The final Top 10 lists from Shelf
Awareness folk... (see here, here and here for the rest).
Top 10 Books of 2010: John Mutter,
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic
Monthly/El Leon Literary Arts). Who thought a novel starring American marines
during the Vietnam War could cover new ground? And a wonderful publishing
story. Otherwise, what my colleagues have said.
The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (Harper
Perennial). The part of this book set in the "present" nicely
captures the bizarre, fascinating aspects of Alzheimer's, including the lack of
filters and the way pieces of memory flow in new ways--while the basic story,
set during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II, is gripping. Marina is a
guide at the Hermitage, and helps evacuate most of its treasures. Left to take
care of the famous museum, Marina continues to give tours for herself and
others, describing in detail artwork that once hung on the empty walls. If she
and others remember, certainly the treasures continue to exist.
Pravda by Edward Docx (Mariner Books).
This is a great portrayal of the bleaker side of modern-day St. Petersburg (although much action takes
place in New York, London and Paris). None of the characters--Russians and
Brits--are particularly appealing, yet they are smart, deep, fascinating and
mysterious. Their perplexing story has roots satisfyingly deep in the Soviet
Just Kids by Patti Smith (Ecco). The
writing is choppy at times, but this is a wonderful memoir of a deep, loving,
unusual relationship that had so much to do with Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe
encouraging each other artistically and helping each other find their creative
paths, wherever they led. Just Kids
struck a chord: the book won the National Book Award for nonfiction and the New
Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Nonfiction Book of the Year award.
Wallflower by Holly-Jane Rahlens (Berlinica
Publishing). The debut title by a new U.S. press specializing in books about
Berlin, this YA novel with its smart, poignant, wisecracking voice works for
adults, too. Wallflower takes place
during the course of a day two weeks after the fall of the Wall in 1989, when
Molly Lenzfeld, who is about to return to New York, decides to visit newly
opened East Berlin to see the house where her late mother, who was Jewish,
lived before fleeing the Nazis. On her long, convoluted trip via subway to the
east, she meets Mick, an East German boy a few years older--and her life
Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett (Vintage). A
savory follow-up to Bangkok 8, both
of which feature devout Buddhist Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, whose
mother and whose boss, Colonel Vikorn, are co-owners of a brothel. Jitpleecheep
is "asked" by Colonel Vikorn to work on a case that involves a dead
CIA agent, which brings Westerners and their perplexing behavior into the mix.
Reading these books is a body and soul experience: what better way to consider
Buddhist approaches to life than in such a chaotic, beautiful, sweaty tale?
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell (Riverhead). In
decidedly modern language, Vowell surveys the Puritans, who she finds
surprisingly sympathetic. Prim stereotypes aside, the Puritans loved the
written word, they had deep, often admirable beliefs and they had passionate,
occasionally bloody disputes about how to live proper lives.
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (Vintage
International). A sprawling novel set during the fall of France in 1940 that
Nemirovsky wrote while in flight as Nazi soldiers advanced. Tragically, she was
captured and died in Auschwitz, but her daughters kept the manuscript, which
was published for the first time only in 2004.
Before the Frost by Henning Mankell (Vintage
Crime). Another year, another Kurt Wallander mystery. For me, these need to be
rationed because of the gloomy, often flat narrative. Still, the grind is
rewarding, and once again, in Before the
Frost, set on Wallander's home ground of Skåne in southern Sweden, Mankell
tells a gripping story, which in this case involves an extreme religious group
bent on punishing sinners. The addition of Wallander's daughter to the police
force and the series is brilliant and leavening.
A Different World: From Old
Germany to New England
by Rudy Mutter (self-published). Family stories: a lovely way to remember the
old tales and still hear his voice.
Top 10 Books of 2010: Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor
In a year
of abundance, a baker's dozen.
Art & Max by David Weisner (Clarion/HMH). A
master picture book maker and three-time Caldecott Medalist reminds us that no
matter how skilled and experienced we may become, the beginner always has much
to teach us about open-mindedness and experimentation.
