Because I love books and because I love lists, I have decided to highlight my favorite books from the past year. The following books are not strictly a list of the best books published in 2010, rather, a list of the best books I read in 2010. I hope you enjoy them too!
- Best Non-Fiction — Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman
I'm a bit of a criminal justice nerd, having studied the subject in college. Because of that, I enjoy reading the books and writings of prisoners. (In fact, I help catalog some of those writings in the Prison Book Program's blog. Though it hasn't been updated in awhile, new posts are coming in the new year!)
I discovered Orange is the New Black at a local library's list of newly-released books and immediately signed up to borrow it. I've since bought my own copy, as Piper Kerman's book is the kind of memoir I like to have on my shelves. The book details Kerman's year-long stay in federal prison, 10 years after a drug crime. Various reviewers have touched on a variety of themes in the book, but what touched me the most was Kerman's discussion of books. Being an educated woman with a vast network of family and friends, Kerman was lucky enough to have a steady supply of reading material, which she shared with fellow inmates. The fact that most prisons and prisoners do not have the luxury of abundant reading material, is tragic, as books are an easy way for inmates to educate themselves. Additionally, inmates who are busy reading are not busy getting into trouble. Kerman's book is a fascinating look at what life can look like behind bars.
- Best Non-Fiction Audio Book — The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum, narrated by Coleen Marlo
This book is brilliant. Due to a limited selection of books on CD at my local library, I grabbed this one, not knowing what I was in for. It turns out, I was in for a treat! The Poisoner's Handbook is a well-written (and well-read) account of the history of 20th-century poisoners and forensic science. The book details the most widely-used and effective poisons/poisoners of the early 20th century, and documents the history of New York City's first medical examiner and toxicologist who devoted thousands of hours and thousands of dollars to determine how to identify poisons in the body, ultimately bringing poisoners to justice.
The book is interesting and scientific without being full of jargon. With stories about poisoners and the medical examiner's office, the book is suspenseful and reads more like a novel than a text book.
- Best Fiction — The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those books that some people loved and others couldn't get into. Count me as one person who loved it.
The book is narrated by Enzo, a golden retriever who is waiting to be reborn as a man. In the meantime, he is a wonderful friend and protector to Danny, his owner, and the family that Danny eventually has. The story is simplistic, in that the whole thing is told from the dog's perspective, but the simplicity does not detract from the story's beauty. This isn't just a book for dog lovers, but it will probably resonate even more deeply with anyone whose dog has become a member of the family.
- Best Fiction Audio Book — The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, narrated by Jeff Woodman
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a "murder mystery" (a neighborhood poodle has been found dead) told by a 15-year-old boy with autism. The story is beautifully poignant, as the narrator, Christopher, tries to overcome his social issues while he attempts to solve the dog's murder. Everything Christopher does is methodical and follows his many rules and arbitrary habits.
My heart broke a little at least a dozen times while listening to this book because Christopher is trying so hard and his struggles and triumphs are so beautiful. The book is wonderful to listen to, as the reader makes the story come alive. Having not read the paper copy of this book, I do not know if the beauty of the story shines as brightly on the page as it does in the audio book, but I recommend trying it to find out.
- Best Young Adult Audio Book(s) — Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
I read a great deal of young adult fantasy novels because I find the genre so wonderful. (And, for that very reason, I will not be choosing my favorite Young Adult book of the year — I simply can't choose from so many!) I love the wizards, mystical creatures, and dystopian worlds so often found in young adult books.
The Harry Potter series is no exception. This year, I discovered the Harry Potter audio books, and while I've read the hard copies (a few times, actually), the audio books are even more outstanding. Narrated by Jim Dale, the books come to life on CD. The characters have their own voices and intonation that is so vivid, I actually thought I had seen a Harry Potter movie that I hadn't; I had, in fact, only listened to the audio book.
Even if you've already read the series, I recommend listening to the Harry Potter audio books as well; they add a whole new depth and dimension to the stories.