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The Twelve Books of 2010

Sticky Post. Since it’s irrelevant (and almost unfair) to compare books from different genres (i.e. a mystery with many twists and turns that entertains vs. a literary fiction that is redolent of its beautiful writing), I decide to rid of the ambivalent notion of “best books” and “top 10 books” and instead turn to the extent to which a book makes an impression on me. Of the 82 books read this year, over half of them are favorites. Rereads are not included in the selection pool.

















Death with Interruptions Jose Saramago. As people cope with the crisis by humanizing death to mitigate their fear: calling its name, demanding a frank and open dialogue with death, mocking its treachery, death itself humanizes and gives up her dominion.

Fingersmith Sarah Waters. Waters has downplayed the romance, focusing on the layers of secrets to be revealed carefully. The ingénue of Fingersmith lays in her execution, juxtaposing facts and events that would otherwise contribute to an ordinary tale of chicanery and betrayal.

Molly Fox’s Birthday Deirdre Madden. In one day’s time, Madden prises the well-guarded nutshells of her three characters, the three friends, who are connected mostly deeply through their emotionally charged moments, in which they comfort, console, and communicate one another in career bumps, failed marriage, unspoken affection, and family tensions.

East of Eden John Steinbeck. It is a story about love and how one perceives love. Through a family romance, with betrayal and denial, Steinbeck explores how humans can spend a lifetime trying to decipher their expressions of love. But whether one is really loved sometimes cannot be known. The only love one feels is the love one feels for someone else.

The Meaning of Night Michael Cox. The themes of betrayal, revenge, social status, and moral hypocrisy echo the works written in the historical period in which the novel is set. It ponders on how inherited wealth and privilege have trampled implacably on the claims of common human feeling and family connexion.

Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides. This novel, as lyrical as it is splendid, takes reader through a roller coaster of emotions. On top of human experiences marked by polar opposites, the novel ponders at life when it is deemed outside of normal existence by society’s standard. It explores nature vs. nurture, rebirth, and how one comes to terms to his/her own human identity.

The Imperfectionists Tom Rachman. The novel, in capturing the vicissitude of the diminishing newspaper industry, also affords a myopic, but authentic view of human foibles. The paper’s staff reminds us that imperfection is what makes us human beings. Although they have fears, regrets, secrets, unhappiness, resentment, disappointment, and hurts, life still goes on.

Learning to Lose David Trueba. As they collide and interact under very dramatic circumstances, they come to realize that normality, one that is not prescribed by society with its norms, but dictated by the inner voice of the heart, is the recipe for happiness. In a sense they have to lose what they thought is the most important in order to be happy.

Insignificant Others Stephen McCauley. This novel is a haunting social satire about how we throw our energy in the wrong direction, onto the distractions, onto the pursuits that are insignificant, instead of into the main event of our lives. Ironically, how do we know what is significant? The lack of self-knowledge and cowardice often provoke us to ignore what is significant. That is why discretion becomes acceptable standard of fidelity.

Call Me By Your Name André Aciman. Intimacy is what happens when two beings become totally ductile that each becomes the other. This book doesn’t explore the reason behind this consummate affair nor does it justify the outcome. It gives us a story of two men who have found total intimacy that marks their life, regardless of the paths they have taken afterwards.

The Palisades Tom Schabarum. This novel is about love and healing. Told in alternating perspectives of mother and son, the novel revolves around family—how the loss of sustainable love, for Nick the loss of his mother and for Marjorie her Native American father, inform and predispose their lives. Best debut novel.

A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry. The book is an indictment of a corrupt and ineluctably cruel society, combining sympathy for the poor and the controlled outrage for the corrupted. The struggles of the protagonists, along with absurd ways undertaken by many to scrape a living, hold our attention throughout the novel, where Mistry succeeds in balancing his desire to create a moving tragedy with his strong impulse toward political and social commentary.

It’s been an excellent reading year with so many great, memorable reads. It’s amazing how some of the best books find their way to me at the very end of the year.