A Ballet for Martha: The Making
of Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and
Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook/Macmillan).
In this glorious picture book, the story of how Martha Graham, Aaron Copland
and Isamu Noguchi came together to create a uniquely American ballet becomes an
ode to creativity, innovation and--appropriately--the pioneer. As spare and as
graceful as the dance it celebrates.
Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu (Dial/Penguin). With
a simplicity of plot and palette that calls to mind the work of Dorothy
Kunhardt, Tao Nyou's picture book takes a fresh approach to a trio of tales
about a sextet of bunnies and their snow-white (genderless) ursine guardian,
who ceaselessly shows them unconditional love.
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus (Amulet/Abrams). A
14-year-old Japanese fisherman rescued by an American whaling ship in the 1840s
finds that these men are not as barbaric as he's been taught. Based on the true
story of John Mung (born Manjiro) and liberally illustrated with his own
drawings, this novel of an extraordinary quest chronicles how one man built a
bridge between Eastern and Western cultures.
How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills (Schwartz &
Wade/Random House). A "little yellow bird" in search of a student
sets her sights on Rocket, a black-and-white dog who loves to nap. The
passionate teacher awakens the pup to "the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous
alphabet" and the rewards of reading and friendship.
Ling & Ting by Grace Lin (Little, Brown). Identical
twins with delightfully different personalities lead beginning readers through
a quintet of stories by the Newbery honor author and gifted artist. Humor and
surprise twists abound.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
(Amistad/HarperCollins). Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters
travel from the Brooklyn home they share with their father, to Oakland, Calig.,
to spend the summer of 1968 with the mother who abandoned them seven years
before. In this National Book Award finalist, we see the larger political scene
through Delphine's eyes, as she and her sisters attend a camp run by the Black
Panthers. We also witness a girl struggling to understand and forgive a mother
who needed to raise herself before she could raise her children.
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
(Atheneum/S&S). Through a first-person narrative, the author inhabits the
brilliant, frustrated mind and unresponsive body of nearly 11-year-old Melody
Brooks, who suffers from cerebral palsy. The heroine's struggle to make herself
known, with all of her exceptional intelligence and wit, is a journey well
worth taking and will leave you with a wider world view.
A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (Dutton/Penguin).
Oh what a treat awaits those readers not yet ready for Lemony Snicket and his
Unfortunate Events (and also those who are). Here is a narrator to love,
telling small children to leave the room--oh the blood, the gore! And, let's
face it, the Brothers Grimm wrote gore galore. Hansel and Gretel get larger
roles in this drama, and you will see tales you thought you knew in a brand new
light. But not too much light: this one youngsters will want to read by
flashlight under the covers.
There's Going to Be a Baby by John Burningham, illustrated
by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick). If Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury created the
definitive book for babies with Ten
Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, then Oxenbury together with her husband
John Burningham do the same for a child expecting a new sibling. Perfection.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
(Dutton/Penguin). Two high school students with the same name meet by
happenstance in a Chicago porn shop. Although they could not be more different,
both Will Graysons will never be the same, due to an irresistible,
larger-than-life gay football player and musical theater genius named Tiny
(picture George Hearn in La Cage Aux
Folles as a young man). Green and Levithan alternate narratives and offer
comic moments and rare insights into male-male and male-female intimacy--of
both the platonic and romantic varieties.
Zora & Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
(Candlewick) and The Dreamer by Pam
Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sís (Scholastic). These two extraordinary
novels plumb the childhoods of two literary greats. Within the framework of a
mystery, Zora & Me imagines the
childhood that shaped the philosophy and writing of Zora Neale Hurston. The Dreamer suggests the underpinnings
of the gifted poet and activist Neftalí Reyes, whom we know as Pablo Neruda,
with illustrations that hint at the magical realism in his poetry. These are
books for the gifted young artists in your life, marching to their own music;
they are not alone.