03 February 2011

Books Books and More Books*

I read a lot. And I like making lists. I started using LibraryThing a few years ago, because it had a nice little what I’m reading now widget that I once had in the blog’s sidebar, but I switched to Goodreads because it’s more gemütlich. The interface is easier, and the social aspect – who’s reading what, who likes what – is appealing to me.**

If you asked me last week, I’d probably have said that I read more fiction than non-fiction. But, out of curiosity, I looked at the Goodreads list of all the books that I read in 2010 – books I finished, that is, and not including the ones that I read aloud to my daughter – and was kind of stunned to find a precisely equal split between fiction and non-fiction - 18 of each. Furthermore, of the fiction that I read, only one of them really knocked my socks off – most of the others I can barely remember. On the other hand, a full handful of the non-fiction books were real keepers – books that have stuck with me, that I’ve thought back to or referenced or recommended any number of times since I read them.

So, without further ado, here’s my thoroughly idiosyncratic best of list for 2010, only a few of which were published in 2010:

Room (Emma Donoghue)

The Blood of Strangers (Frank Huyler)
The Tender Bar (J.R. Moehringer)
Grave Matters (Mark Harris)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
The Secret Life of Lobsters (Trevor Corson)

What's the best book you read last year?

*Did the post title make you sing?
** Are you on Goodreads?


Kyla said...

I am on Goodreads and I just read your review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. We've been talking about her cells in cancer bio.

I don't know what my favorite fiction book would be, but I think Routine Miracles was my favorite non-fiction from 2010.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really surprised about the split between fiction and non on your list. Non-fiction better nourishes a healthy curiosity about the world - and you are one of the most curious people around :)

Anjali said...

Do you usually read so much nonficton?

I've heard a lot of great things about Room. The only reason I haven't picked it up is because the premise creeps me out! (And I scare easily!)

slow panic said...

How sad is it that I can't remember which book I liked best last year?

I have to say I flew through the Percy Jackson series. I was about a book behind my twelve year old and I loved his enthusiasm for the books and for wanting me to experience them as he had.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I loved The Tender Bar. A non-fiction book I really liked was one I was given to review on my blog--it's a book about gaming called Reality is Broken--I was shocked at how interesting it was.

I can't keep up with Goodreads--I did for a while, but I fell so far behind.

1A said...

I'm so far behind. Normally, I would have posted "what I read in 2010" by now. At this rate, though? I'll be lucky to post something like that by May. So ... I'll answer your question later. :)

Rima said...

Hmmm. I don't think I read anything that really grabbed me by the throat last year. I did like "Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery.

Heide Estes said...

I started, but didn't finish, Grave Matters. After three or four chapters, I thought it started to get a little tedious. Fiction faves: Let the Great World Spin (McCann) and A Manual of Detection (Berry); non-fiction: Darkness Visible (Styron) and Operation Mincemeat (MacIntyre). Also I re-read Gaudy Night (Sayers) in the past year, and it's still one of my favorites.

EarnestGirl said...

I was taken by Manhood For Amateurs by Michael Chabon (Taken as in: on flights of fancy, my breath away here & there, by surprise, outside of myself)
Revisited an Anne Lamott I had not read (or remembered reading) - Travelling Mercies - and fell in love with her all over again. Both are non fiction, and so prove your point nicely as I am almost always a fiction reader.
For pure bathtub reading, I was unexpectedly delighted by The Thirteenth Tale (Setterfield).

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

You taught me a new word. I'd never heard 'gemütlich' before.

I read 19th century literature last year, and mostly RL Stevenson. I didn't like Treasure Island's characters near as much as I'd expected (Kidnapped was more charming) but the whole, I don't know, the whole 19th-century-ish-ness of it I quite liked. Oh I read Twain too (re-read), which was fun!

Julia said...

I've been meaning to do something like goodreads, mainly because I can no longer remember titles and authors the way I used to, and it annoys me when I want to know what I read six months ago and can't recall.

Best non-fiction, by far: Switch, by the Heath brothers. Fabulously interesting discussion of how to change difficult situations (from malnutrition in Vietnam to purchasing habits in corporations).

Best fiction: Olive Kitteridge

I considered doing a year-end list, but figured I probably read three books a week, and I don't think I can count that high any more.

painted maypole said...

i think my favorites were The Help and Prodigal Summer. Nonfiction... i really enjoyed and was challenged by "Why Jesus Make me Nervous." I don't read much nonfiction, I think, but if I actually keep up with my brand spankin new goodreads account maybe I'll find out for sure. Speaking of which... I need to go friend you. now.

shrink on the couch said...

