Friday, December 17, 2010

Top Ten Books Of 2010

It won't take more then a cursory glance at this list to convince the reader it's not meant to be anything kind of definitive. I've not even bothered to separate the fiction and non. All this is, is a list of the best reads I had from contemporary books in 2010. And I'll stand by each and everyone as a great read for just about anyone. Pop one of these in your bag while your traveling this holiday and I assure you the trip will seem a lot quicker.

Grand Jury Prize: Generation Why? By Zadie Smith: Not technically a book but the best thing I read this year was Zadie Smith's dissection of Facebook. If you spend time online (And guess what you're here. You do.) You owe it to yourself to read this.

Worst: Imperial Bedrooms: It’s tough to know which is sadder. Brett Easton Ellis trying and failing to regain his King Of Shock status. Or him running full bore from the artistic strides of Lunar Park. Either way the resulting book is worth no ones time, failing to rise even to the level of empty shock value. Limp and perversely unaffecting. Ellis once joked that Less Then Zero was, "About cock sucking, coke snorting zombies." Imperial Bedrooms feels like it was written by one.

The literary equivalent of that old Onion gag about Marylin Manson going door to door in his attempt to shock.

2nd Runner Up: Game Change: The literary equivalent of getting stoned and eating an entire bag of candy bars and a Big Mac while watching reruns of Good Times. It’s fun while you’re doing it. But it leaves you with nothing but a feeling of bloat and self loathing. And a deep inability to reconcile what you’ve just done with who you thought you were as a person.

Honorable Mention (Good List): The Devils In Exile: I’ve written some harsh things about Chuck Hogan on this blog. But I really did like his last turn at bat. It’s kind of insane and well worth picking up. Starting off as a realistic examination of post traumatic stress, the disaffection of returning vets and a gritty heist novel involving said same. Until morphing 2/3rds of the way through into a genuinely deranged piece of Heroic Bloodshed. If John Woo is ever stupid enough to come back to America, hope that someone hands him this.

Honorable Mention 2nd Runner Up: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour: Ambitious and slightly manic, Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour was somewhat inevitably not the finest hour of The Scott Pilgrim series. It was taken on it's own terms a fine, if rushed ending. Second chances are awarded to those who deserve them and just deserts to others. Everyone grows up a little and moves on. Just like in real life. Real life of course does not have O'Malley's keen visual imagination or quick sense of humor. Mores the pity for us. But perhaps the finest thing that can be said about Finest Hour is that it doesn't spoil the illusion that it might be. If only for a few blocks up in Canada. It is always a pleasure to share O'Malley's headspace.

10: Zero History: Cagy and paranoid, with a deep and unexpected humanity. Zero History is the best book William Gibson has ever written, and one of the most complete portrayals of what living in the information age is like. A time period when either everything is a conspiracy or nothing is. And one can scarcely say which answer is more frightening.

9. Destroy All Movies: A labor of love. Simply put the most beautiful book I’ve held in my hands this year. A wonder to look at and sharply researched and written. Though the book’s prose is occasionally snide, it’s all a front. The love of cinema this thing embodies seeps in through your pores. The world’s ultimate Zine.

8. Freedom: Well holy shit the big important book that everyone was supposed to read was actually pretty damn good. More humane then The Corrections, but no less sharply observed, Freedom’s secret weapon is that it reads less like A Big Important Statement On The Way We Live Today and more like a vivid character study. Which is exactly what it is. The satire is rooted not in The Social Aspects Of The Way We Live Today, but in the subtle vagaries of human nature.

Like The Corrections, Freedom reads like an epitaph, but one which reads “Everyone tried their best.”

7. Full Dark No Stars: The best pulp fiction writer of the last half century at his very best. Nuff said.

6. Horns: And the heir to the throne proving himself more then worthy. A novel filled with horrific concepts, imagery and imagination. The most horrific of all being the manner with which Hill looks at the worst humanity has to offer and laughs his ass off. Not perfect, Horns nevertheless cements Hill’s reputation as someone who will absolutely go there. And get us eager to follow along. With a head for horror, and a surprisingly tender heart, Horns makes me excited to follow Hill for years to come.

