A Year in Books

Last night, I fulfilled one of my (admittedly geeky) New Year’s resolutions for 2010: I read 60 books in a year. Welcome to grad school! Granted, not all of those books were for class, but the bulk were at least inspired by my pursuit of a MFA degree and/or teaching career. My absolute favorites:

* Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller, the most remarkable book about communism/ totalitarianism imaginable. It was considered a major upset when Muller won the Nobel in 2009, but I can’t fathom a more worthy contribution to world literature. A must-read.

* Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, a graphic memoir about a lesbian who learns her father is gay only days before he gets struck and killed by a truck. Bechdel spoke at NonfictioNow a couple of months ago and totally stole the show. This is a phenomenal read.

* The Emigrants by W. S. Sebald, a knock-out novel consisting of four devastating portraits of Jewish emigres

* Bluets by Maggie Nelson, a slender book of meditative essays on the color blue. Way sexy.

* Trespassing by Uzma Aslam Khan, a sweeping novel of contemporary Pakistan with a cast of characters that includes everyone from bus artists to gay freedom fighters to silkworm farmers

* So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell, an achingly beautiful novel about memory and friendship on an Illinois farm in the 1920s

Here is the complete list, in the order they were consumed:

1. Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski

2. I Remember by Joe Brainard

3. My Father and Myself by J. R. Ackerley

4. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (Volume I, anyway! Someday the full set… I hope.)

5. Stories of Anton Chekov, compiled and translated by Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear (Can I just say, Chekov is life-changing? Seriously. Life. Changing.)

6. Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in Maximum Security Prison by Lorna Rhodes (for an essay I was writing)

7. So Long See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell (loveliness!)

8. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (one of the many classics I had to go to grad school to read)

9. Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson (insightful glimpse of the Beats, from a woman’s perspective)

10. The Lover by Marguerite Duras (a favorite of many nonfiction MFAs; great for ideas on form)

11. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (a slow start but extraordinary finish)

12. About a Mountain by John D’Agata

13. Truth in Nonfiction, edited by David Lazar (a good read if you’re interested in the topic)

14. Tell Me True, edited by Patricia Hampl and Elaine Tyler May

15. Best American Essays of the Century, edited by Joyce Carol Oates (okay, okay, I just skimmed this one)

16. The Emigrants by W. S. Sebald (gorgeous!)

17. The Next American Essay, edited by John D’Agata (great place to go to appreciate the infinite possibilities of essay writing)

18. Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion

19. Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote (why do I feel guilty for disliking this one?)

20. Lost Origins of the Essay, edited by John D’Agata (can you tell I’m at Iowa?)

21. How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard (not that I’ve ever done that!)

22. Bluets by Maggie Nelson

23. Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss (her essay ‘Is This Kansas’ is a slam dunk)

24. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (I can’t read DFW without getting weepy, can you? Am still mourning his loss. ‘Shipping Out’ is one of my all-time favorite essays.)

25. Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King (for an essay I was writing)

26. Dirty Secret by Jessie Sholl (a memoir about the daughter of a hoarder, written by a wonderful friend of mine. It will be hitting shelves this month, so check it out!)

27. My Family and Other Animals by Gerard Durrell (a delightful memoir I read on the same island it takes place: Corfu, Greece)

28. Writing True by Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz (one of the many creative nonfiction anthologies I consulted while drawing up my syllabus)

29. The Art of Truth, edited by Bill Roorbach (the best of the bunch)

30. Creating Nonfiction, edited by Becky Bradway and Doug Hesse

31. Creative Nonfiction, edited by Eileen Pollack

32. Truth of the Matter by Dinty Moore

33. The Art of Fact, edited by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda

34. The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate

35. Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater (worth reading for her letter to her publishing house at the very end!)

36. The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick

37. Tinkers by Paul Harding (well-worth the Pulitzer)

38. The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany

39. On Writing by Stephen King

40. The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolano (I know, I know: I should be reading 2666! Give me time.)

41. The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith (the first of several books on pedagogy)

42. Maps by Nuruddim Farah (another book I felt guilty about disliking)

43. To Live by Yu Hua

44. The Attack by Yasmina Khadra

45. Reading Student Writing by Lad Tobin (another book on pedagogy)

46. Trespassing by Uzma Aslam Khan

47. Nothing to Declare by Mary Morris

48. Grammar Lessons by Michele Morano

49. Meeting Faith by Faith Adiele

50. Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller (serious tour de force!)

51. Performance in Student Writing by Thomas Newkirk (yep: pedagogy)

52. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (brilliant!)

53. Palestine by Joe Sacco (equally brilliant!)

54. Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothomb

55. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (luminous!)