Can I sync goodreads with shelfari? I've been wanting to read Tender Bar. Now I'm determined to get a copy pronto. A book I really liked this year was of a blend between fiction and non-fiction, Syrie James' The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë.

p.s. the author of the Broken Reality is on the Colbert Report right now.

mayberry said...

I'm like Anjali -- very much intrigued by Room, but a bit afraid to go there.

I quite liked The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (fiction). Grave-digging, storytelling, shifting alliances, and just random weirdness.

Antropologa said...

"Room" was AMAZING. I ended up reading it all in one afternoon/evening and ignoring everybody.

I can get the Swedish library system to buy me whatever books I want, as long as I am willing to wait two months!

Jody said...

I'm still on LibraryThing, but probably a year behind, and I use it more for the kids books than for me. I'd say the book that I devoured quickest last year was One Day, and that Henrietta Lacks was right up there with it.

I don't think I can read Room, either, but it's available everywhere here and I keep thinking, "Well, it's so highly praised...."

leanne said...

I, too, greatly enjoyed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Borrowed it from a friend who said I had to read it. She said I would have a hard time putting it down. And she was right.

FreshHell said...

I read the Lacks book last year but I'm not sure it was my favorite. I'll have to double-check my list (on my blog) for fav non-fiction.

As for fiction, I read the whole Steig Larsson trilogy and I think those were my favories of the year.

Life As I Know It said...

I'm afraid to read Room. I can't read about bad things happening to kids anymore. Especially, characters who are the same age as my boys!

Thoughts? Is it hard to read in that respect?

The Library Lady said...

Do you know what you made me just do? Count a year's worth of reading as listed on Good Reads.

Now of course I read a lot of picture books. But it came to 344 books--really.

This is not counting the fact that I am a compulsive re-reader. So time when I might have been spending on new books was often spent re-reading JK Rowling, or Jenny Crusie, or Robert Heinlein, or anything else on my home shelves. Comfort food as books.

It strikes me that most of the non-fiction I read this year, especially the ones that got a lot of write ups, weren't half as good as the best kids non-fiction I read. Authors writing for adults tend to get pretentious and lose the grip of telling a good story, something even non-fiction needs to do. Still, I enjoyed "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure", the Charlie Chan biography and "Becoming Victoria" this year, all by writers who DO know how to tell their story!

MARY G said...

I'm about a year behind, maybe more, on Library Thing. Something easier has a lot of appeal.
Best '10 book - "What is America", Ronald Wright, Knopf Canada, 2008. (I am slow to get to things.)

Bibliomama said...

I tried Library Thing first and I find Goodreads more user-friendly too (I have heard the word gemutlich, for some reason I want to put a keit on the end). From seeing your updates I'm not all that surprised that you read as much non-fiction -- especially about food. I'm always reading one non-fiction book but I cycle through three or four fiction books before I finish it, usually. I had the same concerns about Room, and it was your review among others that convinced me to read it -- really glad I did. Probably the pinnacle of my reading experiences this year was re-reading A Wrinkle in Time and then reading When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead -- it was a great story and a huge engulfing wave of literary nostalgia all wrapped up into something magnificent.

YourFireAnt said...

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, by Lorrie Moore; The Principles of Uncertainty, by Maira Kalman; Things That Fall From the Sky, by Kevin Brockmeier; Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, by Merrill Markoe; and Shaft, by Ernest Tidyman.

YourFireAnt said...

and Mean Little Deaf Queer, by Terry Galloway.


InTheFastLane said...

I just friended you on Goodreads, but it is under my real name.

And I am not sure what my favorite book last year was. I don't think I read as much as I should have last year and I am trying to fix that now.

The Library Lady said...

Left out my favorite--Nella Last's War, also known as Housewife,49. A diary of a wife/mother in WWII Britain that is moving and inspiring for those of us in (ugh) mid-life.

abby said...

My favorite read from 2010 is "River Town" by Peter Hessler. Hessler gave me an introduction to the area of China I'm living in that has been invaluable for my survival. Plus, it's an eye into China before the great opening.

Yes, I am on Goodreads, though I had forgotten. Thanks for the reminder!