The Sunday Salon: 2010 in Review

It’s the last Sunday in 2010, so you know what that means—it’s time for my annual top ten list, taken from the books I’ve read this year, not books only published this year. (I don’t think I’ve even read ten books that were published in 2010.) Here’s last year’s, if you’re so inclined. I have to admit, having an entire year to pull from (as opposed to last year, when I had about four months’ worth of sparser reviews to pick through) made things a bit difficult; there some books I wanted to include, but ultimately ended up deciding against. If you’re interested in what I left off the list, feel free to rifle through the 5 and 4.5 Stars subcategories under Ratings. That said, let’s dig in.

10. Extra Lives by Tom Bissell

As a girl reared on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a game whose story stills awes me to this day, I’ve always had to take a deep breath when video games, as an medium, are brushed aside. Yes, they can definitely do better, but the medium has so much potential. Extra Lives explores this by applying critical analysis to video games, and the results are great—helped, of course, by Bissell’s wickedly funny voice. However, the ending sort of shoots the book in the foot and Bissell’s definition of gamers excludes women, which naturally didn’t sit well with me. Still, there’s plenty here to expand your mind when it comes to video games.

9. The Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee

The Gaslight Dogs is one of the more original titles I’ve read this year; it’s hard to boil down to a sentence. Imagine an Inuit woman with a magical gift forced to survive in an alternate Civil War-era America by teaching her gift to the son of a general—but it’s more complex (and different) than that. That’s why it’s fairly low on the list; it’s still fantastic, but the learning curve is steep. And yet, it’s totally worth it.

8. Nothing like the Sun by Anthony Burgess

I’d never read any Burgess before this year, and I was pleasantly surprised when I had to pick this up for my Race in Shakespeare class. The language is gorgeous, the intertextuality is subtle enough that you can enjoy the novel either having read Shakespeare or not, and, as a novel whose subtitle is “A Story of Shakespeare’s Love-Life”, it’s sensuous and never vulgar. Like The Gaslight Dogs, accessibility is an issue, but it’s very worth it.

7. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Having read the entire Austen canon this year, I obviously had to include her on my top ten list. I have to admit, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel—yes, I know, predictable—but I think Northanger Abbey is the best of Austen’s novels; everything is sparkling, sarcastic but not spiteful, and the hilarious narrator makes up for the coziness that can plague Pride and Prejudice. As Austen’s shortest novel, I also find it her most accessible.

6. The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa

What is easily the most unique graphic novel I reviewed this year is also the most memorable. I recognize in Don Rosa the same fannish ways that I find joy in, as he discusses the love and care that went into each story. In a way, it’s the ultimate fannish dream, fitting together canon beautifully and harmoniously, as Don Rosa works from the stories of Carl Banks. And the Ducks (and McDucks!) are surprisingly human, especially Scrooge, whose journey I loved. And, of course, it’s funny in that all-ages way, as opposed to funny in that childish, pandering way. Fantastic!

5. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon

Having loved Michael Chabon’s fiction, I knew I would love Manhood for Amateurs; to see the glories of fandom rendered in Chabon’s magnificent prose? That had to be fantastic—and it was. In “A Woman of Valor”, Chabon elaborates on his love for the comic book character Big Barda in a way that’s familiar to anyone who has ever loved like a fan. But Chabon also explores masculinity, love, and his very self in equally beautiful and powerful ways. It’s quite a tour de force, much like Chabon’s other work.

4. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith is a book you ought to pick up knowing the bare minimum about it—a con is compromised in Victorian England when the conwoman falls for her female mark. There’s a sucker punch waiting for you, and it’s so worth it. It’s also a ridiculously rich novel, deep with sparsely beautiful imagery and well-written, distinctive characters. I really can’t recommend it enough; I’ve got Tipping the Velvet at home right now, I was so impressed by Waters’ work.

3. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

I was utterly blown away by A Game of Thrones. It’s sprawling but organized, with a cast of distinctive characters that are never simply good or evil, but fully rendered human beings. It’s quite an achievement, and I look forward to the HBO miniseries (although Lord knows when I’ll be able to watch it).

2. The Sundering by Jacqueline Carey
Banewreaker, Godslayer

Jacqueline Carey’s The Sundering—the duet composed of Banewreaker and Godslayer—is phenomenal. This year, I really enjoyed fantasy deconstructions such as The Unwritten and The Magicians, but Carey takes on Tolkien himself, taking his world and lovingly deepening it, making each character well-rendered and complex and each decision a difficult one. I was utterly blown away.

1. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King

Do I really need to say anything? It’s the greatest fantasy epic of our time, the one that created modern fantasy as we know it. I won’t call it flawless, but, like (to be totally honest) The Lion King, it’s one of the those works that I can’t conceive the world being without.

My family traditionally celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve; we like to sleep in, and our schedules are always notoriously spotty. It was nice, although it ran very late (for me). Naturally, I got several books for Christmas (and gave several books for Christmas!); I received A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin from myself, the staggering Cooking by James Peterson from my mother (which is, I believe, what is known as a hint), as well as The Island of Lost Maps and Eugénie Grandet. (Incidentally, Eugénie is one of my favorite names, although I loathe the Anglicization Eugenia.) I spent most of Christmas reading and watching BBC America—for once, the Doctor Who Christmas special was aired on Christmas! Perhaps they can pick up the pace with series 6, eh?

Allie at Hist-Fic Chick is giving away a copy of A Royal Likeness until December 31st. HarperCollins is giving away a copy of the 60th Anniversary Edition of The Chronicles of Narnia until January 1st. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

What were your favorite books of 2010, and how have your holidays been going?

21 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: 2010 in Review

  1. I missed your review of Extra Lives, so I’m very glad you brought it to our attention again. I’m so getting it for my boyfriend on his birthday (and then borrowing it, because Bissell IS dead wrong about girls and video games).

    Quite a few of these are on my wishlist because of you. I think the one I want to read the most is The Gaslight Dogs.

  2. After my fantasy fails this year, I’m going to try to be much more choosy about the fantasy I attempt, and your endorsement of the George R.R. Martin encourages me–and your description of the Carey has me interested. I think I missed your review of that. Must investigate further…

    • A Game of Thrones is quite good, and you’re in a good position for The Sundering, what with the The Lord of the Rings readalong and all. They both share the same spot on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism—very cynical—so you may want to space them out.

  3. I tend to agree that Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is accessible, short, and entertaining, but for perfection of style I prefer Emma. So, everyone wins: the enjoyment of both youthful and mature writing.

  4. A Game of Thrones and the rest of the series makes me incredibly depressed that George R. R. Martin isn’t progressing in the series. What worse agony for a reader than being in perpetual limbo? I’m not even sure if I can stomach the miniseries lest all that finally suppressed disappointment comes back. 😦

    I do have to get around to the Carey, though. I feel bad for not keeping up with her work!

    Love the list, so thank you for this neat wrap-up. 🙂

    • He’s currently at work on the fifth one—I know, I know, he’s been working on it for years—and I have a sneaking suspicion that the fifth book’s release will be tied in with the miniseries.

      I’d never read her before, although now I’m curious! I’m really glad people are going to read it; it really deserves a lot of attention.

      You’re quite welcome!

  5. I’ve only read The Lord of the Rings (which I really liked) and Fingersmith (which I did not) from your list. It’s fun to see that others I’ve added to my TBR list based on your reviews have made it onto your Best of 2010 list!

  6. Pingback: Booking Through Thursday: Annual Review « The Literary Omnivore

  7. I looooove NORTHANGER ABBEY! It’s my favourite Austin. I go crazy over the obsessive book love and the decidedly un-Gothic Gothic adventures.

    I really want to read THE GASLIGHT DOGS, too. I’ve heard good things about it from a few people, and it sounds really interesting.

  8. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: January 1, 2011 » Semicolon

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