26 Responses

  1. Aw! Love to see Molly Fox, Middlesex and East of Eden on the list. Good year, indeed!

  2. Looks like you’ve had a great reading year! I think A Fine Balance is a fabulous book. Several on your list I hope to read next year.

  3. East of Eden and A Fine Balance are two of my all-time favorites. I also loved Fingersmith and Molly Fox’s Birthday (which I never got around to reviewing). You’ve had an excellent year in books!

  4. Great list. I like the idea of judging based on how much a book makes an impression.

  5. I’m excited to see A Fine Balance on your list. I read this one some years ago and it made a huge impact on me. Excellent list that I will have to reference in 2011.

  6. I have read three of those and own four more! Great picks!

    I could read only 96 books in 2010. But that’s ok. I was in a reading slump for more than four months.

    Here are my Best Reads of 2010.

  7. What a fantastic list! A Fine Balance is my favourite book and Fingersmith gets close. I am also a massive Saramago fan but haven’t read that one yet.

    I also loved The Meaning of Night and Middlesex. I hope to read The Imperfectionists soon as it sounds wonderful. Have a great 2011!

  8. in 2009 I read Call Me By Your Name, and as you said, it was a good read. Here’s my review in Chinese: http://memoriesblossom.blogspot.com/2009/09/blog-post_24.html

    I am a big fan of Stephen McCauley and would love to read Insignificant Others, likely in 2011!

    I wish you a happy and healthy new year!


  9. I found it difficult to choose best of the best. Worst of the worst was easier. My Booking Through Thursday.

  10. East of Eden is one of my favorite books of all time. I’m happy to see you loved it too. Happy New Year.

  11. Great list. East of Eden is one of my all time favorites and I can’t wait to read Palisades which I got for Christmas.

  12. Wow, I just saw this Matt! Thanks so much for including me in your list of best books for 2010. Amazing, given the amount of books you read. I deeply appreciate it. I’m working with Books, Inc. to possibly have a reading at the end of February in SF. Stay tuned. Happy New Year!

    East of Eden is a great choice as well. And I’ve just joined Kindle Nation so I’ll be downloading some of your other choices as well.



  13. Great list Mat and well done getting them on before the year’s end! Have a happy new year and enjoy the Stieg Larsson trilogy, definitely one of my favourite reads this year.

  14. second response: sorry I misread your blog and thought I was looking at a list of books you were going to read! You have of course already read the Stieg Larsson. Oh there you go – read the book I am currently diving into: Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz.. She has wonderful explanations for such mistakes!

  15. Molly Fox’s Birthday and East of Eden are definitely on my list of reads for next year! Happy New Year, Matt!

  16. That’s a fine list of books. The only one I’ve read is East of Eden, many years ago. I see several titles I’ll want to add to my TBR list. Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

  17. Oh. I love lists. And this one is so fun. The Imperfectionists made my list this year too. And East of Eden is one of my favorite books of all time. You and I tend to have similar tastes, so I need to check out some of the others on this list. Happy New Year!

  18. A Fine Balance also made my list. Looking forward to reading East of Eden and Middlesex this year. Plus I am getting more and more intrigued by The Imperfectionists each day..

    Happy new year, Matt!

  19. East of Eden was my favorite book of 2010!

  20. […] from A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook (who also writes wonderful posts about independent bookstores in San Francisco) came up with 12 […]

  21. […] by Sarah Waters – Jill of Rhapsody in Books raved about it, Matt of A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook love it. I got a paperback copy, but lets make the commitment to read and keep this by buying a […]

  22. […] and it gave me pause about participating the campaign. I have to select one or two books from The Twelve Books of 2010. It’s truly a tough call to nail a year’s worth of readings down to a few books. The […]

  23. […] Yau, whose well-respected blog, A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook is read widely, placed it on his Top 12 Books for 2010. When I first read his review, I was weeping in the streets since I was reading it off my cell […]

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