Today and tomorrow I’m looking at my favorite books of 2010. I’ve split them into four categories, two for each day. Today: nonfiction and audiobooks; tomorrow: fiction and young adult/middle grade novels. Titles link to reviews, if I’ve written them, or GoodReads, if I haven’t.
Favorite Nonfiction Books Read in 2010:
Runner Up: Sweater Quest by Adrienne Martini
This entertaining memoir chronicles Martini’s attempt to knit an intricate multicolored sweater. It combines the history of knitting with contemporary knitting culture as Martini tells her often hilarious story. I’m not sure how much it would appeal to non-knitters, but for people who knit, it’s a great little book.
#5: My Life in France by Julia Child
Ebullient and delightful, Julia Child bubbles off the page in this story of the time she spent in France. Included are her beginnings in French cooking, her husband’s career (the reason they landed in France), her work on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and–of course!–plenty of sensuous food! It was a light, quick read with an irresistible, irrepressible leading lady.
#4: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
In this book, Rubin tells of her year-long quest to test out every theory about happiness she could find. It had the potential to be cheesy, but Rubin’s no-nonsense, logical approach made it fascinating. With a theme for each month, supported by concrete actions, Rubin’s project resembled a science experiment more than a journey to self discovery. I appreciated her honesty and her curiosity.
#3: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
In this graphic memoir, Satrapi illustrates her experience growing up in Iran. In stark black and white drawings, she takes readers on a journey through her childhood and young adulthood. Powerful, fascinating, and educational, The Complete Persepolis was one of my first graphic novels and would make a great introduction to someone interested in the genre.
#2: The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac
This slim little volume, translated from French by Sarah Adams, takes a look at how a child develops a love of reading and how that love can be sustained and nurtured as the child grows. Pennac, an educator, has written a love letter to reading that readers everywhere will love and treasure. As a bonus, Quentin Blake did the illustrations, which lends Pennac’s words a Roald Dahl-esque whimsy.
#1: The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
The first volume of Hornby’s essays for “Believer” magazine, this compilation reveals what books Hornby has purchased and read on a month-by-month basis. I haven’t read most of the books Hornby talks about, but that didn’t matter much. His humor, wit, and insight are evident and enjoyable without a familiarity with his chosen reading material. A completely different trip from Hornby’s fiction!
Favorite Audiobooks Listened to in 2010:
Runner Up: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
This powerful coming-of-age novel tells of Kimberley Chang’s new life in America, where she must help her mother at work, act as her mother’s translator, learn English well enough to function at school, and find her way in a new country. Read by Grayce Wey, this audiobook combines an enthralling story, featuring a strong main character, with a skilled reader.
#5: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
This book was the funniest–in print or on audio–I’ve read this year! Packed with humor, bizarre situations, and clever characters, it kept me giggling and wondering what would happen as the zany, madcap plot unfolded. Thoroughly enjoyable!
#4: Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
This pair of novels from Margaret Atwood tell of a future not so far from our own where life, as we know it, has come to an end. As the characters adjust to the new landscape, the stories of what happened to them and what the society from which they came was like gradually come out. I especially loved how the two novels dovetailed with one another, locking together to create a wider picture of a shared world.
#3: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Read by Sissy Spacek, Harper Lee’s classic story of Scout Finch and Maycomb, Alabama, came vividly to life. I’d read the novel years ago in high school, but it was this recording that made me love it. If you’ve yet to experience this classic, or if you’d like to revisit it, I highly recommend giving this audiobook a try!
#2: City of Thieves by David Benioff
Set during the Siege of Leningrad, this audiobook is packed with drama and taught with tension. Lev and Kolya’s journey hooked me from the start, and I finished listening in a single day, unwilling to turn it off! Three of my family members have read the novel in print form and loved it as well. This is one of those unique novels that readers of a wide variety of tastes and backgrounds will enjoy.
#1: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This audiobook might be the best pairing of reader and story I’ve ever encountered. Set on a Spokane Indian reservation, it’s told by Junior, a teenager caught between his family and friends and his desire to make something of himself. As Alexie himself narrates Junior’s story, it’s hard to tear yourself away.
This was a tough category for me to narrow down, even with a runner up, so I have to mention a few other great audiobooks that deserve recognition: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson were all spectacular as well!
Which nonfiction title did you enjoy most in 2010? What was your favorite audiobook? Or if you’ve never listened to one, which that you’ve heard about most appeals to you?