Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Our favorite reads

The books of 2010, fiction and nonfiction, that Inquirer staff loved.

STERLING CHEN / Staff Artist

It's a "Best of 2010" list. It's a shopping list.

However you want to use it, here's a roundup of books that members of the Inquirer staff read (and liked) in 2010. Most were published during the last year. - Michael D. Schaffer, Inquirer books editor


"Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling" by Eben Weiss (Chronicle, $17). Snarky cycling blogger Eben Weiss skewers various velo trends - mocking fixed-gear hipsters and offering a nifty little history of the bicycle in the process. A smart, laugh-out-loud-funny book for anyone with a passion for cycling.

- Steven Rea, movie critic and cyclist

"Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff (Little, Brown, $30). In this elegantly written biography, Stacy Schiff strips away the romantic, sexist gauze of myth obscuring Egypt's last pharaoh. What's revealed is a woman even more amazing than her myth.

- John Timpane, features editor and writer

"Composed: A Memoir" by Rosanne Cash (Viking, $27). The Grammy-winning songwriter's beautifully perceptive account of her stormy childhood with dad Johnny Cash, her recording and touring career, and, yes, her brain surgery. A book about a legendary American music family, but also a book about family - includingCash's husband (producer/musician John Leventhal), who stands by her side as she endures a neurosurgical nightmare.

- S.R.

"The End of Wall Street" by Roger Lowenstein (Penguin, $28). This account of the global economic meltdown is an epic. Fortunately, it's a tightly written, reader-friendly epic. Lowenstein can explain in plain English what a CDO is, and why it matters. You won't be any less angry about what happened to the economy, but you'll have a better grasp of what you're angry about, and who is responsible.

- Rhonda Dickey, assistant business editor

"Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime" by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (Harper, $28). Sure, we know how the 2008 election turned out, but that doesn't make this account of the presidential campaign any less gripping. It's filled with public and private drama, nuanced portraits, and the kind of pacing that keeps you up late reading.

- R.D.

"Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin" by Hampton Sides (Doubleday, $29). A fascinating recounting of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the subsequent manhunt for James Earl Ray, the lifelong loser who killed him. As riveting as a fictional thriller, the book also debunks all the crazy conspiracy theories.

- Frank Fitzpatrick, sportswriter

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot (Crown, $26). Terrific biography of the brief life yet immortal contribution to medicine and science of a poor African American migrant worker. Rebecca Skloot serves as both historian and sleuth in giving Lacks and her family their due.

- Karen Heller, columnist

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith (Ecco, $16). Deptford's own Patti Smith nabbed the National Book Award the first time out for Just Kids, her touching, tender, and extraordinarily well-observed memoir of coming of age in late '60s and early '70s New York, along with her friend and lover, the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith beautifully conjures up a time and place, full of colorful characters, seen through the eyes of a pair of young artists making their way in the world with only each other to rely on.

- Dan DeLuca, music critic

"The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood" by Jane Leavy (Harper, $28). For baseball fans, The Last Boy is a colorful, gripping, and often poignant account of Mickey Mantle's life on the diamond and off. Leavy is a superb reporter, and she also has literary-quality writing skills. Her detailed account of how she unearthed the man who found the ball Mantle crushed for his mythical 565-foot home run at old Griffith Stadium is wonderful reading. Sadly, Mantle's formidable skills on the field, as Leavy recounts, were diluted by the excesses - women and liquor - of his private life.

- Bill Marimow, investigative reporter

"Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" by Daniel Okrent (Scribner, $30). An intoxicating history of Prohibition. Daniel Okrent incisively discovers the confluence of unlikely forces that worked decades to abolish alcohol. The book engagingly documents the rise of modern crime, the changes in social behavior during the Jazz Age, the outsized characters, and the ultimate reasons for the ban's reversal.

- K.H.

"Life" by Keith Richards (Little, Brown, $30). From the drug busts to "Jumpin' Jack Flash," from a choirboy upbringing in post-World War II England to rehabbing in 1977 in Cherry Hill, Keith Richards' life full of incident is brought vividly to life in Life. Sure, he slags off Mick Jagger and his "tiny todger," but rather than the sensationalism, it's the serious and surprisingly detailed way the aging heart and soul of the Rolling Stones tells his affectionate tales of rock-and-roll debauchery that make for a Life worth reading.

- D.D.

"No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process" by Colin Beavan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25). For a year, Colin Beavan did without. And so did his wife, Michelle, to her dismay. They turned out the lights and unplugged the air conditioner and took to the streets on bicycles. Beavan wanted to see what was necessary and what was not. This is more than a quirky tale. It's a sometimes profound exploration of what makes us tick, what makes us happy, and what makes us merely rats on a consumerist/consumptive treadmill.

