2010 was a pretty good reading year. Strangely, I didn’t seem to review many of the books that delighted me most. I read a ton of books about British women in various types of confinement. Maybe that certain type of dry escapism is what I needed to carry me through my semesters and various infirmities. Two of my favorites were published in 2010: Meeks and Love in Infant Monkeys. Eleven were by ladies. Three were comics. And, with that riveting introduction, here is the list:
Meeks by Julia Holmes
This first novel was a weird surprise. At first I wasn’t sure that I was into it, this book about men with extremely limited options in life, for whom marriage is the ultimate goal, but then I got completely sucked in. Something about Holmes’ details, and the way that the broader story emerges from three characters’ points of view, makes reading this like unfolding a secret message prepared by an origami master—getting to the answer is half the fun.
The book’s design, with its French flaps and lovely cover art by Robyn O’Neil, should also get a shout out. It looks so unusual and compelling that even though I’ve already read it, I keep wanting to pick it up again for the first time.
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
This is a re-re-read. It’s a lovely meditation on old age and death done by a master.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
How, why, did I not write about this British gem when it was fresh in my mind? This was a nasty little book about the horribleness of family and the loneliness that withheld wealth can bring. A huge flood in a small village is central to the plot and Comyns writes beautiful, gory details of rotting, waterlogged nature like no other. Calm yet precise, I loved this book!
Wide Eyed by Trinie Dalton
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
I will admit it here—I have never read any Moomin books. However, Tove Jansson wasn’t a one-comic pony, she wrote in many forms, including novels. This book is a quiet, hypnotic book about time, family and small worlds. I loved it.
China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
The City and the City by China Mieville
A mystery in a divided city, this book was a total treat. Mieville’s usually florid writing is reined in here and it really works. Though the setting, two distinct cities existing in the same geographical area, with the possibility of a third emerging, seems like it could have turned into a blow-me-down political allegory or an exposition nightmare, the author’s character work holds its own. Check it out!
This year I also read Looking for Jake, an uneven collection of Mieville’s short stories. It was interesting to see how The City and the City could have developed from ideas he explored much earlier in a story about feral streets called "Reports of Certain Events in London." In The Scar, which I also read this year, the idea of a living, moving city was taken to extremes. The story was quite different from TCATC, and those with no patience for Mieville’s wordy style would not enjoy it. I read it at the perfect time however—in a sickbed—and was transported.
Norwood by Charles Portis & Amulet by Robert Bolano
Both of these books were gifts from The Prog Lady. I was concerned that her love of old man stories would have clouded her judgment, but both short books were excellent in different ways. Norwood was funny and deceptively simple. Amulet had an amazing main character, a jailed woman who considered herself the “Mother of Mexican Poetry” and a looping pace that challenges ideas of memory and truth.
Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Davis
This book of short stories totally rocked. They each have a central animal presence, but are fully about human inadequacies and excess. And the book was a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction runner up if that means anything to you.
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Being middle-aged and female sucketh, as this book of malignant benignity shows. So, sometimes you need to become a witch.
The usually excellent introductory essays furnished by the New York Review of Books were not represented here. Alison Lurie’s intro was superficial, boring and gives away the entire plot of the story. Read it after you’ve finished the novel, if you must.
Monsters by Ken Dahl
A curious mix of sex ed and autobio, Dahl’s big book on herpes illuminates life with an unpopular disease. The self-loathing infused self-portraits fill the pages alongside facts about herpes and several painful anecdotes about self treatment and relationships after the herp. His hideous visualizations of his body were my favorite part. If only I could express my internal hatred so beautifully! Of course, things straighten out for him in the end, but it is an interesting path to what feels more like a compromise than peace.
Cross Country by MK Reed
I initially picked up the single issues of Cross Country and was super bummed when I found out that there wasn’t going to be a final chapter released. So it took me awhile to pick up the trade but I am really happy I did. Reed’s writing shines here and though the art looks a bit labored, the story of a work-related road trip works really well.
Down the Street by Lynda Barry
Before Marlys and her pals, there was Down the Street, where puffy-haired ancestors of the alternative press darlings played in sadder stories. It’s not quite as smooth and universal as Barry’s later work but it’s a great, instructive read nonetheless.