Standout Reads of 2010

Not necessarily written this year, just the ones that popped for me of those I read.


  • Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada (a German couple find a way to resist the Nazis) 
  • The Informers, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (the legacy of Nazi Germany tears apart a modern-day Bogota family)     
  • Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman (I blogged about this earlier)
  • The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt (not summed up well in the jacket copy; it’s about the role of fantasy in the Victorian/Edwardian era)
  • The Outlander, by Gil Adamson (a woman flees across the frontier…it could have been better, but it was startling and beautifully written)
  • Lightning, by Fred Stenson (another gorgeous, literary western with plenty of action)
  • The White Mary, by Kira Salak (Heart of Darkness in Papua New Guinea, only without the racism, with a female protagonist)
  • The Fall of a Sparrow, by Robert Hellenga (beautiful, philosophical novel, the kind we used to read in high school and didn’t think was being written anymore, only without the ponderous style)
  • Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout (gripping, moving portrait of a singular woman, drawn via linked short stories)
  • The Stone Gods, by Jeannette Winterson (as it has been, so it will be…talk about the wheel of fate…thought-provoking and darkly amusing)
  • Castings Trilogy, by Pamela Freeman (not your run-of-the mill fantasy series…explores the question of how an indigenous population, much abused, might rise up and reclaim its continent after having been conquered, um, about 500 years ago)
  • The Steel Remains, by Richard K. Morgan (another in-your-face fantasy novel—totally macho Aragorn-like character who is flamingly gay… terrific pathos) 
  • Parable of the Sower, and Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler (re-read… visionary novels about climate change/economic collapse and what it might take to guide people to adapt; you can’t go wrong with Butler)


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  • The Black Hole War, My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the Universe Safe for Quantum Mechanics, by Leonard Susskind
  • War, by Sebastian Junger
  • Acedia & Me, A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, by Kathleen Norris
  • The Killing of Crazy Horse, by Thomas Powers
  • The Bipolar Child, by Demitri Papolos M.D. and Janice Papolos
  • I’m Looking Through You, Growing Up Haunted, by Jennifer Finney Boylan
  • Trotsky, by Robert Service (sure puts the lie to Barbara Kingsolver’s simplistic and trite treatment in Lacuna)
  • The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter 
  • The Unthinkable, Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—And Why, by Amanda Ripley
  • Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton (re-visited after about 15 years…funny that 15 years ago I wouldn’t have hesitated to try to get a personal essay published reflecting on this work. Now, in the age of the Internet, I’d be worried about how speaking so honestly might affect my professional relationships and even some of my friendships. It’s kind of weird. Maybe it’s because back then I was more financially secure as an at-home mom and a writer, whereas now I need my day job. Perhaps in another five years I won’t care again. Let’s hope.) 


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  • New Collected Poems, by Eavan Boland
  • Birth is Farewell, by Dilys Bennett Laing (I admit I’d never heard of her, though she was extremely well published in her day…found this in a used bookstore in Olympia. I’m guessing Plath was trying, not too successfully, to be Laing, early-on.)
  • The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart, by Deborah Digges (though I read it years ago, I also recommend Digges’s memoir about raising a challenging son as a single mom, The Stardust Lounge)
  • “Bad Mood on Earth Day” (chapbook available from Imaginary Friend Press) by Harriet O. Leach


I’m probably missing a couple of great reads because I’ve loaned them out or I got them from the library, so they aren’t on my shelves, triggering my memory. Sorry about that.