2010: My Year in Reading

I had a great year of reading in 2010. I read even more than I did in 2009, and easily beat my previous record of 60 books in one year by finishing 68 in 2010. To be fair, that does include all 6 of the Scott Pilgrim books, which are fairly short and took about 1-2 hours to read, on average, but a book is a book, that’s what I say. I figure as long as I’m not counting Little Golden Books in my numbers I’m doing alright.

2010 was also a big deal for me because I decided I needed to do something about my ever-expanding collection of paperbacks and hardcovers. Carting around several dozen boxes full of books every time I move doesn’t get more fun the more I do it. Accordingly, in the hopes that it might help de-clutter my life, I bought myself a Kindle.┬áThe Kindle doesn’t dominate my reading life yet – I still have hundreds of physical books to read, and the public library is never far away – but I hope that in time it will at least prevent me from needing to buy another big bookcase to store my ever-expanding collection.

I also started an Audible membership this year, mostly because I was in a book club and needed to read the new David Sedaris book quickly, but also because they have a snazzy iPhone app and I thought I might like having a regular stream of audiobooks to listen to at work. Audible also happens to fit in quite nicely with my desire to avoid new physical book purchases.

The Sedaris was a bust – one of the two truly terrible books I read last year – but Audible has been a huge winner for me. The iPhone app has a lot of really cool features, especially the ability to view your entire Audible library and add and remove new books on the fly so that you don’t worry about taking up too much space. My favorite listens so far have been the First Law books by Joe Abercrombie, but I was also excited to pick up a collection of Woody Allen books read by the man himself. Listening to audiobooks at work has really been helping make the days go by quicker. I think it even makes me more productive some days.

Of course, no year-in-review post would be complete without a best-of list, so I’ve included a list below of all the books I read in 2010 and rated 10 out of 10. These are the books that blew my mind and made me love reading just that much more.

My favorite books read in 2010 (in the order I read them):

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerny – This is the story of a young New Yorker in the 1980s working at a magazine by day and doing copious amounts of cocaine and other substances at night, all while dealing with the angst of a broken marriage and the alienation of modern life. To top it off, the entire story is told in second person, which few authors attempt, let alone pull off as well as McInerny does here.

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell – Peter Brown, previously known as Pietro Brwna, is a former hit man trying to make a new life as a doctor after going into the witness protection program. Everything seems to be going along fine until one day a former mafia associate shows up as a patient in Peter’s hospital and threatens to reveal his secret. ┬áThis book was dark, hilarious, intense, and an all-around roller-coaster ride. Best crime novel I’ve read since Caught Stealing.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – Six interconnected stories, spanning time periods from the 1800s to the far-flung future, each told in its own distinctive voice, each one a story within a story. Cloud Atlas is a breathtaking tour-de-force of a novel, and easily cemented Mitchell as one of my all-time favorite authors. I’ve never read an author that could so deftly change his writing style and always be compelling. This book is funny, moving, intense, and thrilling.

Clockers by Richard Price – Price was staff writer for The Wire, hired in large part because of this book, and you can definitely see why. Clockers is about the murder of a drug-dealer in Dempsy, New Jersey, but the story is told from both the perspective of the aging white homicide detective trying to solve the murder, and the young black drug dealer who is the prime suspect. Both characters sympathetic but flawed, and the novel is a fantastic slow burn of tension.

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons – Carrion Comfort is based around the premise that vampires are real, but they don’t suck blood. Instead they feed off your life-force by controlling you and inciting as much chaos and mayhem as possible. Simmons supposes that anyone powerful and charismatic enough could be one of these mind vampires, and this sprawling novel focuses on atrocities that begin during World War II and come to a head decades later. Truly epic.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway – This hilariously surreal book involves, among other things: 1) post-apocalyptic sci-fi 2) coming-of-age stories 3) love triangles 4) ninjas 5) the end of the world 6) horrifying weapons of mass destruction 7) a nameless narrator and his best friend, Gonzo Lubitsch. As the book opens, our narrator is tasked to save the world with his crew of misfits, and along the way he tells us the story of his rather strange life.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis – Moneyball is about two things I don’t generally find interesting – baseball and statistics – and it’s non-fiction, which I don’t generally read. It tells the story of an underdog baseball franchise that begins using detailed player statistics to find the hidden talents they need to win games without breaking the bank. Somehow Lewis turned the business of buying and selling baseball players into one of the most thrilling books I’ve read all year.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons – Hyperion is a sort of sci-fi Canterbury Tales; seven pilgrims from all over the galaxy meet up to make one final journey to visit the terrifying creature known as the Shrike so that they might be granted a boon. Along the way, they each tell the story of why they need to return to Hyperion. The stories are alternately terrifying, thrilling, heartbreaking and surreal. Carrion Comfort was great, but this is Simmons’ masterpiece.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie – This is the first book in a trilogy about a war-torn world where magic is real but fading, and a disparate group of heroes and anti-heroes must band together and work towards a desperate plan that might save the world – or end it entirely. At heart it’s a swords and sorcery fantasy, but with a gritty, modern twist that makes it that much more compelling and intense. You’ll want book two handy as soon as you finish the first.

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