5. Moonlight Mile: Lehane ends his Private Eye saga, the best since Chandler, in true style. Lehane does not end with the Peckinpah style blood and fire one might expect from Lehane, but with a simple and irrefutable rejection of the darkness that has tainted the lives of his two central characters. It’s that odd piece of Pulp Fiction that yearns for maturity without contradicting itself. The “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” of Crime Fiction.

Through Kenzie and Gennaro Lehane has dealt with the idea of Evil as a disease. Something communicable, possibly even sapient. And in Moonlight Lehane finally comes up with his answer to it. Bury it. Drown it in the Charlestown.

Some might find the ending cynically pat, but they don’t know Lehane. Make no mistake, his characters have earned the ending they’re given. And so has he.

4. The Big Short: If this book doesn’t make you insanely angry its because you haven’t read it, having A) been reduced to living in a cardboard box, or B) having burnt it for warmth. Michael Lewis renders in painstaking detail the rank, nigh unbelievable levels of stupidity, delusion and willful ignorance that went into making the world economy the clusterfuck it is today.

Like watching a car wreck in slow motion. Except the car is your country and the collateral damage is your future. This is the type of book that’ll make you go out and buy a gun, and then wonder if you should turn it on yourself or the subject matter.

3. The Passage: A great epic that takes a look at the world’s death rattle and comes away with hope in its heart. Epic storytelling at its finest, that like The Stand a generation before renders our slow motion demise with sickening plausibility, and then creates a world in our aftermath that kindles the imagination.

It’d be unfair to give away a single one of the books surprises suffice to say if you’re depriving yourself of The Passage, and you care at all about Sci Fi, Horror, and Fantasy, you are hurting only yourself.

2. 1000 Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet: A lovely and strange book. In which by refusing to pull a single one, David Mitchell perhaps performed his ultimate prank. Proving he never needed a single one.

1. Christianity: An essential book for both Believers and Non. A work of Scholarship so extensive that it’s practically mind numbing. Reaching for the origins of Christian thought not merely in Judiasm but in Ancient Greek tradition, and then chronicling with painstaking detail all the ways that thought has changed and mutated and sprung up over the ensuing three millennia. You don’t have to be a believer to be fascinated by what McDiarmid has done here, you just have to have some level of curiosity about the thought that has, for better or worse shaped the course of human history.

This is not merely a great work of history. This is a definitive work of history.


Budd said...

thanks for the list Bryce. Some interesting books in there that I will need to give a look.

Anonymous said...

I'll be honest: I've been intrigued by "Freedom", but I always put it back on the shelf when I see the Oprah's Book Club logo on the cover. ;-)


Simon said...

It's a shame about Imperial Bedrooms. Lunar Park was so damn brilliant.

Nothing I really liked this year, otherwise, but I quite liked Bunny Munro. Which totally counts.

Elwood Jones said...

Really surprised to see Chuck Palahniuk's "Tell All" make the list, especially seeing how it was pretty hefty stumble for the once great man.

"Imperial Bedrooms" wasn't the worst thing I read this year, but then I never rated "Less than Zero" amongst his best work, so probably why I wasn't so crushed by this one, even though it wasn't worth the wait.

Picking up on Simon's comment though I would highly recommend "The Death Of Bunny Munro" if you havn't read it already.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Budd: Looking forward to hearing what you think! Liked your piece on WoT btw.

@ Jonny Metro: True story. A lady returned her copy at work so she could buy the one with the Oprah Book Club Sticker on it. Oy!

But the fact that Frazen was kicked out, and has now been readmitted is a rich enough irony to make up for the shame.

@ Simon: I'll definitely take a look at Bunny.

@ Elwood: Er... Elwood, unless I'm smoking better crack then usual Tell All DIDN'T make the list.

I may have read worse books then Imperial Bedrooms, but none were the disparity between what it was and what it could have been was greater.

Biba Pickles said...

Yes, on the Destroy All Monsters, and yes on Scott Pilgrim!