The Top 10 of 2010: Back To The Herd Mentality

on Friday, December 31, 2010
New Year's Eve is upon us and so it is time for me to unveil my favourite ten books of the year. As I've said before it was a rather patchy one for literature. A few great authors released passable but not particularly good books. Many an ordinary debut saw the light of day. Someone even told me that they had lost faith in fiction this year.

As for me, I read a lot of excellent books but very few of them were published in 2010. Indeed, when looking back over the 155 books I managed to get through, there were only 12 that deserved a place on this list. One I cut because, although it was translated for the first time in 2010, it is in fact 58 years old (Hans Keilson's Comedy in a Minor Key). The other, Keith Richards's Life, was edged off the list by an arguably greater musical legend.

Overall, it seems comedy was the big winner, taking five of the ten spots. There were also three debut novels, which is always a good sign for things to come. Yet it was a French author of whom I was only peripherally aware who came in at number one. And so, without further ado, I bring you the Bait For Bookworms Top 10 of 2010:

1. Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel. A lowly bureaucratic functionary is sent into a small town to investigate the murder of a mysterious stranger. What he discovers will quite literally take your breath away. Brodeck's Report is one of the most astounding books about wartime guilt and complicity ever written. A murder mystery, artistic meditation and revelation all rolled into one. Simply brilliant.

2. Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahariar Mandanipour. This amazing story of two students pursuing their forbidden love through the pages of great Persian and world literature continues to resonate with me eleven months after I first read it. I'm not usually one for romance, but when it came to Sara and Dara I have to admit I swooned! It is also harrowing in its portrayal of life in a totalitarian state. Almost perfect on every level.

3. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. This hilarious debut novel drove a great metal barb through the heart of the pretentious print media world. Documenting the rise and slow demise of a semi-fictional English language newspaper in Rome, its pastiche of journo-stereotypes, some snooty others pitiable, had me laughing out loud, and not only because I recognised half of my friends drowning in the mix.

4. How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. A year of heavy reading was topped off by this hilarious celebration of the scientifically absurd. Whether you are a certified brainiac or, like me, a total grognard this is the funniest book that you are likely to encounter in any universe, including this one. In comic terms, it seems there is nothing funnier than a time machine repairman in love.

5. Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes. Britain's king of quirk struck gold again with this deliciously nasty gem. Creepy, hilarious and unexpectedly tender it kept me smiling even while my skin crawled.

6. Nemesis by Philip Roth. These days Roth is as patchy as he is prolific, but this powerful tale of a polio epidemic in 1940's New Jersey really hit the mark. The combination of a decidedly non-Roth protagonist and some brilliant metaphorical social commentary about the economic collapse and the perceived terrorist threat make Nemesis his best book since Indignation.

7. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. This very worthy winner of the Man Booker Prize shone an excoriating light (if there is such a thing) on the triumphs, insecurities and downright absurdities of Diaspora Jewry. High Lit that makes you laugh and cringe at the same time.

8. C by Tom McCarthy. Forget the experimental tag! C was a complex and mesmerising examination of the way in which we communicate from a writer who is shaping up to be one of our generation's greatest commentators. And yes, it had a conventional plot.

9. Solar by Ian McEwan. Sure, it had the cookie-cutter McEwan plot device but this foray into deep science, petty academic jealousies and the indignities of ageing disgracefully was a real winner. I never thought McEwan had it in him to make us laugh. I also thought he was well past his prime. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

10. Just Kids by Patti Smith. Yes, a non-fiction book made it to my Top 10. Who'd a thunk it? This double eulogy for Robert Mapplethorpe and the heyday of New York counterculture is 300-odd pages of pure street prose poetry. The only book that made me cry this year.

So there you have it. An unexpectedly eclectic top ten for my first year of lit-blogging.

Happy New Year! Here's hoping 2011 brings us all a library (being my collective noun for books) of great reads!


Luke Redgen said...

I notice that Jonathan "Didn't want to on Opera but has now been on twice" Franzen didn't rate a mention. Wasn't a fan?

Anyway, love the list, and I have a few books to check out now. :)

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