I didn't let that deter me, because I reasoned that the very "best of the best" would rise to the top and would be found on most lists. I would make an effort to read those books, understanding that even some of those titles would fail my own personal litmus test for readability. For those interested in what I look for in a (fiction) book:
- I enjoy books that are "character driven" as opposed to "plot driven". This is not to say that I don't think a good plot is important, but I can read about an interesting character for quite a while, but the best plot with cardboard characters won't keep my interest. Also, really interesting characters seem to draw action to them, and their reactions to whatever life throws at them are the basis for great reading.
- I enjoy books about relationships (again, it's that "character" preference), especially between friends and family members.
- I love books that cover several generations of a family or long friendships, especially between women.
- I love books that help me understand myself or others more completely.
- I enjoy "multilayered" books, where different subplots are germinating beneath the surface.
- I love long books that I can enjoy over several days or weeks. They keep me going on other, less enjoyable tasks; I can always look forward to going back to my book.
- I enjoy books that teach me about history or geography or culture through their characters and settings.
- I love southern literature and authors, but not to the exclusion of other great books and authors.
- I love to read books by Oklahoma authors. It's my homestate and boasts of dozens of wonderful writers, many of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting.
- I love young authors, because they will probably be around to write more.
- I love old (and deceased) authors, because their work is limited and all the more valuable.
Now I don't even have to compile the "best of the best" list myself! The Fiction Award Winners website has a list of the best fiction books of 2010, compiled from many lists, including Amazon, Publishers Weekly, New York Times, Library Journal, Time Magazine, Booklist, and others. I was interested in seeing which of the "best of the best" books I had already read, and which I would probably want to read during the coming months. (I don't apologize for the times I have decided against finishing a book from a "best" list, including a couple which were at the top of everybody's list except mine!)
These are the titles of "best of the best" fiction books for 2010, determined from the lists on which they appeared. (Go to the website for links, summaries, and details on the number and names of the lists.) (An asterisk denotes books I have read.)
*Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
To the End of the Land by David Grossman
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Room by Emma Donoghue
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
Great House by Nicole Krauss
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
The Passage by Justin Cronin
*Faithful Place by Tana French
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
One Day by David Nicholls
The Surrendered by Chang Rae-Lee
*The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart
Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr
The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
*The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates
*Innocent by Scott Turow
Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald
Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
It is not my intent to read through the entire list during the coming year. I do plan to read summaries and reviews of each title, to read many of them, and to weigh in with you on some of them.
I wish you a happy year of reading and invite your comments on this list, your own "best of the year" list, or what you plan to read in 2011. Annie