That time of year for Sank to start thinking about the best of 2010. Why? Why not. Oh, and as you’ll figure out pretty damned fast, it’s not books that came out in 2010, it’s books I read in 2010, and that matters. In this space anyway.
As many of you know, I’m a serious media hound. I consume a boatload of music, video and books. Well, I think it’s a boatload. When it comes to music it certainly is. When it comes to books, Mrs S kicks my butt, but I’m trying to get better and spend more time reading.
It’s the right thing to do.
I even stopped driving into the office this year so I could ride the bus and, yes, enjoy even more time for reading.
So dear readers, here it is. Sank’s BEST OF 2010. First edition- the written word.
First of all, a good reading list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t call out my good pal Ken Wedding in Northfield MN. Ken writes Reading Blog and has no end of good recommends for great books. He’s also among the nicest people that I’ve ever met. Ken might be the one person who reads more than my wife. He’s retired too. (oops did I say that) Only down side, Ken doesn’t do a lot of SciFi. He’s like my bride in that way, keep it real.
I also want to call out one of my favorite small businesses in Minneapolis, and frankly, the world- Once Upon A Murder. This is the classic book store experience. They operate out of basement of a 1920’s era apartment at 24th and Lyndale just down from Uptown. The owners over there flat out know their stuff and are always happy to make recommendations. We don’t get over there too often because we can’t seem to leave the store with less than $100.00 in books. We make it twice a year, about the time we (she) needs to discover a new author or book.
So here’s my list for the top books, and some bad ones that I read in 2010. Enjoy and I’d love to hear your comments.
Have to start with this, I LOVE historical fiction novels, along with SciFi, my favorite genres. That being said, Ken Follett could be the premier historical fiction novelist I’ve read. This book is one massive tomb, but it’s a serious page turner. Don’t start it unless you’ve got a few days to stick with it. World Without End picks up a hundred years or so after Kens last big medieval book, The Pillars of the Earth, which chronicled the building of a cathedral over the course of several generations. This novel returns to the same town and church and deals with the politics of the church, the nobility and builders about the time the Black Death comes to England. The changes in society brought by the plague are profound as England is restructured by the loss of most of her population.
Since a large percentage of the folks I work with are Indian, and like to understand people culture, and again Historical Fiction being a favorite, when this one won accolades all over the place, I had to pick it up. Sea Of Poppies is a rich story, extremely well written, and frankly a work of art. The story is set in the early 1800’s, the background is India and the opium trade. The book is technically about the Ibis, an opium trading ship that is outfitted to take indentured servants to Mauritius. The Ibis becomes a refuge for cast of characters who are all escaping circumstance on the high seas.
This book was fantastic. Ghosh does a remarkable job creating the atmosphere of India in the time of Raj’s. I really enjoyed reading his accounts of the lives if his characters and the pictures he painted of the Indian countryside. One down note.. he uses a great deal of language from the period, and even though a little glossary is provided, I found myself thumbing back there to look up a lot words while I was reading, which was a bit distracting. Still, a tiny price to pay for such a magnificent story.
This one came to my via NPR. Venkatesh, was a PhD candidate in sociology at the University Of Chicago, figures out a way to imbed himself into a working street gang in Chicago’s notorious Robert Taylor Projects. (Which btw, are demolished now). This is some fascinating stuff, a view into a world that most lily white middle class fat pasty American’s have no idea exists. The book covers Venkatesh’s experiences with the gang over the course of several years. It covers the complex relationship between the local gang leader, JT, his crew and the community the live and operate in as they deal crack and police their building.
The amazing thing is just how JT manages his operation, from eliminating competition, managing supply chain, controlling risk and working with the tenants in his community to mange their day to day needs. Seriously, the picture Venkatesh paints of JT, violent sure, but at the same time a very astute businessman with a instinctual understanding of markets and leadership.
It’s a very very quick read and, like I said, fascinating.
This one has been on my reading list for about.. oh two decades or so. Finally got around to it this year. This is one fantastic SciFi novel. A huge object enters the solar system, at first it’s mistaken for a giant asteroid, but as it approaches Jupiter’s orbit an unmanned space probe identifies the object as being a space ship of some kind. A massive space ship mind you. This is earths first encounter with extra terrestrial anything and investigation party is quickly put together to survey the object when it approaches Earth. On the ship the scientists discover another world with in a giant cylinder. As the object approaches the sun, it comes to life but, we never learn the purpose or the origin of the object. Eventually the object slingshots it way around the sun out into space and we’re left more questions that answers, except one big answer, we are not alone.
