Top 10 Must-Read Books of 2010

By JON GARELICK  |  December 21, 2010

• TANA FRENCH | FAITHFUL PLACE | Random House
In this, her third novel, Irish writer Tana French pulls together the impressive strands of her talent: her feel for character and setting, her eloquent prose, and her mystery writer's sense of plotting. The setting is Faithful Place, one of working-class Dublin's more depressed byways. The central character is Frank Mackey, who left when he was 19 and has now returned as an undercover cop. French's ear can catch character and place in a line: "My da started off as a plasterer, but by the time we came along he was a full-time drinker with a part-time sideline in things that had fallen off the backs of lorries." It's part of a book that's both compelling mystery and moving family saga.

• LINDSAY HUNTER | DADDY'S | Featherproof Books
Hunter makes drunk teenagers dry-humping in Cheeto dust compelling literary fare. Daddy's, her debut collection of short stories, follows a trove of confused young people through frightening parking lots and crappy apartments. Those who miss explicit sex in contemporary literature, take heart: Hunter writes about it, and frequently. Her approach channels both Mary Gaitskill and John Waters: it's desperate, depraved, and thrillingly transgressive.

• DON LATTIN | THE HARVARD PSYCHEDELIC CLUB: HOW TIMOTHY LEARY, RAM DASS, HUSTON SMITH, AND ANDREW WEIL KILLED THE FIFTIES AND USHERED IN A NEW AGE FOR AMERICA | HarperOne
San Francisco religion reporter Lattin traveled cross-continent to talk with the characters who famously ushered hallucinogens into pop-culture consciousness: Baba Ram Dass (the former Harvard psychology professor Richard Alpert), former MIT professor and religion scholar Huston Smith, and alternative-medicine guru (and former Harvard medical-school student) Andrew Weil — the last of whose campaign to undermine the others and end the Harvard-funded party is detailed for the first time in this book. The "club" formed by these three men and Harvard research psychologist Timothy Leary launched what would become the counterculture movement. Not only does Lattin vividly evoke the times, he also shows how these early LSD experimenters (and proselytizers) shaped our world.

• KEITH RICHARDS (WITH JAMES FOX) | LIFE | Little, Brown
The title says it all: Life isn't just an autobiography, it's Keith Richards's Guide To Good Living. In this hefty but breezy memoir, the skull-bedecked guitar hero spills the beans on nearly a half-century of music and mischief making with (and without) the Rolling Stones. He also imparts typically Richardsian (which is to say, earthy, honest, and wickedly funny) wisdom concerning such diverse subjects as the Boy Scouts (he was a decorated member), knife fighting, the correct way to prepare bangers and mash, and how to assemble a set of works when you can't get your hands on a hypodermic needle.

• JAMES M. TABOR | BLIND DESCENT: THE QUEST TO DISCOVER THE DEEPEST PLACE ON EARTH | Random House
For most sane people, caving is an inexplicable pastime. What, after all, is the appeal of claustrophobic crawls, frigid swims, extreme heights (even underground), oceans of insects, no toilets, and ever-present, absolute darkness? Tabor follows two men for whom caving is an obsession — American Bill Stone and Ukrainian Alexander Kimchouk — and their "race" to find "the deepest place on earth." That unofficial competition, however, is an almost unnecessary narrative device. What matters here is Tabor's reporting and descriptions that are lean and dense with detail as he conveys the unimaginable weight of the effort and risk — "the kiss of depth" — entailed in each man's quest.

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