As the year comes to an end, here is a look back at 10 of the most notable books reviewed in The Inquirer in 2010.
"Freedom: A Novel" by Jonathan Franzen
(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $28)
. Jonathan Franzen's story of a Minnesota couple and their marital misadventures is a sharp-eyed dissection of this thing we call love. "A tour de force,
should secure Franzen's reputation as one of the finest novelists of his generation," wrote reviewer Glenn C. Altschuler. "Like [his earlier novel]
, this black comedy combines social criticism and political satire."
"Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War" by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25). Stories about men at war have been around since the days of Homer, and Karl Marlantes' debut novel is an impressive addition to the corps. Reviewer Mark Bowden called Matterhorn "a rich, fine, powerful story told with excruciating precision about men driven to extremes of fear and courage."
"Mr. Peanut" by Adam Ross (Alfred A. Knopf, $26). Adam Ross turns a formidable literary talent on the battleground of marriage to produce a finely wrought and challenging piece of art. "This is a beautifully written, brilliant, extremely clever, major work," wrote reviewer John Timpane. "Every page contains a comely sentence or phrase."
"Parrot & Olivier in America" by Peter Carey (Alfred A. Knopf, $27). Inspired by Alexis de Tocqueville's celebrated sojourn in the United States in the early 1830s, Peter Carey has given us a story of young America, seen through the eyes of a fictional French visitor, Olivier de Garmont, and his English servant. Reviewer Kevin Grauke described the book as "a bifurcated, picaresque adventure of the first order, complete with tempting damsels, nefarious forgers, arsonists, and a mysterious one-armed man."
"Private Life: A Novel" by Jane Smiley (Alfred A. Knopf $27). Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley tracks the unraveling of an ill-made marriage over the course of nearly half a century. Reviewer Sandra Scofield wrote that "none of her novels has been as ferociously feminist as this portrait of a woman suffocated by marriage with a man of distorted intellectualism and cold self-absorption. . . . Private Life is a story of immense originality and insight."
"Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West" by Stephen Fried
. Local author Stephen Fried tells the story of Fred Harvey, who helped tame the Wild West with good food served by crisply dressed "Harvey Girl" waitresses. "Fried is a relentless researcher and a gifted storyteller," wrote reviewer David Haward Bain, who praised Fried's book as a "magnificent tale of America coming of age, told with mastery and a lively sense of humor."
"Colonel Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris (Random House, $35). Teddy Roosevelt didn't just fade away when he left the White House in 1909. Morris takes us along for TR's eventful last years, which the ex-president spent hunting, traveling, politicking, and becoming perhaps the most famous man of his day.
"Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory" by Peter Hessler (Harper, $28). You never really know a country until you drive through it, and New Yorker Beijing correspondent Peter Hessler did exactly that when he set out to drive the length of the Great Wall in 2001. His account of that trek and other Chinese highway adventures is a great introduction to contemporary China. "Although books about contemporary China generally have had a limited audience in the United States, [Country Driving] may go a long way toward redressing this situation," wrote reviewer Charles Desnoyers.
"Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea" by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, $26). Los Angeles Times Beijing correspondent Barbara Demick paints a harrowing picture of bleakness and sheer misery as the daily lot of North Koreans. "Demick . . . takes us inside the minds of her subjects, rendering them as complex, often compelling characters - not the brainwashed parodies we see marching in unison in TV reports," wrote reviewer Frank Langfitt.
"The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today" by Ted Conover (Alfred A. Knopf, $27). They just don't write 'em like this anymore, which is too bad. Reviewer Rick Bass writes that Ted Conover's book on far-flung roads and the people who travel them "is an old-fashioned piece of thoughtful journalism and travel literature, the kind of book that is increasingly rare, perhaps even on its way to extinction: meditative yet fact-filled, and with the breadth of ambition to cover a fair amount of the globe in its reporting."