Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Best of 2010: Annual Year in Review

Fifty-two 'weeks at the library' have come and gone once more, and like every year I'm taking some time to look back at the year's reading and reflect, mentioning those books whose memory has not faded with time. My return to Trek literature and the discovery of some great authors like Bernard Cornwell, Christopher Moore, Alison Weir, and others marked this year, and with an interesting result:  For the first time ever, I read more fiction than nonfiction: usually, my historical, scientific, and philosophical reading surpasses novels by a good 20%.   This year it's in fiction's favor, though by a scant 3%.   This concerns me a bit, but as I stand back and think, 2010 was just a really good year for fiction.  Usually my fictional reads are isolated things, unless I'm reading a series -- and I plowed through several series this year. I maintained a list of finished books, and with it made this chart, courtesy of ChartGo.com.

In general fiction, the following books in particular stand out:

  • Lamb, by Christopher Moore, a fictional biograpy of Jesus from the viewpoint of his pal Levi, also called Biff. While this is as laugh-out-loud funny as they come, it's also notable for being the most realistic and sympathetic of Jesus I've seen in novels.
  • The Iron Heel by Jack London was one of the first dystopian novels, though now it reads like alternate history and social commentary. London uses his Earnest Everhard character to explain 'the problems inherent in the system' and advocate for change, addressing multiple audiences within the book.  It would recommend to someone curious about Marxist social criticism. 
  • I began reading more of Max Shulman and hold his Barefoot Boy with Cheek in high esteem: though I read four or so Shulman books this year, Barefoot was the closest to recapturing the Shulman magic which so delights me when reading The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis
  • Stephen King's Christine marked the year's creepiest hit. I read it around Halloween while dutifully listening to the 1950s music Christine enjoyed playing before she rode into the darkness to terrorize anyone who got on her bad side. 
  •  The Devil's Punchbowl by Greg Iles continues Iles' habit of emotionally turbulent  southern-gothic thrillers. 
  • I also enjoyed Isaac Asimov's surreal Murder at the ABA

Historical fiction made a strong showing this year thanks to the series I encountered, particularly the Horatio Hornblower Novels, Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories, and Alison Weir's biographic novels. Most notable:

Earlier in the year I started pursuing my goal of getting back into Trek literature, something I've not followed since 2005. Though I began with the familar, as I continued in the various series I discovered some astounding new authors. Highlights:

  • David Mack, of the Destiny Trilogy.  I've heard this series hyped for years and dreaded reading it, but it bowled me over. Incredible.
  • Christopher L. Bennett, for Greater than the Sum, chiefly. Orion's Hounds and The Buried Age were also excellent.
  • Kirsten Beyer, who revived the Voyager series with the stunning Full Circle.
  • William Leisner, whose Losing the Peace followed well in Mack's footsteps. 

Even outside of Star Trek, this wasn't a bad year for science fiction. I read some classics, creating a 'vintage SF' tag for them. H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds and  Michael Crichton's  more modern Jurassic Park were particularly enjoyable. Matthew Stover's novelization of The Revenge of the Sith surprised me, doing a great service by the movie in strengthening its characters and making the drama more purpouseful.

History has always been a staple of my reading diet, and 2010 was no exception. I began reading the Story of Civilization series by Will Durant, but the most impressive books were by other authors.

  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus was far and away the most impressive book in this category, and I'd go so far as to call it the read of the year. It completly changed my perception of how native cultures used the land, transforming it. 
  • Citizens by Simon Schama took a fresh look at the French revolution. 
  • La Belle France by Alistair Horne remains one of the more entertaining light historical narratives I've ever read  -- I described it as a 'romping ride through French history'.
  • Coal: A Human History ended the year on a high point.  

Science reading tended toward the anemic this year, though at the outset I enjoyed David Attenborough's The Life of series.  African Exodus remains the most notable science read: its coverage of human evolution and expansion, particular the chapters on human-Neanderthal cohabitation, fascinated me. I also introduced myself to Oliver Sack's interesting neurological work in The Mind's Eye, and enjoyed a series of humor books grounded in science by Mary Roach.

In philosophy, two books have been on my mind all year: a collection of anarchist and political activist Emma Goldman's writings in Red Emma Speaks, and A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine, which introduces contemporary minds to Stoicism and demonstrates its relevance to the modern world.  The Emperor's Handbook, a modern-English version of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, is also worth mentioning.

I read little social criticism this year, but even in a crowd, Weapons of Satire, a collection of Mark Twain's writings against American imperialism in the Phillipines, would have stood out. James Howard Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere mourns the loss of communities and condemns suburban sprawl and proved provoking.

Blogwise, at some point in late January I made including book covers part of the standard comment-review format, and early in the autumn I began a Shelfari account for the blog.

Thoughts for next year:

  • Trek fiction jumped to the 11th most-used label in half a year, and I predict it will unseat Religion by the early spring and forever claim a place in the top ten. I don't think it will dominate the way it has recently once I stop playing catch-up, though. I am particularly interested in finishing the Titan series and obtaining the Terok Nor trilogy. I understand it features Kira Nerys as a main character, so I cannot possibly resist. 
  • My science reading flagged more this year than last year, so now I'm hunting for books I can buy via Amazon to maintain basic scientific literacy and continue exploring the natural world. 
  • Bernard Cornwell's medieval fiction thrills me to no end: I intend on exhausting my library's supply of his books. 
  • I also want to finish Asimov's Empire series: I've only read Pebble in the Sky. It might also be a good time to read The Gods Themselves  and The End of Eternity, though I'm cautious about reading those, least I run out of Asimov fiction. 


  1. Woo-woo! Love the graphic! Quite impressive.

  2. I'm definitely planning on reading more science this year. My total (and quality) has been pretty poor so far. Maybe we can help each other with ideas?

    Oh, and I'm planning on reading more classics - starting with Jane Austen.

  3. @ Deb Nance: Thanks. :)

    @ CyberKitten

    Idea-sharing sounds good! Here are some of the books I have in mind:
    - The Third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond
    - The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris
    - The Urban Zoo, Desmond Morris (I was half-way finished with this in the spring, but I haven't seen it in months)
    - Demonic Males, a repeated recommendation from a friend about the genetic predisposition towards violence human males are said to carry.
    - The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Green, perhaps.
    - Various books morality as a natural behavior of apes (and thereby, humans) that I've spotted on Amazon. I don't recall any of the titles.

  4. I've read:

    - The Third Chimpanzee
    - The Naked Ape
    - The Urban Zoo

    I too was thinking about some morality/ethics stuff......

    I'm also still alternating with my non-fiction with Very Short Introduction books. I have 3 in the review pile next to my PC along with a few surprises......

    Hopefully it'll be an interesting year ahead....

  5. Frans de Waal is a good author to look into, judging from "Our Inner Ape".

  6. I have that - inevitably. I started reading Apes & Philosophers but after getting about a quater way through I discovered that some pages were missing..... I haven't replaced it yet but found it very interesting.


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