This novel sort of reminds me of the old computer game, Myst, where you walk around an island looking at stuff, but nothing actually happens. Same thing, but Clarke is a fantastic writer in this genre and this novel really held my attention and asked some great questions.
5,6 & 7- The Uplift Series- David Brin
Three books in one, the first three books in the Uplift Series. Like the last one, these have been on my list for a long time, maybe a decade or so. These are on everyone’s list for great science fiction, and I had great expectations for them, maybe a bit to great. I thought they were excellent, but not earthshattering.
I thought the first book in the series, which ironically was written last, was the best. Followed by Uplift War and then Startide.
The premise of the Uplift Series is awesome. Species across the galaxies are discovered by patron species and are “uplifted” over the course of millennia to sentience via genetic engineering. Eventually the “client” species become space faring races and uplift their own clients. It’s a process that has been going on for billions of years.
The one exception in the universe are the Humans. In the Uplift universe, Humanity is an enigma, they achieve spaceflight, seemingly without assistance of a patron race. The universe is at odds how this occurred, traditionalists assume that there must have been patrons (Von Danikinists) vs. those who believe the humans are wolfings, proof that some species can evolve on their own (Darwinists) Oh, and along the way the Humans have Uplifted Chimpanzees and Dolphins to the point where they’re highly intelligent and have the ability to travel in space and colonize their own worlds.
The status of races is determined by the number of species they’ve uplifted and since humans did it before contact with other aliens, when we’re discovered, we go right to the head of the class, to the chagrin of many older established galactic races.
These are good books, don’t get me wrong, and I plan on reading the second trilogy this year. They say a lot about racism in general, fighting the status quo and go to some length to disparage tradition and fanaticism. If you like sci fi.. probably a must read.. if you don’t like the genre, this isn’t going to be for you. Reading about space ships piloted by dolphins and eminent scientists who are chimpanzees is going turn you off, as it does my wife. Still…
This is a very interesting book about the world of art theft written by a retired FBI agent who was, at one time, the only federal agent responsible for investigating the theft of fine art in the United States. Wittman relays some awesome stories about how ever ran sting operations to recover some of the worlds great masterpieces.
9 and 10) Genghis- Conn Iggulden
Books one and two of Iggulden’s Genghis trilogy chronicling the rise and reign of histories greatest conqueror. Iggulden is a very well know author in the historical fiction department. Prior to this work he wrote a trilogy about Romans that I’m told was excellent.
These two books are very good, very detailed and fascinating. Remembering that this fiction I found them very entertaining. I don’t know much about Genghis and his history but from what I’ve gathered from these books, it is the ultimate rags to riches story, greased with a lot of bloodshed.
I haven’t read the last book in the series yet, that’ll be the first book I get to in 2011, but these were so good that I had to include them here.
I was only going to do 10, but since five were series, I’m adding one more, because I liked it so much and because this is my blog. There ya go.
This is an awesome leisure time read, this is a good mystery, which in this case has some really awesome twists and turns. This was one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while. Perry does a really good job with the plot development, although towards the end he does kind of “jump the shark” a bit as the plot sort of goes over the top. Still, highly recommended if you’re in the mood for a thriller/mystery novel. Perry is one author on my short list to try another of his works.
Since my little fly fishing trip up on the U.P. I was itching to read these short stories by Papa about Nick Adams and his travels and coming of age in Michigan’s north country. I’m not going to add much to the body of work already written about these stories other than this., Typical Hemmingway, strong protagonist who is damaged in some way by his surroundings who spends his life in search of his manhood.
The background of most of these stories are some of Michigan’s great streams and forests of which I have become acquainted with in the last couple years. Sort of neat except this in some cases the location of the places isn’t correct.
But what the hell, it’s Hemmingway. The writing is unmatched, the tapestries of Papa’s words as he creates characters and scenes is classic. That’s why they call this literature people. I loves me some Hemmingway and I love the outdoors so, it was time very well spent for me.
This has to be one of the most unusual pieces of historical fiction I’ve ever read. This one about the fall of Jessie James and the infamous Northfield bank robbery. It is very different each chapter is written in the first person narrative of one of the participants in the actual robbery, both criminals, hero’s. While at times the plot was a little hard to follow, as in who is this and what was their role? It is an excellent account of the events in Northfield and as far as I could tell, very accurate. I liked it a lot and strongly recommend it. (disclaimer, Northfield is one of my favorite places to visit and I’d love to live there someday)