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The Best of 2010 New-to-me Books

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Damn if this wasn't a good year for books for yours truly.

Serious Fiction Book of the Year
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)

I know, everybody else read Freedom this year, but I am a book and a decade behind.  But it doesn't matter, because Franzen had penned a masterpiece.  This is the closest you can get in the last half century to The Great American NovelTM.  Franzen unabashedly tells America like it is, and it isn't all 2.3 kids and a house in the suburbs.  Or, perhaps more accurately, that IS all it is.  But that's an awful lot, and it isn't rosy.  Franzen opens the book with a section on a young liberal arts professor, and how vapid and meaningless his postmodern filter is.  Then he tears down the new suburban American dream.  Then the urban yuppie.  And finally, the old guard, the older generation.  If you want a book that will take you on a rollercoaster, that will really make you feel, this is the best book of the year.

 

Non-Fiction Book of the Year
Card Sharks: How Upper Deck Turned a Child's Hobby into a High-Stakes, Billion-Dollar Business by Pete Williams (1995)

Yeah, I know, nobody collects baseball cards anymore.  But they were my addiction for a good part of my childhood.  I still have around 20,000 cards sitting at my parents house, a reminder that the hobby had its cardboard-textured bubble gum claws in me for a long time.  Most of my allowance for around 8 years of my life went to sports cards, and I don't really regret it, as I had tons of fun with it.

This book was a gigantic eye opener for me.  I was pretty sure that I had a good grasp of the hobby, but I didn't realize that baseball cards, too, are a cutthroat business.  This book is a great journalistic read.  Pete Williams has clearly talked to a ton of people at Upper Deck, and has managed to tie all of the loose ends together and come up with a company that is ruthless and sleazy, and definitely operating on the shady side of things.  I have no reason to disbelieve any of the implications of this book, particularly in light of Upper Deck being caught red-handed forging Yu-Gi-Oh cards last year.  Sure, the subject matter is going to naturally restrict who this book is meant for, but this is such a well-researched book, and such an eye opener, that it really wasn't hard naming it my favorite nonfiction book of the year.

 

Light Fiction Book of the Year
The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, #12) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (2009)

Who knew that kicking the bucket would be the best thing that Robert Jordan did for his series in 10 years?  That's right, far from Sanderson coming in and sullying the series, he has instead proved to be just the editor and cowriter that RoJo has needed these past ten years.  Robert Jordan was getting incredibly long-winded, and unable to wrap anything up.  Rather than letting the series wind down naturally, he was instead creating more characters, and the series was getting bloated beyond all belief.  Sound familiar, George R. R. Martin fans?

This is not being completely fair to the book in its own right.  Sanderson came along, took over a half-written manuscript with a plethora of notes, and made something wonderful.  Although some of the plot and characters are bona fide Jordan, there are also fingerprints of Sanderson all over the book.  It flows well, and best of all, it has made my favorite fantasy series an enormous pleasure to read again.  It had been too long since I remembered just what a joy it was to read new, great Robert Jordan world-building, and Sanderson has helped me redisover it.  For that, I thank him.

 

Uncategorizable Book of the Year
The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (2008)

Trying to explain this book is like trying to hold two industrial-strength magnets together with the same poles facing each other.  It's impossible to describe, in the same way Catch-22 is impossible to describe.  You pretty much just have to read it.  It's worth it.  It's set in the near future, with a lot of cool shit.  It's like Neuromancer meets Cat's Cradle meets Fail Safe.

 

Honorable mention

These books didn't quite make the cut, but they're very good, all the same.

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman (1978)
A great history of the medieval era, written in a wonderful, readable fashion, but still very erudite and illuminating.

Out of Their League by Dave Meggyesy (1970)
Not the best football book I've ever read, but damn close.  Some people think that playing sports professionally is all fun and games.  Memoirs like this make you realize just how wrong those people are.

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1) by Kim Stanley Robinson (1992)
First time I'd ever read this science fiction classic.  There's a reason it's a classic.  It's a great hard sci-fi read.

 

And, if you're curious, here's the full list of other stuff I read this year.  You can find my full reviews of all of these by browsing my Goodreads profile.

Always on Sunday
The Best American Comics 2007
The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb
Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty
The Cartoon History of the Universe III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance
The Catch: One Play, Two Dynasties, and the Game That Changed the NFL
The Complete Persepolis
Defenders of the Faith: Charles V, Suleyman the Magnificent, and the Battle for Europe, 1520-1536
Green Mars (Mars Trilogy, #2)
I Curse the River of Time
Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization
Lyon's Pride (Tower and the Hive, #4)
More than a Game: The Glorious Present--and the Uncertain Future--of the NFL
Mounted Archers of the Steppe 600 BC-AD 1300
The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)
Rabbit, Run
The Rest Of The Iceberg: An Insider's View On The World Of Sport And Celebrity
Taliesin (The Pendragon Cycle, #1)
The Time Traveler's Wife
War and Peace
You'll Never Know Book One " A Good and Decent Man"