Favorites of the Year

Best books lists can be stuffy, requiring all that dispassionate justification of “quality.” It’s often more fun to hear what people simply loved.

The UK’s Guardian asked various writers and other public figures to recommend their favorites of 2010. Their responses are strikingly different from the often dry annotations on best books lists. For instance, a book that has received plenty of admiring attention breathes new life from this passionate recommendation,

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell is as enjoyable as a Patrick O’Brian novel and much better written. It’s a brilliantly imagined journey through 17th-century Japan and Holland which is moving, thoughtful and unexpectedly funny.

Curtis Sittenfeld (author of American Wife) recommends Stiltsville, an EarlyWord favorite. Now that she’s won us over with that example of impeccible taste, we’re ready to give her second recommendation a try.

I fell in love with two American first novels. Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel (Harper) is the gorgeously written story of a marriage over several decades, and it takes place in Miami, Florida, a place so vividly depicted you feel like you’ve travelled there while reading. If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous (HarperPerennial) is about a college graduate who goes to teach English in Japan, thinking she’ll end up in Tokyo and instead landing in a rural nuclear power plant town. It’s funny in a sharp, dark, painfully true way.

So, please, help us create a “Librarian’s Favorites” list; tell us what you loved this year, complete with your heartfelt recommendation.

28 Responses to “Favorites of the Year”

  1. Jessi Says:

    Here are a few that I loved this year:

    The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart – It had several quirky characters that I fell irrevocably in love with. I thought it was a beautiful look at human relationships. Plus, it has lots of fun, quirky facts about the history of and the Beefeaters’ lives in the Tower of London, as well as about the complicated workings of the Department of Lost Things for the London Underground.

    Linger by Maggie Stiefvater (audiobook) – It is beautifully crafted and one of those books where the characters truly become a part of you. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy.

    Room by Emma Donaghue – This book takes an incredibly dark subject and turns it into a beautiful story about the relationship and love between a mother and son. Jack is now one of my favorite all time characters.

    The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson – Although not quite as good as the second book in the series, I did enjoy it. Lisbeth Salander is one of the most awesomely awesome female protagonists I have come across.

  2. Lexi Says:

    American Subversive, by David Goodwillie
    A layered and thought provoking examination of what patriotism means in a post 9/11 America.

    Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart
    In a near-future America, love might be the last genuine thing.

    The Stars in the Bright Sky, by Alan Warner
    A group of friends get stuck in a hotel airport for a surreal, revelatory, life-changing few days.

  3. Deborah Says:

    I recently read Philip Roth’s Nemesis which was brilliant and heartbreaking. I thought Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross was intriguing and interesting and strange, but I loved it. I had not read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, so that one is on my “finished” list. Again, another heartbreaker but a book that stays with you. I read Elegy for April by Benjamin Black. If I’m going to read mysteries these days, I want a protagonist like Quirke who, like Erlander in the Arnaldur Indridason books, and Wallender, is brilliant but deeply flawed with problems of his own. Just a few I enjoyed this year.

  4. Ann Thompson Says:

    Two terrific books this year with very compelling characters were Skippy Dies by Paul Murray and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.

  5. Debbi Says:

    Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. Steampunk, zombies, airships & pirates, Seattle a long time ago, crazy inventors, single mother wanting only the best for her teenage son and highly poisonous materials floating around… completely unlike anything I’ve read before, quite outside my usual interests and I LOVED it.

    This was the #1 for my Book Club to read next year.

  6. Karen Wong Says:

    Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson was a charmer. The elderly, honorable, and gentlemanly major finds a new lease on life when he falls in love. Dog On It by Spencer Quinn was published in 2009, but I just recently read it and loved, loved, loved the characters – Bernie Small of the Small Detective Agency & his amazing dog Chet. Both these books reminded me why I love to read.

  7. Susan Says:

    Sorta Like A Rock Star by Matthew Quick. This brilliant young adult novel about a spunky high school girl who is living with her alcoholic mother in a school bus has some surprisingly funny moments. I laughed and I cried.

    Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm. I like books that make the reader want to do further research into a specific time or event. This semi-autobiographical novel about a young girl who is shipped off to her mother’s family in Key West during the Great Depression has a wonderful cast of characters, real buried treasure, and an ending that will knock your socks off.

    Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. A girl with cerebral palsy is super smart on the inside, but it’s not evident to most of her classmates. And they’re not the only ones who show prejudice in this amazing and heartwrenching book.

  8. Terry Says:

    Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson was a favorite this year. This book was fun to read, thought provoking and smart. Readers of all ages enjoyed the story of the curmudgeonly Major and his dear friend Mrs. Ali.

