At the end of another year come all the mandatory reflections. Did I keep any of my new year’s resolutions? Am I happier now than I was last year — smarter, wiser, kinder? Did I make an effort to change my life in some positive way?
Or, you know, did I read enough books?
This year marks my third annual recap of the books I devoured in one year’s time, and this year’s tally stands at 85. Last year I awarded top honors to Justina Chen Headley’s North Of Beautiful; Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter Of Maladies; Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief; Megan McCafferty’s Second Helpings; and Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets. I think I chose well — especially since the details of each of those novels are still crisp, clean and accessible to me — more than a year later. I loved them now as I loved them then.
I can only hope I’ll choose so well moving forward.
In 2010, my reading diet expanded greatly to include many advance reading copies and other novels I might not have picked up on my own — and I’m grateful for their appearance in my life. One of my top choices, Margaret Dilloway’s How To Be An American Housewife, was a review copy sent from Goodreads. As I’m often stingy about buying hardcovers, I might not have grabbed this one on my own . . . and I would have missed out on one of the most compelling reads of the year. I’m grateful that it landed in my mailbox.
This year, I read less young adult fiction than I did the year before — and more historical and women’s fiction, two of my favorite genres. Though I became busier in 2010 and felt like I was making less time to hunker down with a good book, I still managed to finish 86 novels — down only three from 2009.
In 2011, I want to concentrate on reading more of what tickles my fancy and less what I feel “obligated” to crack open. It will be The Year I Read Whatever I Want — within reason, of course! I have plenty of review copies in the queue and am looking forward to serving on the literature panel for the Indie Lit Awards. Beyond that? Well, I’m going to be completely subject to my own whims and fancies.
And without further nonsense from me, I bring you . . .
Meg’s Top Five Reads of 2010
1. Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s Life After Yes
As I wrote in June, “Every now and then, a novel like Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s Life After Yes finds its way into my life, and it’s moments when I’m reading a book like this — where I feel like my own face is reflected back at me — that I experience what I can only call literary magic.”
Six months later, those words are still true — and Rowley has only further endeared herself to me with her fresh, realistic dialogue and a protagonist with whom I could so sincerely relate. For all her quirks and craziness, I love Quinn — and I have the distinct impression that Life After Yes will be a book that I will grow to love more with each re-read. And it’s definitely one I’ll be opening again in the future.
Tell your sister, tell your girlfriends, tell your coworkers — for me, this is The Book. I loved it, pure and simple. It’s my Top Read of 2010.
2. Margaret Dilloway’s How To Be An American Housewife
There aren’t too many books that reduce me to tears in the middle of public places, but Dilloway’s glowing, masterful How To Be An American Housewife was one such book. I
In July, I divulged: “If it’s any further proof of my love, too, I completed Housewife on a long lunch break from work. I desperately wanted to finish it just as much as I didn’t want it to end. I wound up returning late to my desk, shame-faced and tearful, after the conclusion of an exquisite story.”
That’s right, friends: this book made me late for work. If you’re seeking a story about love and loss, the identity we create for ourselves and the one others craft for us, family, hope, grief and hope . . . well, it’s all here. I’ve shared this book with almost everyone I know.
3. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help
I suppose the inclusion of this best-seller comes as a shock to no one, but all the glowing items written about The Help are, in fact, true. Despite its size and weight, I couldn’t put this one down — and actually carried it everywhere for days, including on my way to a blind date in the spring. It occurred to me that my would-be love interest might think it was strange to see me walk up with a fat hardcover, but I figured that if he didn’t get just how into books I was, he probably wouldn’t be for me. (He wasn’t, and I met Spencer a few days later — everything works out.)
Maybe it was because Skeeter, a writer and woman who dreams beyond her world right now, reminded me of the best possible parts of myself — or the parts I hope to be. Maybe it was Stockett’s colorful, memorable characters, or the flawless way in which she wove so many alternating stories and voices together. Perhaps it was the compelling arc of this storyline — and the painful reminder of America’s less-than-just past.
Whatever the reason, The Help has earned a forever spot in my heart — and in my bookcase. Share it and discuss it, then see what changes for you. It’s an inspiration and, for Stockett, a triumph.
4. Robin Brande’s Fat Cat
It’s hard for me to believe I read this book back in February; the details are still so sharp. For all her struggles with weight and her feelings about Matt, the “object of Cat’s ire (and secret desire?),” Cat was someone I would have loved to chat with, walk with, learn from. She’s a realistic, compelling and positive role model — a truly awesome character to get to know.
Fat Cat is one of the most original and memorable young adult novels I’ve ever read, and one I hope to share with my own kids someday. It’s also a great example of the amazing work that can come from the YA community — and the perfect book to hand to a skeptical adult questioning why you, a full-fledged adult yourself, would be reading books “for kids.” It’s not about what’s “for kids” — it’s about books that strike a chord, are well-written, change lives. And this? This is good writing.
5. Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School
For as much as I enjoy eating, books and hot guys, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School satisfied me on all levels — plus, I got the happy ending I so crave in stories. With each new novel, Melissa Senate proves to me again why she’s quickly becoming one of my favorite authors — and I closed her latest book with a hankering for a steaming bowl of pasta and a kitchen of my own.
As I wrote earlier this month, “Since beginning this warm and engaging novel, I’ve been dreaming of tiramisu, spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, lasagna and ricotta cheese. As someone who feels she must have been Italian in another life (pasta, I love pasta!), the odd stains scarring the pages of my copy may or may not be drool. The prose was just . . . scrumptious. And Senate describes Holly’s creations so well, you’ll want to throw this one down and make dinner every time you finish a chapter.”
