In order to write about them for The Oregonian, The American Interest and other publications, I read a fair number of brand new books in 2010. Nevertheless, I can’t make an honest top-ten list. Here are six that truly stood as exceptional:
- Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow (Alfred A. Knopf)
- Kevin Canty’s Everything (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
- Don DeLillo’s Point Omega (Scribner)
- Charles Goodrich’s Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden (Silverfish Review Press)
- Randy Robert’s Joe Louis: Hard Times Man (Yale University Press)
- Richard Williams’s The Blue Moment: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music (W.W. Norton & Company)
The short list reflects my tendency to read roughly proportional amounts of fiction and nonfiction. I probably read more poetry in 2010 than in most years, and Goodrich’s small volume was my favorite of several contenders.
The year 2010 saw new books by authors I once thought of as reliably remarkable – Christopher Hitchens, Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera – that I found disappointingly inferior to their earlier efforts. I could name several very good but not quite excellent books. Here’s one: George Kimball and John Schulian assembled a fine collection of boxing-related poems in The Fighter Still Remains. A few years earlier, however, Robert Hedin and Michael Waters edited Perfect in Their Art, an anthology containing much of the same material – and a great deal more.
This leads to the Achilles heel of year-end lists: the absence of the great older stuff. While I read many books published during 2010, I also read many from other years, which are automatically disqualified from “best of” contention but deserve mention all the same. I reread some classics, like Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. (I also read several books about Mailer, but these weren’t so good.) I also finally got around to some wonderful books I should have read much sooner, such as Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. If I were to list the ten books I most enjoyed during 2010 regardless of publication date, the four named in this paragraph could be added to the six above.