56. Amexica by Ed Vulliamy (which I’ll be reviewing for the Los Angeles Review of Books)

57. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose (has its moments!)

58. What It Is by Lynda Barry (crazy-beautiful)

59. The Fourth Genre, edited by Michael Steinberg and Robert Root (preparation for class next year!)

60. Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola (ditto)

I hope to round out the year with Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America. Will keep you posted…

And now for you: what were your fave reads of 2010?


  1. You beat me. I only read 55. I also wrote the first 14 chapters of my memoir, but I wasn’t in grad school. I am revising this much of it now and then moving on toward the end. I haven’t decided exactly where that will be yet. It will probably never get published but writing it has been an educational and at times tiring adventure. Do you teach again next semester? Good luck in all your writing and travels.

  2. Thank you for sharing a great list. I’ll be checking out some of what you read in 2010. Although I haven’t kept track of everything this year, here are a few:

    1. On Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau. A must read for me every year.
    2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Hysterical and cute.
    3. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn rocks.
    4. Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist by Alexander Berkman. Unsettling. Enigmatic. And somehow it works.
    5. Of Love and Evil by Anne Rice. First novel I’ve read by her. I liked it.
    6. And Then They Were Nuns by Susan J Leonardi. Good, refreshing read.
    7. Son of Hamas by Mosabe Hassan Yousef. Much of what the author writes about, I can’t begin to understand (as he points out early on) but I feel obligated to try.

    I enjoyed your blog. Wish I could be in Jackson Hole in June. Cheers!

  3. Baltazar Arispe y Acevedo, Jr.

    Best wishes Stephanie on your writing and your training. You continue to amaze us all. The following is my partial reading list of books I read in 2010.

    The Millennium-Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, which consists of: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

    Craig Johnson’s Western Pulp Fiction Series, which includes: Kindness Goes Unpunished, Death Without Company, The Cold Dish, and Another Man’s Moccasins. You have to be from the west to truly appreciate Johnson’s characters and their Rocky Mountains Ways.

    Jane Ziegelman’s 97 Orchard. A historical tour of New York City’s diverse ethnic cuisines and their influence on American society.

    John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza. For the dye-in-the-wool football fan who also loves pizza and all things Italiano.

    George Foreman’s The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. Yes, the Americans in Arizona will be willing to pay Mexicans a bonus to come back to work in their fields and industries. Interesting read for those that want to understand what is going on en La Frontera.

    Reza Aslan’s No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam. Recommended by my beloved son, Christopher, who reads everything within sight.

    Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything. Another Christopher reference and go to know about food and what makes it good and what makes it bad.

    Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Reminds me of Anne Frank meets Lisel Meminger.

    David M. Oshinsky’s Polio: An American Story. Hard to read since I lost many friends to polio who were with me at the Shriners Hospitals in San Francisco and Shreveport. A winner of the 2006 Pulitzer for History.

    Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World, which should be, required reading for those of the political view that they are the only real Americans. So what now?

    Luis Alberto Urrea’s Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border. Required reading in my Diversity in America Course. Good reading for those who do not understand the Borderlands of the southwestern states that share a border with Mexico.

    Ramon Saldivar’s The Borderlands of Culture: Americo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary. Had to have my Webster’s Dictionary besides me to truly appreciate the academic discourse that Saldivar presents on how Dr. Paredes saw the world that is actualizing itself daily on the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo and along the deserts that divide Mexico from the USA. An amazing book which straddles many intellectual perspectives about how Don Americo saw Mejicanos as never been either or part of Mexico or America. WOW!!

    Ron Chernow’s George Washington. An amazing read of a work that has many valuable primary resources. Makes me appreciate the American side of my heritage and gives me an understanding of an uncommon hero who was willing to be executed and lose all of his worldly possessions in the pursuit of liberty.

    Tom Clancy’s Dead or Alive which is another multi-tiered plot driven work of a response to terrorism in the modern world. You have to like Clancy to enjoy this book.

    I managed to read ten other books in my academic discipline of organizational leadership and demographics. I might get more reading done if I purchased a Kindle but I love the sound of paper and constantly losing my bookmarks. I am certain that someone would find my Kindle in some airport lobby as I have a tendency to lose electronic instruments.

    Baltazar Arispe y Acevedo, Jr.,
    Brownsville, Texas
    December 25, 2010

  4. Thanks for this wonderful list, Stephanie! I can’t wait to read some of your recommendations. The most fun I had reading in 2010 was when I was overseas and had some free time and couldn’t get my hands on any books in English except Jane Austin–so in the space of about a week I got totally lost in Mansfield Park, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility–so much more fun than the movies!

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