The Best of 2010: Nonfiction and Audiobooks

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:

2010 Best Nonfiction

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:

2010 Best Audiobooks Part 1

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.

2010 Best Audiobooks Part 2

#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!

Your Turn!

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?

Join the Conversation


  1. I have Oryx & Crake home from the library on audio. Hopefully I’ll get to that sometime this year. πŸ™‚

    I saw that Hornby book at Half Price Books the other day and thought about you. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction myself and I’ve only ever read one book of Hornby’s, so I’m not sure it’s the book for me (yet), but it IS staying in the back of my mind. πŸ˜‰

    1. I hope you like it! I’m starting to think Atwood works better for me on audio; I’ve liked everything of hers I’ve listened to.

      I won’t try to sway you into reading something that doesn’t interest you. The Hornby is short, though. Just sayin πŸ˜‰

    1. I haven’t listened to much nonfiction, but I do like that format! As long as I can find ones that aren’t too dry.

  2. Lots of great books on that list!! I actually have The Polysyllabic Spree and really want to take the chance to read it this year. So many great things to read, and I will be looking back at your list when I do some shopping in a few days!! Thanks!

  3. I think that The Absolutely True Diaries is one of the best readings I’ve ever heard. Ever. Love it. I use it when I teach that book in my classroom…Love it.

    And, I’m reading The Henrietta Lacks book right now. I would love to listen to it, but I’m enjoying reading it hardcopy. I love the variety of titles that you read. Thanks for sharing your list of recommendations!

    1. I agree! It’s wonderful! I bet it works really well for the classroom. The Lacks book seems like one of those books that would work well in either format. Glad you’re liking it!

    1. I’m finding I prefer to listen to Atwood rather than read her. I’ve liked the ones I’ve listened to so much better than the ones I’ve read that I’m thinking format plays a role!

  4. I just added “The Rights of the Reader” to my TBR list! As the father of a 7-month old, I think it will resonate with me.

    I keep trying to find “To Kill a Mockingbird” on audio, but clpgh and freelibrary don’t seem to have it available for download. I guess I’ll have to go the “old” route.

    Thanks for this post!

    1. Oh, definitely check out The Rights of the Reader! If you can’t find Spacek’s version of To Kill a Mockingbird, let me know and I’ll lend you my hard copy. It’s wonderful!

  5. The Complete Persepolis is the only one on your list I’ve read and I loved it. I don’t read much non-fiction but I think I should try some more. The Rights of the Reader sounds fantastic – I’ll try to find a copy πŸ™‚

    Have a wonderful 2011!

    1. I need to read more nonfiction, too! The Rights of the Reader is delightful and short, which is always nice. Happy New Year!

  6. I loved Persepolis and have The Happiness Project on my TBR list. The Daniel Pennac sounds amazing, I’ll be getting that soon. Thanks for the audio recommendations, I’m always looking for those!

    1. I was pleasantly surprised by The Happiness Project. A perfect read for the beginning of a year, too! The Pennac is quick but delightful. I hope you enjoy them!

  7. My Life in France was one of my favorite nonfiction titles, too. Also enjoyed all of Satrapi’s titles this year.

    Will need to check out your audio titles. My next reread of TKAM will be a listen. On to 2011!

    1. I definitely go through those moods. It also took me a while to figure out how best to work audiobooks into my daily life. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t!

  8. I just got The Happiness Project and thought I might try to do one for the coming year but once I browsed through it, I think I’ll have to give it more thought before embarking on such a project. So many good books on this list that I want to read.

    1. Rubin definitely put a ton of planning into her project. I think it’d be a good book to read in autumn, so you’d have a little time to think about how you’d like to structure your project. I don’t think I could ever be as detailed as Rubin was, though!

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