Reading List 2010 (23/252)

And that’s the end of the 2010 books! The list is shorter than usual this year, for which I blame the dissertation – or, more accurately, for which I blame my decision not to include books I read for purely academic purposes in this list. Still, it was a wonderful reading year.

(If I have time tomorrow, I’ll distill a top-ten list out of all my reading so you can have a wonderful reading year in 2011!)

  • Nemesis, Isaac Asimov
  • The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov
  • Breathless, Dean Koontz
  • Thr3e, Ted Dekker
  • Creepers, David Morrell
  • The Silent Speaker, Rex Stout
  • Trouble in Triplicate, Rex Stout
  • Three Doors to Death, Rex Stout
  • The Water’s Lovely, Ruth Rendell
  • The Tenth Man, Graham Greene
  • Transition, Iain M. Banks
  • Everything Matters!, Ron Currie Jr.
  • Double or Nothing, Sylvia Barack Fishman
  • Future Americas, ed. John Helfers & Martin H. Greenberg
  • The Dimension Next Door, ed. Martin H. Greenberg & Kerrie Hughes
  • Enchantment Place, ed. Denise Little
  • Faerie Tales, ed. Martin H. Greenberg & Russell Davis
  • Imaginary Friends, ed. Jean Rabe & Martin H. Greenberg
  • Front Lines, ed. Denise Little
  • The Future We Wish We Had, ed. Martin H. Greenberg & Rebecca Lickiss
  • Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
  • Extraordinary Engines, ed. Nick Gevers

If you’re going to read one book from this list, go read Transition. In fact, it’s almost certainly one of my top ten books for the year. I was delightfully surprised by this, because I haven’t been particularly impressed with Banks’ last few novels. I love his Culture universe, and I enjoy his mainstream novels, but they’ve both gotten weaker and weaker with time. Well, evidently he was saving his strength for this gem. Transition is a story about world-hopping agents of a multi-global conspiracy. It’s also a story about imperialism, security theater, high finance, accountability, personal responsibility and more. It’s a zeitgeist novel, as far as I’m concerned; while it’s wildly inventive and takes place across multiple worlds, it wonderfully captures the last ten years, in a way that I think will be just as effective ten years (or fifty years!) from now. Fair warning: Banks uses the world he sets up to write one of the most magnificently disturbing (and very dirty) sex scenes I’ve come across in recent novels. It’s integral to the plot, which I really appreciated, but that means you can’t really skip it if you’re easily embarrassed!

Double or Nothing was a fascinating read. Considering that Fishman reports the results of a large-scale qualitative study of intermarried, conversionary and in-married Jewish couples, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be gripping! But Fishman is a wonderful writer and her material is fascinating. Full disclosure here: I married a convert to Judaism, so I was reading this book with a very personal eye, but I think the book would be of interest to anyone who spends time thinking about culture or religion. In any case, she looks at the ways in which these three types of couples navigate their relationships with each other, with their families, and with Judaism as a whole. Probably my favorite insight was her analysis of the couples’ romantic narratives, the stories they tell about how they met and what attracted them to each other. My only difficulty with the book was an entirely personal one: she focuses largely on in-married and intermarried couples, with occasional references to conversionary households. I wanted more!

Everything Matters! does some really difficult things with remarkable narrative brio. The main character is told by aliens, before birth, that the world will end when he’s thirty-six. They want to know what he then chooses to do with his life. The story follows this guy and his family through the next thirty-six years, and makes it a satisfying journey even though you know how the book is going to end. How does the main character make meaning in his life? And what impact do his choices have on the people around him? My only complaint about the book is the irritating “whiny guy fixates on high-school girlfriend” trope. Admittedly there’s quite a lot for him to be whiny about, but why do so few characters in books of this sort demonstrate the emotional maturity and resilience to move the fuck on?

In any case, I’ve deliberately chosen only to write about books I particularly enjoyed, because this is probably my last books post of 2010 (unless I get inspired for a top ten list tomorrow!). I’ve read a lot of great books this year, and that’s the tone I’d like to end with.

This is doubly true because I haven’t decided whether I’ll be continuing to blog my reading next year. As much as I love to read, and as much as I enjoy reflecting on what I read, I’d like to blog more regularly about other topics. It’s easy for a backlog of books to stop me from posting anything at all! I’ll be running this by my friends tomorrow night, as we collectively reflect on 2010 and prepare for 2011. Still, if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them! Just post here!

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