The Major’s Best Reads of 2010

Running Girl and I have a tradition going back to 1996.  Each New Year’s Day, we go over our reading journals for the year.  We then select our best reads of the year.

RG and I decided to create posts commenting on our favorite books of 2010.  Without further ado…

2010 Best Reads

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  I had read one prior Franzen novel and was severely underwhelmed.  The Corrections came out just prior to September 11, 2001.  RG bought this book for me years ago.  It sat untouched on my shelf for all of that time.  Shame on me.  This is one of the finest novels I have ever devoured.  It is clear that the author came into his own with this work.  It the story of a dysfunctional Midwestern family heading for the rocks.  Its paragraphs are way too long.  Its chapters are merciless in their detail, and Franzen at times deliberately uses ambiguity in his prose.  Nevertheless, The Corrections is a towering work that grabs the reader and does not release him or her until its ending.  Jonathan Franzen is now recognized as a latter-day Saul Bellow in his ability to capture the wonder and complexity in characterizing everyday American life and popular culture.  I am pleasantly reading his latest work, Freedom, right now.  It is the sort of novel that makes you want to stay in all weekend.  It is certain to make my list of 2011 best reads.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  I’ve enjoyed Gladwell’s work in The New Yorker for many years.  His earlier book, The Tipping Point, was interesting, if not relentless.  I felt as if I were being beaten over the head with his many points over and over again.  Not so in this effort.  Gladwell explores why: a disproportionate number of Canadian hockey stars are born in the first few months of the year; Hatfield-McCoy type feuds tended to pop up in the Appalachian mountains in the 19th century; how The Beatles, Bill Gates and Robert Oppenheimer became successful; and how Gladwell himself came to his own success.  All of these dynamics appear to be outliers or instances markedly different from other members of the sample in which they occur.  Instead, Gladwell explains that these phenomena are the products of empirical factors and in fact may be predictable.  His writing and thought process are so clear that the reader is actually left with the feeling that he or she has gained intelligence by the end of the read.

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson.  Like everyone else, I read the trilogy this year.  Honestly, I found each of the novels to be uneven.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo required 300 pages before rewarding the reader with a plot that gripped.  The last of the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, was so up and down that it is difficult to characterize.  However, Fire (the second of the series) is clearly the best-written of the three.  The plot carried the reader effortlessly over the course of 600 pages.  In sum, reading this novel was fun.

Innocent by Scott Turow.  I read this one the right way: I dug out my 1989 copy of Presumed Innocent and then chain-smoked the two thrillers one after the other.  Innocent was just as taut as its predecessor.  Rusty Sabich remains one of the great characters of recent American literature.  I will be rereading this one.

As They See ‘Em by Bruce Weber.  So much is written about baseball players.  Weber wrote about umpires.  This book gave me an insight into my favorite sport that I had not previously considered.  Weber went to ump school and then officiated games.  He also followed some of his schoolmates as they made their way through the thorn-bush of the American minor league baseball system.  Although a bit lengthy, I am a better fan as a result of Weber’s work.

Krik?  Krak? by Edwidge Danticat.  Wanting to learn more about my son’s native culture, I read several Haitian authors this year.  Danticat was a revelation to both Running Girl and me.  The exchange, Krik-Krak, is an invitation to and acceptance of storytelling in Kreyol.  The author masterfully captures life in that troubled Island state.  At times alternating between beauty and horror, Danticat is a gifted writer.  I cannot wait to read her latest novel, Create Dangerously.

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo.  I have a sentimental spot for this writer.  His work has meant so much to me over the years.  In my mind, Nobody’s Fool is a novel that rivals Twain for its narrative muscle.  Unfortunately, Russo’s last few efforts have left me yearning for the old days (although these books have garnered exhaulted praise, including Empire Falls which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for fiction).  I felt as though Richard had recaptured that old magic with this work.  I just love how this guy starts with a fundamentally sound plot line and then diverges to tell compelling side tales.  Many of these anecdotal characterizations stick in my mind to the point that I often have to ask myself, Did I dream that or did Russo write it?

Please let us know some of your favorite reads from 2010 and why they touched you.

— The Major


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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bruce weber on January 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    hello major, thanks for including my umpire book on your favorite reads list. i have no idea who you are, but judging by the other authors on your list youre a dedicated and discerning reader, and that makes me doubly flattered to be here.

    happy new year
    bruce weber

    Reply

    • Thanks, Bruce.
      Happy New Year to you as well.
      I heard you on All Things Considered and knew that I had to read your book.
      Well done,
      The Major

      Reply

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