The Year's Best Reads

Revue readers share their favorite books of 2010, and what made them so special.

Forgive the Oprah moment, if you will, but Revue has finally succeeded in compiling The List of Charlotte’s favorite books in 2010. Last week, we invited readers to submit what they thought were the best books of the year. We left the perimeters wide open: it could be fiction, non-fiction, published in 2010 or not, as long as it was a) a book you read this year, and b) awesome.

So, just in time for your holiday gift-buying and your "must-read" list for 2011, here’s the list of what Charlotte read and loved this year. Agree? Disagree? Something to add? There’s a painfully blank comments section below—we’d love your thoughts to fill it in!

                                       

 

There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene

Greene, an Atlanta-based journalist with two adopted children from Ethiopia, spent years covering the African AIDS epidemic for the New York Times magazine before publishing this 2006 memoir. She tells Haregewoin Tefarra’s story, an Ethiopian widow who, by taking in village children who had been orphaned by AIDS, eventually created a school, day care, and shelter for children whose parents had died from the epidemic. Greene, while giving crucial insight into the complexities and implications of the continental epidemic, tells her own story as a journalist, captures a remarkable story, and weaves into it her own memoir as an international journalist.

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel Prize winner, has stirred literary and geopolitical circles over the past decade with nationally conscious essays and fiction novels. Adam Shatz, with the London Review of Books, hits the nail on the head: "Pamuk is frequently described as a bridge between two great civilisations [and his major theme is] the persistence of memory and tradition in Westernizing, secular Turkey." This latest novel, set in Istanbul in the 1970s, came out at the tail end of 2009, and walks readers through the knick-knacks and artifacts hoarded by Kemal Bey, our lovelorn, soul-searching protagonist.

 
The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Lewis, author of The Blind Side, made his debut as a novelist with the bestselling Liar’s Poker, in which he chronicled his experience as a young, jaded financier on Wall Street. Appropriate, then, that his most recent nonfiction work asks—and, depending on who you ask, answers—the question about the economic meltdown that’s on everyone’s minds: "whodunnit?" Lewis has received accolades from the New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and more for his refreshingly original, insider perspective on what went wrong on Wall Street.

 
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

One reader called this 2010 release "a real Kindle button-clicker." O’Farrell follows the experiences and revelations of two London women, the first a young countryside refugee who falls in love with a hotshot magazine editor who introduces her to the bohemian world of art and writing. Paralleling this tale is a more dismal one of a contemporary young mother whose struggle during her first weeks of child-rearing forces her to question her own character. It’s an emotionally and psychologically reflective story from an up-and-coming writer that makes for perfect fireside reading.

 
Nine Lives by Dan Baum

In the months following Hurricane Katrina, Dan Baum sat down with nine New Orleans citizens with a laptop, and transcribed their stories. The story he forged from these interviews, however, doesn’t begin with the headlining storm—it starts in 1965, with Hurricane Betsy, and continues through the end of the Big Easy’s sordid, desperate, and intensely introspective 21st century. Baum introduces readers to a city millionaire, a transsexual bartender, a cop, and a chronic criminal. It’s an extensive, insightful look at the struggling city that one Charlotte magazine editor calls "amazing reporting and storytelling."

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by Dave Sedaris

We could hardly compile a 2010 best books list without including the latest venture by the beloved, bestselling Mr. Sedaris. The North Carolina native (!) veered from his usual, personal humor stories in this collection; he tells a series of tales from the perspective of various animals, including, for instance, an owl whose relationship with a hippopotamus becomes a mite too intimate. It’s a great "pick up and read a chapter when you can" option, making it the perfect stocking stuffer for a humor aficionado.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

If Glee proved anything in 2010, it’s that America loves the Underdog Story. Junot Díaz, whose short stories have appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker, gives readers just the coming-of-age tale they love with his second-ever novel. An overweight, Tolkien-obsessed teen growing up in the slums of New Jersey grapples with high school hell and a family curse (one that’s haunted them since their emigration to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic). Díaz earned the Pulitzer with this touching portrait of the struggling adolescent, and his exploration of the Dominican experience in the 21st century.

 
 The Last Child by John Hart

In this gripping thriller, thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon vows to find the twin sister that mysteriously disappeared one year ago, whom everyone (parents included) has given up for dead. Johnny is finally able to enlist the help of a hesitant detective and a friend to follow his suspicions on the dark side of his sleepy hometown. This is Hart’s third novel, for whom he’s received the most praise, and it will put a knot in your chest only the final pages will be able to untangle. 

 
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Surprise, surprise! This was one of the most oft-cited books among Revue readers, and was also listed by the New York Times Book Review as one of 2010’s best books. Franzen gives a painfully stark, honest portrait of a Minnesota family whose distance and dysfunction is of American Beauty proportions. Whatever you may think of the hype, Franzen’s follow-up to his acclaimed The Corrections promises to be year’s literary legacy.

 
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Schteyngart

Gary Shteyngart is a brilliant smartass. In his third work of satirical fiction, the award-winning author (Absturdistan was named best book of the year by Time and the Chicago Tribune) paints a ghastly picture of a credit-starved, illiterate, tantrum-driven America whose last remaining soul belongs to the son of an immigrant janitor named Lenny Abramov. Abramov is 39, loves books, and has fallen hard for a cynical, runaround woman named Eunice. With the country crumbling around him in a humorous apocalypse, Lenny (and readers) find that forging a relationship with another human may be all that’s left in modern America.

 

Categories: Arts + Culture, Revue