Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Favourite adult books of 2010

Why have I never done an adult top 10 list here? Who knows! Anyway, high time to start, I think!

(Children's and teens lists for 2010 are forthcoming)

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart - Beefeater Balthazar Jones and his wife mourn the death of their young son while Balthazar struggles to keep in line the new menagerie of animals at the Tower of London, and his wife seeks to re-unite items lost on the Tube with their owners. Some reviewers criticised this book for being too "cute;" I disagree. Maybe I feel things too keenly, but the Jones' grief was palpable throughout the novel, undercutting any cuteness with a sense of loss and emptiness. Really, lost things, people and animals was the main theme of this work for me: the human characters wrestle with isolation or hidden passions, the animals are lonely, needy or cantankerous, and objects devise a life of their own, independent of their owners. An utterly unique, complex novel.

Room by Emma Donoghue - So much has been written about Donoghue's novel this year. It's cutesy / it's creepy; it's sensationalist / it's subtle. I'm exhausted from the media coverage. I am a fan of Donoghue's other work (especially Slammerkin and the magnificent Life Mask), and I thought Room was an interesting departure for her. I was concerned I wouldn't be able to get through the book, or wouldn't enjoy it, because it covers such a horrible topic: the imprisonment of a young woman and her son in a single room, held there by an abusive man. I find I am much more inclined to "inhabit" a character in a novel, rather than a character seen on TV, so this is a far cry from watching Law and Order, say. The voice of 5-year old Jack, the narrator of the novel, did, however, ring true to me, and caught me from page 1. I couldn't put the book down, and I could hardly take a breath. I actually also quite liked the second part of the book, which happens outside of Room, as Jack calls their home; I thought it raised an interesting discussion about re-integration into society, and what makes humans social beings.

Three Junes by Julia Glass - Disclaimer: I am sort of cheating since this book was originally published in 2003. Previously briefly blogged about here; read based on recommendation by Caitlin. Maybe you'd be surprised to learn that I worry a lot about legacies: what we leave behind, who we leave it to. This book reassured me a lot: it's all about the friendships and connections we forge with other people, whether family or friends. Set during three summers, years apart, the novel follows three siblings (Fenno and his twin brothers) and their aging Scottish parents. Fenno, a gay man living in New York in the 1980s, provides the central perspective in the novel: he feels himself an outsider (in his own family and as a Scot in the United States): the non-twin, the homosexual, seemingly at odds with his father. Throughout the novel, Fenno learns secrets about his parents and brothers that help shape and change his opinions about them, and he begins to find his place in the world, and understand the contributions he can make to his family's lives.

The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn - I am a total closet architecture geek. This novel will perhaps always remain remarkable to me, in that it made me temper my hatred of Brutalism. Frank Allcroft, the novel's main character, is in the middle: he is a middle-aged television reporter for "Heart Of England Reports," a middle-England regional (not local, not national) news program. He is caught in the middle of a possible secret regarding the death of a former colleague, and is also caught in the middle between his daughter (reaching out for the future with both hands) and his mother (seemingly unable to move forward from a past filled with regret and depression). Meanwhile, the buildings his father, a brilliant but under-appreciated Brutalist architect, built, are being demolished; only one remains standing, as his city makes way for new construction and turns its collective back on the past.

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith - Oh, Zadie. I do love you. I wish we were friends. I think we have a lot in common. A love of E. M. Forster, for instance. Smith writes about Forster in this collection of essays, literary criticism, and reviews. The Guardian called Changing My Mind "sparkling," the New York Times called it "quirky," the Globe and Mail called Smith a "maestro," and even About.com said the essays "come together like a patchwork quilt." Changing My Mind is divided into five sections: the first, "Reading," is composed of critical essays about the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, Joseph O'Neill, Tom McCarthy, E. M. Forster, Vladimir Nabokov and Roland Barthes. "Being" covers everything from Obama's oratorial style to the craft of writing; "Seeing" delves into film reviews, ranging from Spencer and Tracy classics to the more tepid rom-coms of the current day; "Remembering" focuses on the late author, David Foster Wallace. My favourite section, and I freely admit I am a sentimentalist, was "Feeling," a collection of three largely personal essays about Smith's family, especially her father. In the "Feeling" essays, she discusses family holidays, her father's wartime experiences (on D-Day: “So much experience that should be parceled out, tenderly, over years, came to my father that day, concertinaed into twenty-four hours”), and his love of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers. Full disclosure: I skipped the 40-page essay about David Foster Wallace. I know, I know. He is on my to-read list; I just figured the essay would be more meaningful after I have read his work.

My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares - This book is the wildcard in the list; I confess I simply cracked it open because of Brashares' popularity. The premise of this novel is that we have past lives, and there are some people (not many!) who can remember some or all of these lives, either in part or in full. What these people do with this information, and how it affects their current life and experiences, varies. I'm surprised this book didn't get picked up a bit more for reviews; it's certainly a popular, melodramatic romance, but it has some thoughtful moments, also, including an examination of the controls we try to exert on our environment and our own personalities, what makes us ourselves, and what makes us human.

The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki - 23 year old Asif Murphy's life hasn't turned out the way he intended it to....His mother's death leaves him in charge of his younger sister, Yasmin, who has Asperger's. That being said, Yasmin's life hasn't turned out the way she intended it to, either.... Asif, Yasmin and their other sister Lila each have secrets things about them that they think the other two will never understand. A surprising, touching novel.

The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins - Previously blogged about here. Just go and read that, already, so you too can learn about Japan's love of Shakespeare in puppet form, and the people who devote their lives to creating spreadsheets of every copy of the First Folio. I am secretly kind of in love with Paul Collins. He just can't write a bad book. What's up with that?

The Help by Kathryn Stockett - I know, over-discussed book of 2010... but actually very good. The New York Times review accused it of pushing readers' buttons, and indeed it does that, but not just that. This is certainly not the first book about racism I have ever read, nor the first about the African-American experience in the Southern U.S., but the fact that the action of this novel is set at a turning point in American history (1962) lends it a certain danger and urgency. It's astounding, all over again, how women were treated (white or black); it's incredible to witness the bravery of individuals in the face of collective ignorance, hatred and the mob mentality; it's powerful to hear about women bonding together in the face of adversity, and despite numerous barriers.

Practical Jean by Trevor Cole - A wickedly funny story about an entirely impractical woman who decides on one practical and meaningful act in her life: unfortunately, it's a series of homicides. Nominated for the Writers' Trust Award and recently reviewed in the Ottawa Citizen.

As mentioned above, there are no previous adult reads lists from this blog, but check out these Top 10 lists from my BiblioCommons account: Favourite adult novels of 2009, Favourite adult novels of 2008.

No comments:

Post a Comment