Must Reads: Best Fiction From 2010

Here is a list of the books mostly recommended for the year 2010 as collated from scouring the internet, rather than from book seller lists and whatnot. These are the books that bloggers, forum posters, and everyone else sharing online have mentioned. Most of these are by American authors so next year on the first Monday I plan on doing a Must Reads for Australian books from 2010.

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

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.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

The Ask: A Novel by Sam Lipsyte

When Milo Burke, a balding, slope-bellied “donations” officer at a minor New York university, has a disastrous run-in with a rich undergraduate, he winds up on the unemployed scrap heap. Grasping at odd jobs to support his wife and young son, he’s offered one last chance: he must reel in a potential donor – a major “Ask” – who, mysteriously, has requested his involvement.

It turns out that the “Ask” is Milo’s sinister college buddy Purdy Stuart, and the “give” won’t come cheap. Before long Milo finds himself serving as a queasy mix of factotum, bagman, client state and sounding board to Purdy, who assigns him the task of delivering hush money to his secret illegitimate son, a legless and spectacularly embittered Iraq War veteran…

Can Milo win back his job, reclaim his manhood and do justice to his marriage, or is he destined to chug down the gurgler, becoming yet another sad statistic of modern-day America?

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

Two seriously injured people arrive at the emergency ward of the Sahlgrensa hospital in Gothenburg. One is the wanted murderer Lisbeth Salander who has taken a bullet to the head and needs immediate surgery, the other is Alexander Zalachenko, an older man who Lisbeth has attacked with an axe.

In this third novel in the Millennium trilogy, Lisbeth is planning her revenge against the men who tried to kill her, and even more importantly, revenge against the government which nearly destroyed her life. But first she must escape from the intensive care unit and exculpate her name from the charges of murder that hangs over her head.

In order to succeed with the latter, Lisbeth will need the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist. He is writing an exposing article that will shake the Swedish government, the secret service and the whole country by its foundations. Finally there is a chance for Lisbeth Salander to put her past behind her and finally there is a chance for truth and justice to prevail.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Jack and Ma live in a locked room that measures eleven foot by eleven.  When he turns five, he starts to ask questions, and his mother reveals to him that there is a world outside.

Told entirely in Jack’s voice, ROOM is no horror story or tearjerker, but a celebration of resilience and the love between parent and child.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

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 neighbour 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 ′a very different kind of neighbour′ — an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street′s attentive eyes?

The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

Hector Brennan was a handsome GI stationed in Korea during the war. June Han was a girl orphaned by the fighting. For a season of wartime existence, their lives overlapped at a missionary-run orphanage.

Now, thirty years later, they are reunited in the United States in an unusual mission that will force them to come to terms with their individual experiences of that time, but also the secret they share.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Why does Skippy, a fourteen-year-old boy at Dublin’s venerable Seabrook College, end up dead on the floor of the local doughnut shop? Could it have something to do with his friend Ruprecht Van Doren, an overweight genius who is determined to open a portal into a parallel universe using ten-dimensional string theory?

Could it involve Carl, the teenage drug dealer and borderline psychotic who is Skippy’s rival in love? Or could “the Automator”—the ruthless, smooth-talking headmaster intent on modernizing the school—have something to hide?

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart.

Brady Udall tells a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an affair that threatens to destroy his family’s future.

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Fate takes many forms. . . .

When Henry receives a letter from an elderly taxidermist, it poses a puzzle that he cannot resist. As he is pulled further into the world of this strange and calculating man, Henry becomes increasingly involved with the lives of a donkey and a howler monkey–named Beatrice and Virgil–and the epic journey they undertake together.

Great House by Nicole Krauss

For twenty-five years, a reclusive American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young Chilean poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police; one day a girl claiming to be the poet’s daughter arrives to take it away, sending the writer’s life reeling. Across the ocean, in the leafy suburbs of London, a man caring for his dying wife discovers, among her papers, a lock of hair that unravels a terrible secret. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer slowly reassembles his father’s study, plundered by the Nazis in Budapest in 1944.

Connecting these stories is a desk of many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or have given it away. As the narrators of Great House make their confessions, the desk takes on more and more meaning, and comes finally to stand for all that has been taken from them, and all that binds them to what has disappeared.

Rocks In The Belly by Jon Bauer

Rocks in the Belly is about a precocious eight-year-old boy and the volatile adult he becomes. During childhood his mother fosters boys, despite the jealous turmoil it arouses in her son. Jealousy that reaches unmanageable proportions when she fosters Robert, an amiable child she can’t help bonding with. Until the bond triggers an event that profoundly changes everyone. Especially Robert.

At twenty-eight the son returns to face his mother. He hasn’t forgiven her for what happened to Robert. But now she’s the dependent one and he the dominant force — a power he can’t help but abuse.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

‘Off the record, who is it?’
He hesitates.
‘I don’t see why you need to know.’
But he does see, of course. ‘It’s my son.’
Their chuckles are audible over the speakerphone. ‘Are you serious?’

Lloyd Burko is having troubles with his sources, with his technology at the paper, and with his family. Deadline is closing in and he is falling apart. The Imperfectionists is a novel about the quirky, maddening, endearing people who write and read an international newspaper based in Rome: from the obituary reporter who will do anything to avoid work, to the young freelancer who is manipulated by an egocentric war correspondent, to the dog-obsessed publisher who seems less interested in his struggling newspaper than in his magnificent basset hound, Schopenhauer.

With war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the climate in meltdown and bin Laden still in hiding, the paper has plenty to fill its columns. But for its staff, the true front-page stories are their own private lives. As this imperfect bunch stumbles along, the era of high terror and high tech bears down, the characters collide, and the novel hurtles toward its climax…

Point Omega by Don DeLillo

Richard Elster was a scholar — an outsider — when he was called to a meeting with government war planners, asked to apply “ideas and principles to such matters as troop deployment and counterinsurgency.” We see Elster at the end of his service. He has retreated to the desert, “somewhere south of nowhere,” in search of space and geologic time. There he is joined by a filmmaker, Jim Finley, intent on documenting his experience.

Finley wants to persuade Elster to make a one-take film, Elster its single character — “Just a man and a wall.” Weeks later, Elster’s daughter Jessica visits — an “otherworldly” woman from New York, who dramatically alters the dynamic of the story. The three of them talk, train their binoculars on the landscape and build an odd, tender intimacy, something like a family. Then a devastating event throws everything into question

Bound by Antonya Nelson

Catherine and Oliver, young wife and older entrepreneurial husband, are negotiating their difference in age and a plethora of well-concealed secrets. Oliver, now in his sixties, is a serial adulterer and has just fallen giddily in love yet again. Catherine, seemingly placid and content, has ghosts of a past she scarcely remembers.

When Catherine’s long-forgotten high school friend dies and leaves Catherine the guardian of her teenage daughter, that past comes rushing back. As Oliver manages his new love, and Catherine her new charge and darker past, local news reports turn up the volume on a serial killer who has reappeared after years of quiet.

5 thoughts on “Must Reads: Best Fiction From 2010

    • You should have seen how many were on the list to start with and I hadn’t heard of the majority. There’s so many books out there, even when it comes to popular ones. Sometimes it boggles the mind.

  1. The thing about best of lists is that it always highlights to me that there are so many great books I haven’t read yet, despite the fact that I read voraciously and I read cross genre! Of these I have read The Passage and the Larsen books. I had Room and Visit from the Goon Squad out from the library at certain stages during the year.

    • I’m the same, I always find more to read when making these lists or reading other people’s lists and sometimes it can be a little surprising even when you expect it.

      How’d you find The Passage? My mum has it and I keep meaning to borrow it from her. I have the Larsen one on my shelf and have heard pretty good things about Room. Did you like it?

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