12.26.2010

Les livres de 2010: round 8 (FINALE)

There are several posts that have to get out before the end of the year; one of them is the long-awaited finale to the books I've read in 2010. (Probably not long-awaited at all, actually... just long-a-thorn-in-my-side.)

Since I've put it off so long (and since I feel like I may not have kept great track over the past few months), I'm going to do this as painlessly as possible. The name of the book, the author, and a sentence or two about it. I seem to have slowed down reading since September, but I suspect that my pace has more to do with the fact that I've been reading harder books. 101 Theory Drive was one of my favorites of the year, but it took me a good 5 weeks to get through it since neuroscience is not, you know, my specialty.

I'm pretty proud of the number of books I've read this year, though. I set a goal of reading 15 books and I blew past that in early July. It's also fascinating to remember the year by looking back at the list of books... it certainly is one way to track what I've been interested in this year.

28. Picasso at the Lapin Agile by Steve Martin
Are you looking for a funny and brilliant play to read? Done and done. I read this my senior year at Muhlenberg and saw it performed that same semester by students in the theater department. Rereading it brought back the memories of how funny it had been in person. 

29. This is where I leave you by Jonathan Tropper
So all I remember about this book is how trashy and addictive it was. Which is odd, right? Because it has a great literary title and from the outside, it looks like your average modern lit book. Except that hiding underneath that exterior is a romance novel with sex scenes every 15 pages. Overall: whiney with graceful moments.

30. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
"Heyyyy isn't this the FIRST book you read this year?" That's what you're thinking. Well, I read it again, ironically about 3 weeks before we got engaged. You guys know my love affair with everything Liz Gilbert and I was curious to read this book again after we'd been living together for 9 months to see what other wisdom it might offer. This is such a must-read for people thinking about getting married or moving in together... because it makes you think and provides opportunities for discussion with the one you love. You might see this one on the reading list again next year as the wedding approaches...

31. The Keep by Jennifer Egan
What a crazy book! I'd heard such good things about Jennifer Egan and wanted to read something by her... moral of the story is, that lady must smoke a lot of something while she's writing. Twists and turns guaranteed. 

32. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
I absolutely love reading books like this, non-fiction arguments that lead up to a point about human nature. The trouble is that I have a terrible memory for books that aren't plot-driven. As a result, I'll see this book at a bookstore and get this wonderful feeling, but can't remember anything about the content. Alright, I remember one thing- the most talented hockey players were all born in January-March. WHAT? I know. Want to know why? Go read this book... 'cause I forget.

33. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
Jonah Lehrer was the brainiac at the New Yorker festival event that made this blog come to a crashing halt in October. I had to read one of his brilliant books... but I've since forgot the whole thing. See note above about my brain being unable to remember anything not nailed to a storyline.

34. 101 Theory Drive by Terry McDermott
My first book for Project Learn: Memory. Amazingly insightful and I'm glad I copied down the passages that spoke to me. Here's one from page 252 that makes me in awe of evolution and life and biology:

Brain scientists, better than almost anyone, see in their experiments the routine evidence of biological complications. The mammalian brain is very much not how you would have designed the thing if you had started out with a clean slate. If you could, it is highly unlikely you would use the molecules that heal scratches on your arm to secure your memories, but no one was in charge of this process.


You might compare it to building a computer operating system. The two best-known designers of operating systems are Apple and Microsoft. Apple's software is highly praised for its intuitive design and simple elegance. Microsoft, contrarily, is criticized for its bloated, all-things-for-all-people messiness. Its operating systems are routinely decried as kluges, not built from the ground up but patched together out of existing parts, only some of which worked well in their initial iterations. Microsoft doesn't do this because its software engineers are idiots. Its kluginess owes in large part to the corporate decision to make its operating systems as backward-compatible as is practically possible. Apple, valuing its aesthetics over its customers, often goes back to a clean slate. Sadly for us, we are all PCs. Our operating system was very definitely not built from the ground up. Evolution by definition is backward-compatible. The design of our brains has evolved, adding new features every million years or so, but we've been stuck with a lot of the old features too, and probably some mutations that never worked very well but stuck around nonetheless. We are compromised, full of repurposed parts, always building on top of what was already there. The human brain, by any definition, is a kluge. It's amazing it works at all.

And that's it! Thus ends a year of reading (since I doubt I'll finish anything else in the next week). Here's the final list with stars next to my favorite reads of the year:

January
1. Committed
by Elizabeth Gilbert **
2. A Little History of the World
by E.H. Gombrich **
3. A Homemade Life
by Molly Wizenberg

February
4. When Nietzsche Wept
by Irvin Yalom
5. On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan

March
6. Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger **
7. Let the Great World Spin
by Colum McCann

April
8. What You Call Winter
by Nalini Jones
9. Brooklyn
by Colm Toibin **

June
10. The Declaration of Independence
by Stephanie Schwartz Driver
11. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination
by Elizabeth McCracken
12. Garlic and Sapphires
by Ruth Reichl
13. The Thing Around Your Neck
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie **
14. The Other Boelyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

July
15. Run
by Ann Patchett **
16. Bel Canto
by Ann Patchett
17. The Brooklyn Follies
by Paul Auster
18. Red Tails in Love
by Marie Winn
19. The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
20. Nocturnes
by Kazuro Ishiguro
21. Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghese
22. Gardens of Water by Alan Drew **

August
23. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
24. Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
25. Nights at the Alexandra by William Trevor
26. The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken
27. Away by Amy Bloom

September
28. Picasso at the Lapin Agile by Steve Martin
29. This is where I leave you by Jonathan Tropper
30. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
31. The Keep by Jennifer Egan

October
32. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
33. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

November
34. 101 Theory Drive by Terry McDermott **

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