- Sandy Bauers, environmental writer

"Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family's Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time" by Lisa Tracy (Bantam, $25). The former Inquirer editor and her family combed through her late mother's possessions, preparing to sell what wasn't claimed. Along the way, she uncovered family history and a tangle of emotions. Tracy writes about an experience nearly everyone will go through with an honesty that is moving and memorable.

- R.D.

"The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean" by Susan Casey (Doubleday, $28). For decades, scientists never believed in the existence of rogue waves - demons of the sea that could sink a ship in seconds, before anyone could even get out a distress call. But it turns out they do exist, and Casey takes us into the world of scientists, insurers, salvagers, and others who seek to understand them. She also introduces us to the astounding world of the surfers who ride the giant waves, rocketing down a steep face atop a flimsy construction of foam and plastic. The sport is so brutal that those who do it worry about not only their physical safety, but also their psychological equipoise. If they survive the ride, will they come ashore forever haunted by the experience? Or will they simply want to go back out again?

- S.B.

"The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House, $30). In a great, silent movement that altered the face of America forever, millions of African Americans left the rural South between 1950 and 1970, bound for the urban North and West. Pulitzer-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson tracks their migration in a beautifully written book that brilliantly combines history and journalism.

- Michael D. Schaffer, Inquirer books editor


"City of Lost Girls" by Declan Hughes (William Morrow, $24). Dogged Dublin detective Ed Loy is hired to find out who is threatening charismatic expat film director Jack Donovan. Great color, great flavor.

- David Hiltbrand, TV/media writer

"Collusion" by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime, $25). Neville's second novel is even better than its predecessor, The Ghosts of Belfast (2009), which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

- Peter Rozovsky, copy editor and detective fiction blogger

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson (Knopf, $28). This is the third in Stieg Larsson's posthumous "Millennium" series, and it's a fine ending - or, at least, pause (rumors are there might be more). What's revealed is an epic feminist myth, wrapped in the concerns of the modern technocratic state, with the unforgettable Lisbeth Salander standing, leather-jacketed, in the spotlight.

- J.T.

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, $25). I was so hooked on The Help, Kathryn Stockett's debut novel, published in 2009, that I was wholly unprepared when I hit the last page. That's it? That's the end? So I kept reading - the reader's note from the author, the foreword, the book jacket. The pitch-perfect story of white women and their black maids in early-1960s Jackson, Miss., left me missing the characters at the end. Thank goodness, I'll see them again in the movie, due out in August.

- Cathy Rubin, Style & Soul editor

"Human Chain: Poems" by Seamus Heaney (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24). The Irish Nobelist shows once again why he's one of the very best. Beautiful, heartbreakingly original poems make us realize, as if for the first time, how indispensable, how essential are friends and family. A holiday gift nonpareil.

- J.T.

"I Hotel" by Karen Tei Yamashita (Coffee House Press, $20). This sparkling novel is actually 10 linked novelettes about a pivotal decade in San Francisco's Asian cultural movement. Thrilling to read, tremendous in its embrace, an homage to a time, a place, and a people, and another awe-inspiring work from a woman who's now one of our leading fiction writers.

- J.T.

"The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman (Dial, $25). Set mostly in an English-language newspaper in Rome, this sharply comic first novel has an aptly reportorial sense for the telling detail, and also a keen affection for its band of messy scribes, neurotic newshounds, and eccentric editors.

- S.R.

"The Lonely Polygamist" by Brady Udall (W.W. Norton, $27). Golden Richards' life in Utah is complicated. That's to be expected when you have four wives and 28 children. A novel that is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

- D.H.

"Peeler" by Kevin McCarthy (Mercier Press, $11 paper). Each unknown to the other, the Royal Irish Constabulary and the IRA investigate a woman's gruesome killing in this stunning evocation of the Irish war of independence through one police officer's life.

- P.R.

"Remarkable Creatures" by Tracy Chevalier (Dutton, $27). Elizabeth Philpot is a 19th-century gentlewoman. Mary Anning is a poor, working-class woman. But their shared passion for the fossils on the beaches of the small British town Lyme Regis cements a friendship. It's an age when women are not considered suitable for science, and a time when extinction is an emerging idea. The two women - as remarkable as the fossilized creatures they find - are based on real people. In alternating segments, they tell their stories in pitch-perfect, distinctive voices.

- S.B.

"Wake Up Dead: A Cape Town Thriller" by Roger Smith (Picador, $16 paper). The setting in a violent, deeply divided Cape Town, mostly the deadly slums known as the Flats, recaptures all the blood and menace that time and nostalgia have effaced from Raymond Chandler's mean streets - and redoubles them.

- P.R.

"Winter's Bone" by Daniel Woodrell (Back Bay Books, $14). The marvelous piece of Ozarks noir was originally published in hardcover in 2006 but was reissued this year as a paperback tie-in to the movie adaptation. In the frozen hollers of a mountain countryside where meth has replaced moonshine, Ree Dolly searches for her missing daddy.

- M.D.S.