Top book picks for 2010

The experts tell us what they are excited about reading in 2010.

A new year means a fresh set of goals. That’s why so many of us – in addition to promising to exercise more and spend less time on Facebook – are also resolving to read lots of books in 2010. “The new year is about renewed energy and all the things you can accomplish,” says Daniel Goldin, owner of the Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee. “The pile of books that you think you’ll never get through in November becomes a possibility” in January.

Maybe. But as we all know, February can be a cruel month, littered with the debris of broken resolutions. So to help would-be readers chart successful courses for an actively bookish 2010, the Monitor asked the experts – booksellers, authors, and other “bookistas” in the know – what they are most excited about reading in the new year and why.

Goldin says he’s kicking the year off with both an author he’s never read before (James Hynes and his 2000 political thriller, “The Wild Colonial Boy”) and an old favorite (Sinclair Lewis’s 1927 satire on religion, “Elmer Gantry”).

And to make sure that he actually finishes “Gantry,” he says, “I’ve chosen it for the in-store book club that I lead.”

Both Goldin and senior Wash­ington Post book editor Ron Charles say they plan to read “Noah’s Com­pass” by Anne Tyler (to be published in January 2010 by Knopf).

“I’ve loved all [Tyler’s] books, but sometimes felt some of them were merely recast versions of each other,” Charles says. “Still, her previous novel, ‘Digging to America,’ showed that she’s still capable of fresh, moving work, and I’m hopeful that ‘Noah’s Compass’ is another surprising, funny, heartbreaking story.”

Charles also has his eye on a new novel by Chang-rae Lee. “Chang-rae Lee’s ‘Aloft’ is one of my favorite novels, so I’m eager to read his (very long!) ‘The Surrendered,’ [March, Riverhead] which begins during the Korean War.” In addition, he’s looking forward to Jerome Charyn’s “The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson” (February, W.W. Norton), which he says “promises to spice up the Belle of Amherst considerably!”

Elizabeth Kostova’s historical fiction “The Swan Thieves” (January, Little, Brown) also made it onto Charles’s list, along with Rebecca Newberger’s novel “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” (January, Pantheon). “[36 Arguments] sounds like a wonderful academic satire,” Charles explains, “wrapped around a provocative exploration of our attitudes about religion and metaphysics.”

Jess Walter, author of 2009 novel “The Financial Lives of the Poets,” says he’s planning to read “Point Omega” by Don DeLillo (February, Scribner), “because it’s Don DeLillo and the title sounds like a 1970s thriller about Nazi hunters.” (The protagonist is actually an American war strategist.)

Walter’s also marked the historical fiction “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” by David Mitchell (Random House, June), fiction novel “The Ask” by Sam Lypsite (March, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and 2009 essay collection “Changing My Mind” edited by Zadie Smith, “because her brilliant essay in The Guardian about David Shields’s upcoming manifesto, ‘Reality Hunger,’ made me want to read both books.”

The book buyers at Powell’s Books of Portland, Ore., report 2010 reading lists a mile long. Billie Bloebaum, new book coordinator, plans to delve into a host of genres during the first few months of the year.

“There are a couple of debut thrillers coming that I am really, really thrilled about,” Bloebaum says. “Keith Thomson’s ‘Once a Spy’ (March, Doubleday), which is about a former spy with Alzheimer’s and the scrapes and adventures he and his son face as they try to outrun and outsmart the guys trying to kill them; and ‘Still Missing’ by Chevy Stevens (St. Martin’s, July).... I want to start spreading the word on this one early. [It’s] about a woman who’s abducted from a real estate open house and held in isolation for a year. It is told in the first person as sessions with her psychiatrist.”

For readers of romance, Bloebaum recommends Meredith Duran’s “Wicked Becomes You” (April, Pocket), saying that Duran, “while still very early in her career, has become an author I know I can depend on for quality writing and emotionally complex love stories.”

Powell’s new-book purchasing supervisor, Gerry Donaghy, wants to check out “Matterhorn,” a 2009 Vietnam War novel by decorated Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes. “The jacket copy [notes] that this is on the level of ‘The Thin Red Line’ [a 1962 thriller by James Jones] and ‘The Naked and the Dead’ [Norman Mailer, 1948], which is a bold statement,” says Donaghy, “but readers I trust who have read this say the description isn’t far off.”

Author Gail Godwin (whose own novel “Unfinished Desires” will be published this January) says she eagerly anticipates Ian McEwan’s “Solar” (March, Nan A. Talese), and will soon be “immersing” herself in “The Red Book,” the newly unveiled, self-illustrated, private journal of Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, published last year. “I also have treated myself to the brand new, two-volume ‘Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary,’ ” says Godwin, “which includes virtually the entire vocabulary of English from Old English to the present day.”

At Boston’s Brookline Booksmith, where Godwin will speak on Jan. 26, co-owner Dana Brigham has family books in mind. Brigham notes Gail Caldwell’s memoir “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” (August, Random House), a book about “midlife, independent women, wonderful dogs and a particularly special friendship.”
Brigham also singles out Roger Rosenblatt’s “Making Toast” (February, Ecco), a memoir about life with his grandchildren following his 38-year-old daughter’s sudden death: “It may sound sad but it’s touching, funny and revelatory.”

In Denver, book buyer Cathy Langer of the Tattered Cover Book Store has her eye on Wyoming writers whose books hold particular appeal for the Colorado region. Mark Spragg’s “Bone Fire” (March, Knopf) deals with difficult life in the modern West, and Laura Bell’s “Claiming Ground” (March, Knopf) tells the author’s unconventional story of soul-searching through sheepherding. “[Claiming Ground] is a very interesting story about a woman who took great risks and lived a difficult but fulfilling life,” says Langer. “Very wonderful, fabulous writing.”

David Kynaston’s 2009 book “Family Britain, 1951-1957,” sequel to “Austerity Britain, 1945-1951” (2008), pops up on the reading list of Terry Teachout, author of “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong.”

Teachout says he’s also interested in Selina Hastings’s biography, “The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham” (May, Random House), which he calls a “highbrow tell-all about the scandalous private life” of the “Of Human Bondage” author.

And in tune with his own work, Teachout is looking forward to Ricky Riccardi’s “What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years” (May, Pantheon). “This promises to be one of the most significant books yet written about the greatest jazz musician who ever lived,” says Teachout.
Katie Ward is an intern at the Monitor.

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