on books that I hated, but know I’m willing to give up on books I’m just not enjoying.

  3. I have a couple of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series coming from interlibrary loan hopefully soon. I can’t wait to get back into reading the series, although it will be a while before I get to her latest books, since I’m only on the third book so far.

    I have to say I’m with you with high fantasy: it’s hit or miss. I’ve found among the best to be George R.R. Martin and Tad Williams. Going back to some of the “older” authors like Eddings does seem a bit of a let-down.

    I believe my wife read The Uncommon Reader for a book club, but I have yet to get it. It’s soooo long. ;)

    • Teresa says:

      I started reading the Holmes/Russell books about the time the 4th book was published, so I’ve kept pace with publication for the most part. The series has stood up remarkably well.

      I do have Martin on my list of high fantasy authors to try, so I’m glad to hear you preferred him to Eddings. And I did read Tailchaser’s Song by Williams a few years ago. I think he made a mistake making it about cats because he had to alter everything we know about cat behavior to make it work. However, I did enjoy the story and the writing so maybe I’ll try something else of his at some point.

      And yes, you must absolutely make sure you’ve set aside weeks for The Uncommon Reader, LOL.

  4. cbjames says:

    Isn’t Tenant of Wildfell Hall terrific! I think it’s a very under-rated book. Not as good as Charlotte and Emily’s best stuff, but certainly as good as Elizabeth Gaskell or Wilkie Collins.

    Her second novel, Agnes Grey is good too, but in a different vein.

    I should consider giving high fantasy a go myself this year. It’s been a long time since I read any.

    • Teresa says:

      I’d certainly put Tenant in the same class as some of Gaskell’s stuff, particularly her overtly socially conscious books like Ruth and Mary Barton. I think she may get ignored partly because her books are so different from her sisters’. I have Agnes Grey and will certainly read it in the next few years.

      Hope you have better luck with high fantasy than I did this year. If you haven’t read the Bartimaeus books, I do recommend those.

    • Full, as this is the first full year of The Literary Omnivore. I like seeing your statistics up on a map; I thought about doing something like that, but I ended up running out of time.

      I think, insofar as your love of high fantasy, you like interesting and new high fantasy moreso than the crop of high fantasy that takes its cues from Tolkien very slavishly. (I giggled when the not!Rohirrim showed up in The Summer Tree, I admit.)

      • Teresa says:

        Yikes! I think the spam blocker trashed your first comment (and I failed to recover it).

        I think you’re right about my high fantasy tastes. Eddings and Kay were just trying so hard to be Tolkien that it was easy to make unfair comparisons and see how they fall short. Plus, I think I might prefer the books that have closer connections to the real world, like the Stroud with the alternate history.

  5. Mae says:

    Great wrap up. I’m never good at these so I’ve been pinching formats from various blogs. I think i might pinch yours too. :-)

    I’ve really got into Trollope. He seems to be the classics author this year. I also gave The Uncommon Reader a go this year after avoiding it like the plague when it was the rage a few years ago. I loved it.

    • Teresa says:

      Pinch away!
      I think The Classics Circuit really brought Trollope to the forefront this past month. He’s wonderful!
      And I’m glad you too enjoyed The Uncommon Reader.

  6. I haven’t read A Clockwork Orange as it scares me a bit. I think I might try to get hold of the audiobook on your recommendation. I can’t imagine how Before the Fact can be more scary than Clockwork Orange – I’m just hoping Clockwork Orange doesn’t give me nightmares :-)

    I haven’t read any Zola either, but I think 2011 will be the year I change this. Thanks for so many wonderful book recommendations in 2010!

    • Teresa says:

      Before the Fact was scary for me because I can easily see how a woman might let herself be manipulated in that way. Clockwork didn’t feel like something that was likely to happen; plus, it had a lot of interesting philosophical implications that held my interest and kept me from getting caught up in the more frightening aspects of it. I’d be very interested to see what you make of it. In some ways, I think you’d like it a lot, but the nadsat language might annoy you.

  7. Frances says:

    Ah, the Mary Russell books! We all have it kind of bad, don’t we? You more than me maybe! :) Loved the new one but it did not creep this far up my list. When did you tell me that next one comes out? Soon I hope!

    And you have me staring at my two Kate Atkinson titles again, book temptress that you are. Maybe tomorrow?

    Excellent roundup post!

    • Teresa says:

      Well, I read so few brand-new books that the Russell book didn’t have heaps on competition for best 2010 release. I think I read 16 books that would qualify and only really like 5 or 6.

      And do try the Atkinson! It would be perfect for a snowy day (Or are you even having a snowy day in MD? I keep hearing different reports about DC conditions from here in SW Va.)

  8. amymckie says:

    What a great list of books. You did hit quite a few countries too. I’ll have to try a few of the books you mention!

  9. rebeccareid says:

    I wasn’t going to do a year in review post, but now I’m starting to think I will….It would be fun to see what percentages I’ve read.

    Anyway, looking forward to reading both the Trollopes you mention. He’s grown on me…

  10. Dorothy W. says:

    It sounds like a great year! I really like that map — what a nice way to visualize all the places “visited” during the year. I should use it throughout the year to think about what places I want to “go” next.

  11. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for sharing the recap of your year with us. I always get good reading ideas when I read the recaps even though many of these books were probably put on my list already when I read your reviews!

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  14. Steph says:

    I really love these year-in-review posts, and I especially loved the little categories you came up with to highlight your notable books of the year. I have yet to tally my stats for 2010, but I know that I read more this year than last (despite vowing to try to read less!) and I’m hoping that this reading was better in the important senses of overall quality and more international in its scope… we shall see!

  15. Christy says:

    Glad to hear that you enjoyed Tenant of Wildfell hall so much! It’s one that I think I might read this year. Also, good to hear regarding the Holmes/Russell series. I haven’t read the most recent couple of books from that series and it may be time to pick the series up again.

    • Teresa says:

      I loved Tenant. It’s more Gaskell-esque than Bronte-esque, I think, but it’s still a very good book.

      I’m continually amazed at how well the Russell/Holmes series has held up. Every time I pick up a new book, I think the series is bound to jump the shark (and the premise of the last two made me extremely worried), but King has pulled off 10 solidly good books.

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