I couldn’t agree with myself more.
Most Surprisingly Awesome
Julie Hearn’s Rowan The Strange
When I first learned I’d be reading Rowan for the Nerds Heart YA tournament earlier this year, I was pretty much horrified. I mean, look at that cover. It’s so creepy and awful. And when I read the synopsis — a story about a disturbed teen sent to live at a mental hospital during World War II — my wariness only increased. What had I gotten myself into?
Well, I’d gotten myself thick into Rowan Scrivener’s world — and what an amazing place that turned out to be. While this wasn’t always a pleasant or feel-good read, Rowan The Strange is definitely a book that will go down in history as Proving Meg Wrong About First Impressions. We’ve all been advised to “not judge a book by its cover,” but I’d never realized how true that was until this book. Though hard to find in the U.S., I promise it’s worth the hunt. And Nicole, my partner in the competition, agrees.
David Nicholls’ One Day
Oh, expectations: they can really ruin you on books. Like The DUFF, my runner-up in this category, I went into this novel with such high expectations for greatness. In the end? Well, I wound up angry, disappointed and borderline disgusted. I felt like I’d wasted my time and money, to be honest, and the only reason I didn’t score this one lower than a three — my lukewarm rating that should be accompanied with a shoulder shrug — is because Nicholls is, for better (Starter For Ten) or worse (One Day), a brilliant writer.
And the reason I chose this title as my “Most Overhyped” over, say, Kody Keplinger’s book? Well, at least I could see where other readers were coming from with The DUFF and why they enjoyed it while I loathed it. When it comes to One Day, I seriously missed the boat. I’ll be frank: I just don’t get why people love this book. I truly don’t. (And if you’re in the “rah rah, this book is awesome!” camp, I hope we can still be friends.)
Book I Enjoyed In Spite Of Myself
Lindsey Kelk’s I Heart New York
Reading the first 30 pages or so of Kelk’s debut novel, I thought, “Okay . . . here we go with this again.” It seemed implausible to the point that it was ridiculous, and it never really got any better. Everything about it felt cliche and over-the-top, including the effortless way in which the main character achieved her wildest dreams . . . and landed a hot guy, of course.
But as much as I wanted to dislike this one, I really couldn’t. It was wildly entertaining and good for a few laughs, plus I really identified with Angela’s personal column and attempts at making it in the city. Plus, having gone to New York in May, I really loved seeing the city again — and through the eyes of a Brit. It wasn’t a perfect book by any stretch, it was still a good read. And I’ve been conducting a clandestine love affair with that cover since October.
Book That Awakened An Obsession
Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Day The Falls Stood Still
So I’m a teeny bit obsessed with Niagara Falls. I visited for the first time when I was in college, then again in August with Spencer. It’s a place I think about often, dream about, read about — and one I’d nearly forgotten until I read The Day The Falls Stood Still, a moving and melancholy look at a woman’s life on the shores of the famed waterfalls. After I finished, I was eager to consume anything I could find about the natural wonder . . . and when I found out that my new boyfriend was from the Niagara area, you can bet I was plotting a way to find myself up there soon. I loved it — and this lyrical novel.
Book That Made Me Glad I’m Out Of High School
Katie Finn’s Top 8
Back in the stone ages — or, you know, the ’90s and ’00s — email and the Internet were still a relatively new concept. No one had ever heard of Facebook or MySpace; in fact, neither had been invented yet. If we wanted to get in touch with our friends, we had to join an after-school club or group, like drama or cheerleading, then call home to talk to our buddies on our families’ land lines. I got my first cell phone when I was learning to drive at 15, but I never even turned the thing on. We were all safe in the bubble before texting and Twitter. And as much as I love those things, I consider that “the good ol’ days.”
Reading Finn’s Top 8 was enough to make me writhe in awkwardness. The opportunities for humiliation online are endless — especially when you’re communicating with tons of people you actually “know.” I’m glad I avoided all that, let me tell you. And darn if my kids will be all up on The Facebook (or its 2027 equivalent) someday.
Most Likely To Get You In Your Car En Route To Anywhere
Morgan Matson’s Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour
The perfect summer (and beach) read, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour had me wanting to sit around making mix tapes and traveling the country with a good-looking stranger — all while crafting a new life apart from the lonely one I may have led on a different coast. “Engaging, touching and ultimately hopeful,” it’s a book I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a fun story to remind them about the restorative powers of travel . . . and true friendship.
Craig Thompson’s Blankets
If ever there were a book perfectly capturing the obsession, euphoria and eventual debilitating loss of first love, it’s Thompson’s Blankets, a hefty graphic novel that cracked my heart in two. Though rarely one to read a graphic novel in the past, it’s the sort of book that really makes you change your misconceptions about other genres. At least, it was definitely that way for me.
Even now, a year later, looking at the cover makes me happy and sad at the same time. Much like thinking about love we’ve lost and learned from — even when it hurt.
Not to be all melodramatic, but you know — losing your first love sucks. And Thompson knows that. And then sketched it. I cried and cried.
Other books I loved in 2010 . . .
• The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn
• Friday Mornings At Nine by Marilyn Brant
• I Remember You by Harriet Evans
• Lost by Jacqueline Davies
• The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek
• Get Lucky by Katherine Center
• The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek
• The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly