All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

To make it easier to purchase books you may read about on the blog, I've linked to Amazon.com through The Cats and a Book Bookstore, which is located on the bottom of this page. Your purchases are fulfilled and handled through Amazon. To assure your privacy, Cats and a Book doesn't handle any of your payment or contact information.

Happy reading!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Cats and a Book Names Top Ten Books of 2010

Happy New Year’s Eve! As we look toward 2011, it's time to name my favorite books of the year. Narrowing down the list to ten was challenging, but here are the books I think were most noteworthy:

1. The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. The first book I read and reviewed for Cats and a Book, it remains one of my favorites. The protagonist of the story is Harrison Shepherd, a Mexican-American boy who is a cook, plaster-maker, secretary, and most importantly, writer. He chronicles his life and the book is, in a sense, autobiographical. The reader follows him through interactions with historical figures such as Trotsky, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo, as well as with his mother, father, and secretary, Violet Brown. Kingsolver deals lightly with McCarthyism (Shepherd himself seemed apolitical) and homosexuality, so as to tell a story rather than to persuade. The reader is left to draw whatever conclusions he or she wishes and to decide the moral, if there is one, of the story. Read the full review here.

2. Hot, Flat, and Crowded, by Thomas L. Friedman. Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, spends the majority of the book convincing us how doomed we all are for our gratuitous and reckless use of Earth's natural resources and environment. He cites expert after expert and packs the book with facts like the alarming rate of CO2 growth in the atmosphere, what the analysis of the Greenland Ice Sheet tells us about our climate, and how all we need to do is to step outside our front doors. Daffodils in January? No snow on the mountain tops? Widespread flooding, unusual snowstorms, terrifying hurricanes? All signs of climate change. But the purpose of the book isn't to terrify or debate. It's to inspire America to greatness, to recognize what we need to do--no, must do--to survive in this new climate and thrive. Read more on Cats and a Book.

3. Noah’s Compass, by Anne Tyler. Tyler’s Liam Pennywell has moved down the academic career ladder with each job change, the latest being downsized out of his position as a teacher at a private elementary school. With this last change, he also downsized to a smaller living space. And this is where the book begins: Pennywell is attacked on his first evening there. The resulting loss of memory from a concussion obsesses him. This leads him to an unlikely relationship with a professional "rememberer" and greater interaction with his three daughters and an ex-wife, with their varying degrees of concern for Pennywell's health and happiness and demands for his attention. But Pennywell has plenty of memories which he shares throughout the book, though his inability to remember the attack is like a puzzle he can't solve. Read more about this charming story in the blog review.

4. Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder. Sophie’s World novel centers around fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen who one day receives in her mailbox a letter with three words: Who are you? A second envelope addressed to Sophie asked, Where does the world come from? And finally, a postcard appeared addressed to Hilde Moller Knog, written to Hilde by Hidle's father, which raised the perplexing questions, Who was Hilde? And why was it addressed c/o Sophie Amundsen? Followed by these initial questions and Sophie's ponderings on what they meant, Sophie begins to receive philosophy lessons--short, easy-to-read explanations of philosophical theories. Sophie's thoughts about the material help the reader assimilate the ideas, too, so that Sophie and the reader are progressing together toward a deeper understanding of each philosophical theory. Read the review on Cats and a Book.

5. The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. This fun book to read is an account of author Gretchen Rubin's personal quest for happiness. Rubin suffered from "midlife malaise"--not being unhappy, but not being particularly happy, either. It's not that Rubin didn't appreciate her life. In fact, she was grateful for what she had. But the nagging question remained, "Is this really it?" More disturbing was the recurring answer she provided, "Yep, this is it." Thus, the Happiness Project was born. Rubin studied happiness--what did it mean, how did others obtain it, how is it measured--until she settled on an "I'll know it when I see it" approach. Rubin decided to create twelve "resolutions"--one for each month, except for December, in which she'd attempt to do all twelve. Rubin leaves readers with lots of ideas on how to create and sustain happiness in their own lives. Read more here.

6. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. The Help is a complex story of African American maids and the whites who hired them. Rooted in the deep South during the Civil Rights movement, The Help is written from the perspectives of two of the maids, Aibeleen and Minnie,and Skeeter Phelan, a white woman raised by a maid. The plot centers around the white woman's fledgling journalism career and her attempt to capture the stories of Aibeleen, Minnie, and others. Having been raised by a maid she loved and who was unceremoniously fired by her parents, Skeeter felt empathy for the maids and their working conditions. Although some maids had close relationships, particularly with "their babies" (the white children they raised) many were subject to whims, superstitions, and mistreatment at the hands of their employers. Class within white society is also explored in the book, as Skeeter's project is unveiled and she is ostracized by old friends. Read the full review here.

7. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a lovely book. Charming and funny, Helen Simonson’s first novel is a gem. Major Pettigrew is of one of the older families in Sussex, England, the sort of quintessential British military man characterized by loyalty to one’s country, character, and politeness above all else. He is stung by his only son’s banking career and attachment to an equally ambitious and far too casual American woman (she called him “Ernest” when first meeting him, instead of his preferred “Major”). He is a widower, and the sudden loss of his only brother, Bertie, brings to mind an array of emotions, some of which he hadn’t expected, particularly with regard to the bequest of a hunting gun which matched his own. Complicating his life was Mrs. Ali, a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper who aroused in him an unexpected but not unwelcome passion. A charming book, it is one of my favorites this year, and was selected by One Book of Rutherford County for 2011.

8. The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall. The Lonely Polygamist is a rich, enjoyable novel written by Brady Udall. Udall doesn't attempt to address the real-life tragedies of polygamy, choosing instead to take a humorous and bittersweet approach to the fictional story of Golden Richards, husband to four women and father of twenty-eight children. Golden is a surprisingly sympathetic character. He was raised alone by a depressed and emotionally absent mother. After reuniting with his father, Golden finds religion in the form of a fundamentalist Mormon sect and marries his first wife, Beverly. The demands of his growing family result in a schedule, created by his wives, which determines when and where he spends his time. There's the Old House with one wife and her children, The Big House, with two wives and their children, and a condo across town with his newest wife and her daughter. In addition to the demands of attention from the wives, there are the demands of running three households and meeting obligations for 28 children: band concerts, school meetings, doctors' appointments, and so on. His construction business supports them all, and a recent job building a brothel keeps him away from home much of the week while creating an ironic moral dilemma. Recommended to me by WPLN's GM Rob Gordon, I also reviewed The Lonely Polygamist for the Examiner.com.

9. The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, by Julia Stuart. This delight of a novel features Balthazar Jones and his wife Hebe, who live at the Tower of London. Jones is a Beefeater, or more properly "Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and member of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary." But what he typically did was give visitors tours of the Tower, regaling them with tales of torture and escape, and dutifully pointing out the restrooms. It wasn't a terribly glamorous position, notwithstanding the public's perception and the traditional uniforms, and the living quarters were damp, round (it was a tower, of course)--which made picture hanging and furniture placement dicey--and haunted. When the Queen decides to reestablish the Royal Menagerie at the Tower, the role of its overseer falls to Jones, mainly due to his ownership of a geriatric tortoise named Mrs. Cook. A quirky and charming love story, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise ranked among my top five favorites this year, and reviewed here on Cats and a Book.

10. Run, by Ann Patchett. Ann Patchett's Run is a delight. An interesting story with unpredictable elements and rich and likable characters, Run focuses on the nontraditional story of a former mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle. A widower, he raised to adulthood a biological son and two adopted sons, but finds that his family may not yet be complete. Doyle was a former Boston politician who still had a passion for public service. He and his wife, who were both white, adopted two African American boys, Tip and Teddy, as very young children, in what some criticized as a political move. Just three blocks away from their affluent neighborhood, Kenya Moser lived with her mother, Tennessee, in a apartment project. At the book's opening, a disagreement between father and son following a political speech leads to an accident in which the former mayor and his sons' lives collide with 11-year-old Kenya and her mother Tennessee, leaving the families merged in a unexpected way. The full review of Run can be found here on Cats and a Book.

In my next entry, I’ll briefly describe ten additional books which were also noteworthy and considered for my Top Ten list.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see your list, Diane. Of course I liked Major Pettigrew, and The Help as well. Both Run and The Lonely Polygamist (love that title!) are on my list to read!

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