It's been a very good year. I could have added another dozen, but these are the ones which have stuck with me.
The real thing, and better than
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand/ Helen Simonson (2010) Major Pettigrew is a widower whose main concern Is reuniting the pair of guns he and his late brother inherited from their father, that is, until her begins a misalliance with the south Asian widow of a local shopkeeper. The two sensitive and intelligent creatures communicate in a pure and rare way that is more romantic than little else but perhaps the Moyes.
Zuleika Dobson/Max Beerbohm (1926) We all know Zuleika, but not only is she an innocent who cuts her way through Oxford society, she is refreshingly un-selfconscious in a way that presages Bridget Jones and every subsequent novel with a pink cover.
Aga sagas plus
The Truth about Melody Browne/Lisa Jewell (2009) is slowly following Kate Atkinson into the realm of the thriller. I loved this book because the twist is so extreme, I could never have anticipated it.
The Other Family/ Joanna Trollope (2010). Coming on the heels of Friday Nights, I’d say Trollope’s in her prime.
A Winter’s Tale/Trisha Ashley (2008) An adorable romance with a heady Shakespearean twist, sure to be beloved by English teachers everywhere.
The Last Letter from Your Lover/JoJo Moyes (2010). This structurally complex, riveting narrative follows the intergenerational, interrelated stories of an amnesiac. From the South of France to 1950s and current-day London, the book reeks of a romance too real to be puppy love.
Ballads of Suburbia/ Stephanie Kuenhart (2009) If you’ve have a special place for flannel shirts and mosh pits, this is a book you’ll adore. A heartfelt and compelling story framed by an older narrator remembering the fraught incidents of her youth. A realistic depiction of the nuanced nature of female friendship over time, too.
The Hole We’re In/Gabrielle Zevin (2010) The economy sucks. But this family has been living beyond their means for a long, long time beginning when the assistant-principal father went back to school for a doctorate he never finished. The passage describing his advisor’s birthday celebration should be required reading for all graduate students.
Finding H.F./ Julia Watts (2001) The world needs more Southern lesbian YA, and Watts' voice is spot-on. Heavenly Faith and her friend Beauregard are two of the best-drawn teen characters I've encountered in a while.
Dash and Lily's Book of Dares/Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (2010) The third co-authored book from this winsome duo, it beats the Will Grayson any day of the week in my book. From the Glass family to the Strand to the OED, geeks of all persuasions will find much to love in this charming, quirky novella.
Leaving Gee’s Bend/Irene Latham (2010) I read this book twice, and each time Ludelphia became dearer as the heads towards town for the medicine that will save her mother. Latham’s narrative uses dialect and poetry to evoke mythology and folk tradition. A really nice piece of work with faithful attention to and reverence for the places Latham describes. Plus, our teacher book club skyped with Latham, and she was delightful.
Sources of Light/ Margaret McMullan (2010) I think of this as the anti-Help. A book where the depictions of people of different races that manages not to be patronizing or self-congratulatory. This story of a young girl who moves to her dead father’s Mississippi hometown with her bluestocking mother in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. They bear witness to the atrocities of that period.
Nemesis/Phillip Roth (2010) Who knew the story of a polio outbreak in the Newark tenements could be so compelling, and Roth manages it in a book that manages to include a scant few curse words and only a couple of allusions to sex. Is this Roth’s bid for a curricular title?
Quirky Nonfiction & Graphic Formats
French Milk/Lucy Knisley (2007). Knisley draws (and writes) about a month-long trip she and her mother make to Paris after her college graduation. Full of youthful exuberance, true affection for all things Parisian, and a fresh approach to storytelling.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks/Rebecca Skloot (2010) While not the best-written piece of literary nonfiction , this book is all about one woman, her extended family, and the bizarre persistence of her cells. Strangely humanizes the world of cellular biology.
Smile/ Raina Telgemeier (2010) A charming, all-ages graphic novel about the transition to high school.
Nella Last’s War (2006)/ Nella Last’s Peace (2008)/Nella Last in the 1950s (2010)
I have been reading Mass Observation all year. It’s sort of an earlier equivalent of the web diary circa 1998, people just babbling away. My hands-down favorite Mass Observation contributor was Nella Last, and a third volume in her story was published just this October. It’s my dream to go to Sussex and see her papers, though entire months were lost in the archive. Nella’s story has also been turned into a television movie, which didn't quite do her subtle observations of her neighbors justice.