Thursday, January 20, 2011

Great Reads from 2010

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.  A fantastic book which is a a series of freestanding short stories that together create a novel. The writing is magnificent and highly readable. Egan experiments with new forms, including an entire chapter written in a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation.  The New York Times selected it as one of the five best fiction books of 2010.  Her PBS interview is below.

Room by Emma Donoghue.  The voice in this book is powerful. It is the story, told from a child's perspective, of a boy and his mother being held captive in a room. The child (our narrator) is born in captivity and believes that this room is the entire universe. His mother creates an entire world for him and through him we see her stength and power. It is impossible to put this one down.  It was one of the 2010 Man Booker prize finalists.  The book trailer is below.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.  This was labelled as "THE" book of 2010. It made a huge prepublication splash, helped by Franzen's appearance on the cover of Time and photos of President Obama with a reviewer's copy on his Martha's Vineyard vacation.  Franzen is an incredible writer. The book lived up to the hype. The story itself is about a Midwestern family and the concept of freedom. It is very hard to summarize the plot but trust me it is a great book.  A recent interview with Franzen is below.  He comes across as reserved.  The writing is anything but.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.  This was one of my favorite finds of the year.  In each chapter, Rachman tells the story about different people connected to a struggling Roman newspaper printed in English.  The characters are imperfect and their struggle is great to read.  I'm looking forward to his next book.  Rachman should have a bright future.  The NYT review was one of the first and could not have been more generous and dead on.

The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.  If you haven't read these (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest), you have missed the publishing phenomenon that rivals Harry Potter.  Larsson was a Swedish writer who died young, leaving these manuscrips behind.  These books have become a literary sensation worldwide and have been mainstays on every bestseller list throughout 2010.

These are thriller mysteries. The writing is fine.  What makes these amazing is the storytelling.  Larsson packs a lot of punch in these books. In these books, Larsson attacks Swedish society, the abuse of women, sexuality, technology and the freedom of the press.  If you haven't read these, you should.  They are great beach / long winter night reads.

The Dragon Tattoo is a free standing book.  The last two continue with the same characters but are really just a single story.

There is a fourth manuscript that exists but it is stuck in litigation between Larsson's family and his long time girlfriend.  NYT story here.  The Swedish movie trailer is below.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart.  This is a satirical look at life in the near future.  China runs the world.  People are attached to the network, constantly monitoring their coolness factor and credit rating.  It is an excellent book and hysterical.  In June 2010, Shteyngart was named one of the top 20 writers under 40 by New Yorker.  Book trailer below.

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