2010 was a good year for me and leisure reading. We were reunited after a very long and difficult separation due to college, grad school, and a small child who didn’t like to sleep. We really missed each other. So much so, that in my first full year of leisure reading since approximately 1996, I read more than thirty books. And that’s not counting the Magic Tree House books, the Little House on the Prairie Books, and the Percy Jackson books that The Kid and I read together.
So what were my favorite reads of 2010? Well, I read about equal parts fiction and non-fiction and here are a few of the best from each camp. Oh, and favorite kid reads will be coming up next week.
Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
Room was such a page turner that I read it in a weekend. Ok, maybe straight through in an 18 hour stretch. It triggered in me that question that I’ve asked myself on many occasions since becoming a parent: How would I have reacted to this book/movie/song, etc. if I had experienced it prior to becoming a parent? In this case, I’m sure my reaction to this book would have been different. As a parent, I had a distinctly unpleasant emotional, and physical, reaction. Don’t get me wrong, it was very good, but I was emotional wreck when I finished it. In brief, the book tells the story of a five year old boy who has lived his entire life in one room, and his mother’s determination to get him out. Ok, go read it.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I let out a small groan when I started this book and realized that it is written as a series of letters. I’ve been disappointed in such books before, but to my surprise this book was a total joy. The letters tell the story of Juliet, a writer from London who corresponds with a group of small town residents on Guernsey Island in the 1940’s, post World War II. Juliet’s story evolves through letters exchanged with her new friends in Guernsey, and with her long time friends in London. The setting is just beautiful (at least in my imagination), with just the right combination of adventure, romance, and a little dose of sadness. I finished this book wanting to be Juliet, or at the very least wanting to plan a trip to Guernsey.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The great thing about reading The Help was that it really made me think about how recently the onset of Civil Rights movement actually was. As a white girl from Southern California, I have to say, a little embarrassingly, that racism and segregation is something that I’ve thought very little about. This book was a real eye opener. Not just to the reality of racism and segregation, but to the freaking laziness of rich southern white women. Good grief.
I’m generally not a person drawn to books on science or medicine; I’m a history nerd. But my two favorite non-fiction books, hands down, were science related. Weird. Maybe I’m a closet science nerd too.
My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor
Like so many of the books I enjoy, I owe my reading of this memoir to an afternoon listening to Fresh Air on NPR. Terry Gross was interviewing brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor about her experience at the age of 37, when she had a stroke on the left side of her brain. I found myself mesmerized by the conversation and dove into the book as soon as I got home that evening. Taylor’s background as a Havard brain scientist contributes to her unique perspective of her experience during the stroke and throughout her recovery. Thankfully, she wrote the book in plain English, giving non-science people a really interesting an enjoyable read.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I also owe this one to NPR, this time to another of my favorite shows, RadioLab. The author, Rebecca Skloot, was on the program and gave a really amazing background on the book, and it’s fascinating and frightening subject, cervical cancer cells. I know, yuck. But the story of these particular “HeLa” cells and how they have impacted medical science is really amazing. Even more amazing, is the story of the woman the cells came from, Henrietta Lacks. I’m not going to say anymore; I will direct you straight to the RadioLab website to listen to the podcast of the episode with Rebecca Skloot. You’ll be convinced to pick up the book, and I’m willing to bet you’ll become RadioLab’s newest fan too.
Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine by Anna Reid
As I’m part Ukrainian, I suppose I’m a bit more interested in Ukrainian history than the average person. And while this book may not be for everyone, even I was surprised that I couldn’t put it down. So if you’re one of those rare people that is looking to learn the heartbreaking, and depressing, history of an Eastern European country that you probably haven’t given much thought, this is the book for you.