Here's the 10 Best Books of 2010 from the December 1, 2010 New York Times:
The 10 Best Books of 2010
By Jonathan Franzen.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.
The author of “The Corrections” is back, not quite a decade later, with an even richer and deeper work — a vividly realized narrative set during the Bush years, when the creedal legacy of “personal liberties” assumed new and sometimes ominous proportions. Franzen captures this through the tribulations of a Midwestern family, the Berglunds, whose successes, failures and appetite for self-invention reflect the larger story of millennial America.
THE NEW YORKER STORIES
By Ann Beattie.
As these 48 stories published in The New Yorker from 1974 through 2006 demonstrate, Beattie, even as she chronicled and satirized her post-1960s generation, also became its defining voice. She punctures her characters’ pretensions and jadedness with an economy and effortless dialogue that writers have been trying to emulate for three decades, though few, if any, have matched her seamless combination of biting wit and mordant humor, precise irony and consummate cool.
By Emma Donoghue.
Little, Brown & Company, $24.99.
Donoghue has created one of the pure triumphs of recent fiction: an ebullient child narrator, held captive with his mother in an 11-by-11-foot room, through whom we encounter the blurry, often complicated space between closeness and autonomy. In a narrative at once delicate and vigorous — rich in psychological, sociological and political meaning — Donoghue reveals how joy and terror often dwell side by side.
By William Trevor.
Gathering work from Trevor’s previous four collections, this volume shows why his deceptively spare fiction has haunted and moved readers for generations. Set mainly in Ireland and England, Trevor’s tales are eloquent even in their silences, documenting the way the present is consumed by the past, the way ancient patterns shape the future. Neither modernist nor antique, his stories are timeless.
A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD
By Jennifer Egan.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95.
Time is the “goon squad” in this virtuosic rock ’n’ roll novel about a cynical record producer and the people who intersect his world. Ranging across some 40 years and inhabiting 13 different characters, each with his own story and perspective, Egan makes these disparate parts cohere into an artful whole, irradiated by a Proustian feel for loss, regret and the ravages of love.
APOLLO’S ANGELS: A History of Ballet
By Jennifer Homans.
Random House, $35.
Here is the only truly definitive history of classical ballet. Spanning more than four centuries, from the French Renaissance to American and Soviet stages during the cold war, Homans shows how the art has been central to the social and cultural identity of nations. She meticulously reconstructs entire eras, describing the evolution of ballet technique while coaxing long-lost dances back to life. And she raises a crucial question: In the 21st century, can ballet survive?
CLEOPATRA: A Life
By Stacy Schiff.
Little, Brown & Company, $29.99.
With her signature blend of wit, intelligence and superb prose, Schiff strips away 2,000 years of prejudices and propaganda in her elegant reimagining of the Egyptian queen who, even in her own day, was mythologized and misrepresented.
THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A Biography of Cancer
By Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Mukherjee’s magisterial “biography” of the most dreaded of modern afflictions. He excavates the deep history of the “war” on cancer, weaving haunting tales of his own clinical experience with sharp sketches of the sometimes heroic, sometimes misguided scientists who have preceded him in the fight.
FINISHING THE HAT: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes
By Stephen Sondheim.
Alfred A. Knopf, $39.95.
The theater’s pre-eminent living songwriter offers a master class in how to write a musical, covering some of the greatest shows, from “West Side Story” to “Sweeney Todd.” Sondheim’s analysis of his and others’ lyrics is insightful and candid, and his anecdotes are telling and often very funny.
THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson.
Random House, $30.
Wilkerson, a former national correspondent for The Times, has written a masterly and engrossing account of the Great Migration, in which six million African-Americans abandoned the South between 1915 and 1970. The book centers on the journeys of three black migrants, each representing a different decade and a different destination.
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 8/2010
Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter—environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man—she was doing her small part to build a better world.
But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz—outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?
In his first novel since "The Corrections," Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.
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When Ann Beattie began publishing short stories in "The New Yorker "in the mid-seventies, she emerged with a voice so original, and so uncannily precise and prescient in its assessment of her characters' drift and narcissism, that she was instantly celebrated as a voice of her generation. Her name became an adjective: "Beattiesque." Subtle, wry, and unnerving, she is a master observer of the unraveling of the American family, and also of the myriad small occurrences and affinities that unite us. Her characters, over nearly four decades, have moved from lives of fickle desire to the burdens and inhibitions of adulthood and on to failed aspirations, sloppy divorces, and sometimes enlightenment, even grace.
Each Beattie story, says Margaret Atwood, is "like a fresh bulletin from the front: we snatch it up, eager to know what's happening out there on the edge of that shifting and dubious no-man's-land known as interpersonal relations." With an unparalleled gift for dialogue and laser wit, she delivers flash reports on the cultural landscape of her time. "Ann Beattie: The New Yorker Stories "is the perfect initiation for readers new to this iconic American writer and a glorious return for those who have known and loved her work for decades.
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Little, Brown and Company, 9/2010
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.
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Viking Adult, 11/2010
A marvelous collection from "the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language" ("The New Yorker").