  9. Brian Says:

    My faves:

    Kraken: An Anatomy by China Mieville, the humorous urban fantasy tale set in London of an unfortunate museum worker, his disappeared squid, various religious cults and their apocalypses, wizards and their mobs, and anything else you can possibly think of.

    The Big Short, Michael Lewis’s impossible-to-put down, human-centered story of the people, choices, and events that led to the big market collapse.

    Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which he tries to determine whether he will feed his newborn son meat by researching industrial animal production and exploring more traditional, healthier methods.

    The Unwritten, Mike Carey’s graphic novel series that is reminiscent of The Sandman and Fables, but follows a more Harry Potter-like character.

  10. Cathy Says:

    The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
    Although our library has had a long waiting list on this all year, I’ve recommended it over and over. The characters are so well drawn, the story is so compelling. Stockett really captures the time and the place–it puts you right in the middle of 1960’s Mississippi.

    Any of the Inspector Gamache series, by Louise Penny
    Many of the staff at my library are crazy for this series. Penny has created such wonderful characters and her mysteries are very complex. The town of Three Pines reminds many of Mitford in the Jan Karon novels.

  11. Jane Carle Says:

    My favorite RA titles for 2010 are:

    The Mockingjay trilogy by Suzanne Collins — either book or audio. I recommend this to teens and adults — great ‘edge of your seat’ material.

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Love the characterization.

    Steig Larsson’s trilogy for characters, suspense, location.

  12. Robin B Says:

    I loved all of the following books and have been recommending them (or the series if title is part of one) ever since they were published (and even before since I read some as advance reading copies–it’s hard to wait!).

    Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald, for the intriguing plot and wonderful fully developed characters.

    Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel, for the wonderful and real story of a long marriage. I had tears running down my face at the end but loved the book and have been recommending it over and over.

    Happiness Key and Fortunate Harbor by Emilie Richards. This author has become a favorite of library patrons and both of these books are breezy fun reads.

    Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin, for the amazing writing that conveys a multitude of emotions in spare prose (and the author is a cutie-pie to boot).

    Crashers by Dana Haynes. This takes place around my hometown and is a thriller of the highest magnitude, albeit with a few more details than the reader might want to know about what happens to a body in a jet crash.

    Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. Fantastic suspense that kept me constantly reading and I was floored by the ending. Recommended for book groups that want a thriller.

    Caught by Harlen Coben. I constantly recommend this author for his high level writing and plot twists that never let up. Often recommend in audio.

    Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson. I wasn’t real keen on this when I started it but quickly grew engrossed with the story of a girl’s childhood with a mentally ill mother and how it affected her adult life. Another winner for book groups.

    Coming Back by Marcia Muller. While not the best in the Sharon McCone series, I am constantly recommending this series to patrons who want well constructed mysteries.

  13. Sarah Says:

    Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson was a big hit with everyone to whom I recommended it. Typical British understatement and finely drawn characters made this familiar plotline sing. Oh, I see I’m the third person to recommend this!

    Stettin Station – David Dowling makes wartime Berlin, in all of its smelly disarray, come alive.

    The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer – huge, sprawling novel of not-so-familiar WWII events sucked me in from the first page.

  14. Nan Says:

    A couple of nonfiction titles: The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, a collection of pieces by David Grann (author of The Lost City of Z) — great reporting and storytelling. And The Possessed by Elif Batuman — an episodic memoir that is both appreciative, clear-eyed and very funny about the weird world of academia and the places it can take you (including a summer in Samarkand and a trip to the replica of a Russian ice palace).

  15. Jean Says:

    The Calling and The Taken
    Both are by Inger Ash Wolfe.
    I hope this the beginning of a series.

  16. CarolK Says:

    Faithful Place
    Tanya French

    For anyone loving a good Irish tale with a bit of grit, this would be a winner. The characters are interesting, the setting comes alive. It’s a slow building story so not for those who like their thrillers fast paced. It’s a family saga of lost love, betrayal, and examines the idea of whether you can ever truly go home.

    Not a 2010 but one I know I will talk up…

    Waiting for Columbus
    Thomas Trofimuk

    This one takes a bit of trust. Waiting for Columbus is about a psychiatric patient in a hospital in contemporary Spain who claims to be Christopher Columbus, and the nurse who listens to his stories in an attempt to understand him. The plot may sound simple and perhaps a bit strange but it is worth the effort to go with the story. The tale winds back and forth in time and over continents and oceans like a cresting wave. This Columbus is like any Columbus you’ve read about. Here, he is a man with many desires, not only the quest for adventure and finding the new world but also a voracious lover of women. I felt like a voyeur listening in as he relates his story to Consulea, his nurse.

