Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Warwick's Staff Presents: The Best Books of 2010

Booksellers are a passionate bunch - we've been arguing for the last few weeks about what the "best" books of 2010 are and of course, everyone on staff has a different opinion. While we did take a democratic vote to decide our Top 5 Fiction & Top 5 Nonfiction (see the list at the bottom of this post), it seemed like a good idea to open things up for everyone at Warwick's to offer their personal opinions. Thank God we have a blog, right? So, here are the Best Books read by the staff of Warwick's in the year 2010. Enjoy.

Nancy Warwick, owner: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. As a reader, I love that moment of realization, that electrifying instance, that one sometimes has the pleasure to experience at the very start of a new book.  Whatever qualities one is looking for in a favorite read, it's that occasional, almost immediate, experience of wonderment and anticipation,  and the joy that these feelings arouse, that helps define a favorite book.  Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is my selection for the Warwick's Best Book of 2010.  I was hooked before I finished page one. Set in rural Mississippi, the story is beautifully written, powerful, intensely atmospheric and character-driven.  I couldn't put it down.

Steven, bookseller: I wish I knew what to say about Citrus County by John Brandon. True, it's expertly paced and delicately well-written. And yes it left me more emotionally confused than anything else I read this year. Ultimately, however, the fact that three months after finishing it I inexplicably cannot stop thinking about this book makes it my top choice for 2010.

Joe, General Manager: Who would have thought that looming foreclosure, divorce, and bankruptcy could be so hilarious? Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets is a sometimes sidesplitting, sometimes brutal look at the recession from the eyes of one way-out family.

Phoebe, Office Supplies: The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall - A well written portrayal of a polygamist trying to balance 4 wives, 28 children, his demanding job and his position in the Mormon Church. He has compassion for his family, yet loses sight of his purpose. Another important character is his son, Rusty. He grabs your heart with his desire to be accepted and especially to be loved by his mother. It’s a funny, sad, complicated story, but I was totally compelled to follow the story to the end.

John, bookseller/book buyer: Why the West Rules - For Now - Historian and archaeologist Ian Morris tackles one of the most hotly debated questions in the study of history: what accounts for the global dominance of the West in the modern era? Morris finds his answer by discerning patterns in the long sweep of human history - patterns he depicts through a combination of fascinating anecdotes, exciting narrative, and innovative analyses of historical data. Interdisciplinary and ambitious, Morris’ book not only offers a compelling explanation for the rise of the West but also suggests how the East-West divide might transform over the next hundred years. This is a great book for lovers of big history and a slam dunk for anyone who enjoyed Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Janet, bookseller: It's a tough choice - I read lots of good books this year, but I'll have to choose The Distant Hours by Kate Morton as my favorite novel of 2010. It has everything I love in a plot: a crumbling castle, mother-daughter angst, 3 eccentric sisters, long-lost love AND a mysterious death shrouded in the past. What's not to love?

Susan, Event Coordinator: The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. Lee’s stunning fourth novel is an exquisitely haunting journey of three memorable characters: June Han, an orphan girl in the Korean War; Hector Brennan, a young GI to whom June clings when their paths cross at a Korean orphanage; and Sylvie Tanner, the troubled wife of a missionary assigned to the orphanage. As June and Hector vie for the affections of the beautiful Sylvie, each of the damaged three chart their own odysseys through pain, hope, love, despair, and ultimately surrender. Lee’s poignant and beautiful language masterfully transforms the complex and disturbing world of war into a powerful reflection on the human ability to survive.

Vicki, bookseller: Reminiscent of The Secret Life of Bees, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman is a modern day fairy tale. Cecelia Rose Honeycutt finds herself in a world unlike any she's ever experienced when she goes to live with her Great Aunt Tootie. This book's a perfect read when you want a lift in spirit.

Rob, bookseller/Office Supplies: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart is a tragically hilarious look into the near future. I laughed out loud. A lot!!

Kim, Office Supplies/Gifts: One of the most meaningful books I read this year was Between Me and the River by Carrie Host. Her memoir about her tremendous four-year struggle up the raging river of cancer was brutally honest and surprisingly uplifting and inspiring. Host's great sense of humor makes her unfair daily struggles more than engaging.

Emily, bookseller: The Heights by Peter Hedges. The one book of the year that I am consistently overjoyed to share with others. The Heights is a lovable, funny, and suspenseful story of one couple's lives turned upside down when outside temptation proves just a little too enticing.

