Books

The Best Fiction of 2010

Tucked into this wide-ranging list of comics collections, retro-inspired literature and cross-overs, are glimmers of something sweet, something to temper the usual Literary Drearies we all love and appreciate. And that’s just the way it should be.

End of year lists are fluid; the best book you read in January may not make a list made in December, even if it is, in many ways, a better book than one you read in November. Stellar prose, tight plotting, even memorable characters are not enough to keep a book in mind for three months, let alone 12. This may seem harsh, but for a book to truly belong on a Best Of list, it has to meet one extra, often forgotten criterion: it must be engaging. “Best books” must capture the reader on not just an intellectual level, but on an emotional one, too.

If booklists have their own particular trend--and I think they do--this list presents an interesting, even surprising, take on 2010. Five of the 30+ titles present here are comics collections; many are dark and twisty, full of horrors that are sometimes a little too close to home (Super Sad True Love Story). More are “retro” or “vintage”, written in, or inspired by the '40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Yet most unexpected is the number of crossover titles on the list--not just two young adult novels (The Thief, For the Win), but adult novels with teenage protagonists, like Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation, Jayne Ann Philips’ Lark & Termite, and Emma Donoghue’s Room, narrated by five-year-old Jack.

While these reflections on the past--and somewhat dreary prophecies of the future--may seem depressing, they’re not all as pathos-inducing as the reissue of Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. Tucked into this list are several small glimmers of something sweeter, something to temper the Literary Drearies we all love and appreciate. And that’s just the way it should be.

Peta Jinnath Andersen

 

Book: Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures 1940-1980

Author: Dan Nadel

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/columns_art/a/arttime-cvr.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures 1940-1980
Dan Nadel

These are adventure stories spanning the years 1940 to 1980, a time which saw the initial rise of the comic book, Senate investigations into their effect on young readers, Marvel's ascendance as a publishing powerhouse and the beginnings of the cross promotional blitz of the Hollywood blockbuster. In academia and popular history alike there are ideological battles over bias and intellectual canon, and comics are no different. Nadel writes he deliberately avoided greats like Will Eisner and Jack Kirby because their work is already widely anthologized. The artists in this collection who are widely known, like Harry Lucey, are not represented by their best-known material, but rather by the departures from the norm caused by creative and financial impulses. Nadel writes that the history of comics is "really the story of the slow march toward a more open and inclusive understanding of what makes a compelling comic". On every page of this book we see that idea in action, and it's exciting to know there are more examples out there waiting to be discovered. Jeremy Estes

 

Book: Batwoman: Elegy

Authors: Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams III

Publisher: DC Comics

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/b/batwomanelegy-cvr.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200Batwoman: Elegy
Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams III

Not many superheroes get headlines in the mainstream press like "The red-headed lesbian is unleashed at last" or "Holy Lipstick Lesbian!" DC comics' new incarnation of Batwoman has garnered both praise as a compelling character and wholly predictable criticism from homophobic culture warriors. Batwoman:Elegy finds this creative team working at the height of their powers. What doesn't always work is the use of magical and supernatural themes. In Elegy, Batwoman struggles with her previous nemesis "The Religion of Crime". These covens dedicated to an ancient religion of chaos bring a whole boatload of hocus-pocus into the story. This sometimes has a jarring effect given that the world of the Batwoman feels like it should be all about gritty-street level crime. Nevermind though. Rucka and Williams know what they are doing. They skillfully make use of the magical elements of the story to reconstruct Kate Kane's inner worlds and prepare us for the big reveal at the end. We see the dénouement coming for quite a few pages but it still surprises with its power. What could have been Lifetime movie of the week melodrama in the hands of some becomes almost Homeric here. W. Scott Poole

 

Book: The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Author: Lydia Davis

Publisher: Picador

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/book_cover_art/l/lydiadaviscollectedstories.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis

It might be tempting to call the short story writer Lydia Davis a minimalist as her stories, in length, are about as short as you will see. But her style is not minimalist; it is diverse and always shifting, sometimes favoring short and simple sentences, sometimes unfurling into long intricately structured thoughts. In their breadth her stories are really maximalist, taking in a wide variety of subject matter and writing styles to best articulate a narrative. Her basic storytelling approaches vary widely in range; she uses many storytelling voices from first to third person, formal and informal, limited and omniscient narrator and; she uses rhythm and repetition within her stories to replicate the cadence of songwriting. The sequencing of the collections feels track listed; the stories breathe and flow into each other, inhaling and contracting and there is a thrilling sense of play that is both loose and precise. Indeed, this book is a master class in the endless vitality of the core tools used by writers. Michael Buening

 

Book: The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard

Author: J. G. Ballard

Publisher: W.W. Norton

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/book_cover_art/b/ballard-cvr.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard
J. G. Ballard

In 1943, the British author James Graham Ballard, then a boy of 12, was detained and imprisoned within a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai. Ballard's experiences in the camp, where he remained for almost two years, became the basis for his celebrated 1984 novel Empire of the Sun. While the novel is autobiographical and realist, there is present in it many of the same characteristics that marked Ballard's remarkable science fiction, much of which is collected here. It is surrealism -- a reaction to mechanized carnage -- from which Ballard draws most. One finds in his work the desolate plazas of De Chirico, the blasphemy of Dali, and the sharp-focus absurdity of Magritte. Although frequently lumped in with the "serious" science fiction produced by Orwell and Huxley, Ballard's criticisms were seldom overtly political. Ballardian Man is already adept enough at repressing himself without the aid of totalitarian government. Even stories with putatively political subjects -- "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennegy Considered As A Downhill Motorrace" and "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" -- were satires of media and celebrity, not politics. Ballard once stated that he wrote not of the future, but of "the visionary present". His work is unique among science fiction, and among 20th century literature. M.M. Wolfe

 

Book: A Conspiracy of Kings

Author: Megan Whalen Turner

Publisher: Greenwillow

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/b/bestbooks-conspiracykings-cvr.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200A Conspiracy of Kings
Megan Whalen Turner

The fourth (though stand-alone) installment in Megan Whalen Turner's award-winning Queen's Thief series, A Conspiracy of Kings is everything a political novel should be: intricate, deftly plotted, and full of intrigue. When Sophos, a king's son more interested in poetry than war-making, is captured during an invasion, and later sold into slavery, he knows he should act -- his father is dead and the kingdom, Sounis, is on the brink of collapse. Yet Sophos is also at the edge of a collapse: torn between his duty and the simpler, kinder life he wishes for himself. Much like Tolkien and Le Guin, Turner's fantasy world is rendered in exquisite detail, as is Sophos' inner life. Fans of the series will appreciate meeting familiar characters once more, but the story's true strength lies in Whalen Turner's exploration of what it is to be at odds with one's self. Peta Jinnath Andersen

 

Next Page

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image