  17. Susan Says:

    To the aforementioned ‘Major Pettigrew’ which was enjoyed by everyone to whom I mentioned it, I would add Allegra’s ‘The Cookbook Collector.’ This contemporary novel of family and friends, lovers and enemies, has great characters and surprising twists of plot.

  18. Linda Says:

    I loved An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor.This series is one of my favorites for escapist reading. The author evokes life in a Northern Irish village in the mid-1960′s with wonderful characters and an exceptional ear for dialogue. There’s even a glossary at the end clarifying unfamiliar local expressions.

    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford tells the story of Henry Lee, his family, and his friendships through the years. It takes place both in the 1980′s when he is a recent widower in his fifties, and in the 1940′s, when he is a boy growing up in Seattle. Despite his father’s disapproval, he becomes friends with Keiko, a Japanese girl who is the only other Asian student in Henry’s school. The drama unfolds as Keiko & her family are forced into an internment camp, and ideas of friendship, family, and patriotism are explored in this remarkable first novel.

  19. Linda Pendergrass Says:

    The Thousand Autums of Jacob De Zoet ranks as my favorite for all of the reasons I love historical fiction. David Mitchell’s writing is truly elegant as he unveils the closed society of Japan in the late 1700’s. The story centers around the character of a clerk in the Dutch East India Company, whose simple ambition to earn enough money to return to the Netherlands and wed his finacee comes apart from what he sees and learns in this distant outpost in the Pacific. Hard to put down.

  20. Corinne Chronopoulos Says:

    The Dirty Life by Kristan Kimball tells the true story of a NYC journalist who falls for an organic farmer while writing a story about him. This may sound like a cliche story line- city girl goes to the country- but it is actually a story about where our food comes from and the choices we make when we eat. Kimball is a fantastic writer and I really loved hearing about how two people struggled to bring a piece of land alive and produce food for themselves and thier community. I highly reccommend. This book made we want to be a farmer and changed the way I consume.

  21. Geri Dosalua Says:

    Favorites of 2010 – I am certain to leave some out, but these made an impression on me.
    Half-Brother by Ken Oppel. Eye-opening story. Seems to be a change of pace for this author. He does a great job in awakening our interest to the chimp’s plight and those who were close to him.
    David Dosa, M.D.- Making Rounds with Oscar. A very moving story of the cat and the people in the nursing home. His sense of timing and caring is remarkable. I am glad that Dr. Dosa took the time to immortalize him.
    Raina Telgemeier – Smile. A wonderful graphic novel about a girl coming of age – her traumas, especially dental. Based on a true story, and you can feel that. The illustrations and artwork are fantastic.
    Laurie Halse Anderson – Wintergirls (not a 2010 title, but worth the mention). Deals with the torturous lives of two anorexic girls. Tough to listen to, but important for us to hear the message.

  22. Sara Says:

    Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok – a beautifully written fiction debut of a mother and daughter’s immigrant experience in New York City, the many challenges faced and the triumph of will and potential over adversity. I kept having to remind myself it was not a memoir.

  23. Cathy Says:

    Another to add:

    Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
    In my top five favorites this year. I’ve recommended it to anyone I think might be interested. A very good murder mystery combined with the racial climate of late 70’s early 80’s Mississippi, a secret friendship, a secret love affair, and lots more. Fantastic writing to boot.

  24. Angela Palmer Says:

    It was a year of nonfiction favorites for me. Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach – it is a rare talent that makes science so funny, accessible, and thought provoking. I like to think of her as the Sarah Vowell of the science writer set. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, by Alexandra Horowitz; Composed, by Roseanne Cash; and Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom.

    I would like to add my votes to Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Stiltsville, and any title by Louise Penny. I am not a mystery reader but she captured my interest with her exquisite writing and complex characters.

  25. Jen Says:

    We loved Father of the Rain by Lily King, Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer , and 97 Orchard: an edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegleman.

  26. Jan Says:

    Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon-This year’s National Book Award Winner is a fierce, unruly read. Hat’s off.

  27. Peter Says:

    Love Charleston by Beth Webb Hart – captures the heart of the new dixie.

  28. Peter Says:

    Best Book of 2010 Love Charleston by Beth Webb Hart

    Set in Charleston, SC this book has everything from mystical bell ringers to philandering physicians. And, of course its woven together by one of the best new writers in the South.