Julie, bookseller: The Bells by Richard Harvell is a truly magnificent debut novel. Set in the 18th-century Swiss Alps, this hauntingly beautiful story of a young boy, brutally separated from his mother, raised and betrayed by the monks who swore to protect him, and his ultimate rise as a musico. As compelling as the story is, Harnell's descriptions have you feeling every sound. If you loved Suskind's Perfume, you won't want to miss this - in fact, The Bells is like Perfume for your ears. A story that will stay with you long after the last note is sung.

James, bookseller: At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson - As a fan of asking "why", I rely on Bryson to tell me the story behind the story. At Home makes me take a closer look at the space where I spend over half my life.

Adriana, bookseller: The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard - Family secrets, babies switched at birth, incest, Woodstock, love, agriculture - what more could you get in one book? Also, it's beautifully written and unforgettable.

Heather, bookseller: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly I had three favorite books for 2010, but Revolution was the only book that once finished, I was loathe to read anything else. It's the type of book that you can't put down and can't keep out of your head.

Margie, Office Supplies: Fiction - The Ark by Boyd Morrison was absolutely one of the most interesting novels I've read recently. His style is something like a Michael Crichton/Dan Brown combination that really keeps you guessing throughout. I couldn't put it down! Nonfiction - Susan Casey's The Wave. Wow! Susan takes you on an amazing adventure through nature involving waves of tremendous power. This was a true learning experience that helped me better appreciate the power of Mother Nature.

Jim, bookseller: New York by Edward Rutherfurd is a tale of historical fiction, but the most engaging I have read this year. Intertwined with the major events of New York history, from the founding of Manhattan by the Dutch to the early 21st century, several families are featured. A truly enjoyable book.

Adrian, Book Buyer: My favorite book of the year is It’s a Book by Lane Smith! Why, you might ask, would I pick a children’s book above all the other deserving, finely written books of the past year?! Here’s why - he succinctly captures, with few words and charming illustrations, the current struggle between technology and the printed word. This is a book every book lover should read and share with others.

Rhonda, bookseller/office supplies/gifts: After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties by Catherine Gildiner. This memoir by clinical psychologist and Chatelaine Magazine popular columnist Catherine Gildiner is a fascinating peek into the social turmoil of 1960’s America as experienced by Gildiner and her eccentric parents. Gildiner’s unorthodox childhood and family tragedy made her into an independent and fearless young woman, so she had many adventures both sad and humorous. I enjoyed every chapter (never a dull moment), and I am sure that other readers will also.

Seth, bookseller/website coordinator: Tough call between Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell... but Mitchell - my favorite author - wins out with his majestic, sprawling historical epic of Japan at the end of the 1700’s. While the Shogun is open to trade with the Dutch East India Co., he fears their influence & keeps the foreigners sequestered on the manmade island of Dejima in the middle of Nagasaki harbor. Jacob De Zoet, low level clerk for the Company, is faced with internal corruption and vicious political maneuvering, the delicate balancing act of the Japanese partnership, a daunting language barrier, the mysterious banishment of the woman he loves, the hushed-up financial collapse of his employer, & an imminent attack by foreign invaders, all of which test the limits of his faith - a faith strictly forbidden in Japan on the cusp of the 19th century. Mitchell’s brilliant prose sweeps you along with the flow, always wondering, as a foreigner like Jacob, how much of the lush, inner world of Japan you will be allowed to glimpse.

Erin, book keeper: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - the best (and so far, the only) after-death mystery novel I've ever read.

Barbara, bookseller: Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese - From the first sentence of this incredible novel, I was engrossed by the characters, the setting, and the storylines. It's narrated from the viewpoint of one of the 2 identical twins from the moment of their birth (!) onward. The complex relationship of the people in their lives intertwine to become the most interesting story I've read all year.

Pam, Office Supplies/Gifts: The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer (April 2011) is a very funny and well-written novel about what happens when a high school teacher in a New Jersey upper-middle class town decides to put on Aristophanes's Lysistrata - an anti-war play about Greek women who refuse to have sex with their partners - and all hell breaks loose.

Cindy, Office Supplies/Gifts: I haven't read too much this year. But in all that I have read the one that stands out is The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. Much better written and more informative than I expected from the Clueless Girl. Learned a lot.

Jolene, Gifts: The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd - I loved the main character (FBI agent Steve Vail) and I can't wait for the second installment. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The Top Ten Books of 2010 as voted on by the booksellers of Warwick's:
Fiction: The Heights by Peter Hedges, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, and It's a Book by Lane Smith.
Nonfiction: The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey, Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant, Why the West Rules - For Now by Ian Morris, and At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.

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