Four-time winner of the O. Henry Prize, three-time winner of the Whitbread Prize, and five-time finalist for the Man Booker Prize, William Trevor is one of the most acclaimed authors of our time. Over a career spanning more than half a century, Trevor has crafted exquisitely rendered tales that brilliantly illuminate the human condition. Bringing together forty-eight stories from "After Rain, The Hill Bachelors, A Bit on the Side," and "Cheating at Canasta," this second volume of Trevor's collected fiction offers readers "treasures of gorgeous writing, brilliant dialogue, and unforgettable lives" ("The New York Times Book Review").
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Jennifer Egan's spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other's pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.
We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist's couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city's demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life--divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house--and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco's punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang--who thrived and who faltered--and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie's catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou's far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.
A Visit from the Goon Squad" is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both--and escape the merciless progress of time--in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.
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Random House, 11/2010
For more than four hundred years, the art of ballet has stood at the center of Western civilization. Its traditions serve as a record of our past. A ballerina dancing "The Sleeping Beauty" today is a link in a long chain of dancers stretching back to sixteenth-century Italy and France: Her graceful movements recall a lost world of courts, kings, and aristocracy, but her steps and gestures are also marked by the dramatic changes in dance and culture that followed. Ballet has been shaped by the Renaissance and Classicism, the Enlightenment and Romanticism, Bolshevism, Modernism, and the Cold War. "Apollo's Angels" is a groundbreaking work--the first cultural history of ballet ever written, lavishly illustrated and beautifully told.
Ballet is unique: It has no written texts or standardized notation. It is a storytelling art passed on from teacher to student. The steps are never just the steps--they are a living, breathing document of a culture and a tradition. And while ballet's language is shared by dancers everywhere, its artists have developed distinct national styles. French, Italian, Danish, Russian, English, and American traditions each have their own expression, often formed in response to political and societal upheavals.
From ballet's origins in the Renaissance and the codification of its basic steps and positions under France's Louis XIV (himself an avid dancer), the art form wound its way through the courts of Europe, from Paris and Milan to Vienna and St. Petersburg. It was in Russia that dance developed into the form most familiar to American audiences: "The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, " and "The Nutcracker "originated at the Imperial court. In the twentieth century, emigre dancers taught their art to a generation in the United States and in Western Europe, setting off a new and radical transformation of dance.
Jennifer Homans is a historian and critic who was also a professional dancer: She brings to "Apollo's Angels" a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice. She traces the evolution of technique, choreography, and performance in clean, clear prose, drawing readers into the intricacies of the art with vivid descriptions of dances and the artists who made them. Her admiration and love for the ballet shines through on every page. "Apollo's Angels" is an authoritative work, written with a grace and elegance befitting its subject.
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Little, Brown and Company, 11/2010
The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt.
Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.
Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and--after his murder--three more with his protege. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.
Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra's supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.
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"The Emperor of All Maladies "is a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence. Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with—and perished from—for more than five thousand years. The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told through the eyes of his predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out “war against cancer.” The book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist. From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to the nineteenth-century recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy to Mukherjee’s own leukemia patient, Carla, "The Emperor of All Maladies "is about the people who have soldiered through fiercely demanding regimens in order to survive—and to increase our understanding of this iconic disease. Riveting, urgent, and surprising, "The Emperor of All Maladies "provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments. It is an illuminating book that provides hope and clarity to those seeking to demystify cancer.
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Stephen Sondheim has won seven Tonys, an Academy Award, seven Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors. His career has spanned more than half a century, his lyrics have become synonymous with musical theater and popular culture, and in "Finishing the Hat"--titled after perhaps his most autobiographical song, from "Sunday in the Park with George"--Sondheim has not only collected his lyrics for the first time, he is giving readers a rare personal look into his life as well as his remarkable productions.
Along with the lyrics for all of his musicals from 1954 to 1981--including "West Side Story, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music" and "Sweeney Todd"--Sondheim treats us to never-before-published songs from each show, songs that were cut or discarded before seeing the light of day. He discusses his relationship with his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, and his collaborations with extraordinary talents such as Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Ethel Merman, Richard Rodgers, Angela Lansbury, Harold Prince and a panoply of others. The anecdotes--filled with history, pointed observations and intimate details--transport us back to a time when theater was a major pillar of American culture. Best of all, Sondheim appraises his work and dissects his lyrics, as well as those of others, offering unparalleled insights into songwriting that will be studied by fans and aspiring songwriters for years to come.
Accompanying Sondheim's sparkling writing are behind-the-scenes photographs from each production, along with handwritten music and lyrics from the songwriter's personal collection.
Penetrating and surprising, poignant, funny and sometimes provocative, "Finishing the Hat" is not only an informative look at the art and craft of lyric writing, it is a history of the theater that belongs on the same literary shelf as Moss Hart's "Act One" and Arthur Miller's "Timebends." It is also a book that will leave you humming the final bars of "Merrily We Roll Along, " while eagerly anticipating the next volume, which begins with the opening lines of "Sunday in the Park with George."
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Random House, 9/2010
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an "unrecognized immigration" within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.