The New Year is here and when scanning the countless “Best of 2010 Fiction” lists it seems there was no shortage of good novels to read this year. Crafting these “Best Of…” lists seems to be a journalistic necessity as just about every magazine, newspaper, or blog highlights their favorites of the year. The lists vary so dramatically that it is impossible to have read all the picks in 2010, fortunately most publishers hold their blockbusters for the spring and summer months so now is the perfect time to catch up before the 2011 publishing deluge begins!
If your free reading time is limited you would do well to focus on one of the following novels that made many lists. It took almost a decade but Jonathan Franzen followed up his National Book Award-winning novel The Corrections with another huge literary success. Freedom was so highly praised that the resulting Time cover story, Twitter feud, and Oprah selection (would he accept?) nearly overshadowed his major achievement. The unbelievably talented David Mitchell made many lists but was again robbed of the Man Booker Prize, this time for his historical fiction novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. Set in shogun-era Japan he supplies intriguing historical details and vivid characters with an almost playful language, read the first paragraph of Chapter 39 aloud to see just what feats this young author is capable of. Another Booker Prize loser that the lists championed was Emma Donoghue’s claustrophobic abduction story, Room, which features a five-year-old child describing life with Ma imprisoned in a single room. Finally, there were also two hit sleeper novels that were written in the form of interwoven stories. Jennifer Egan’s dark characters in A Visit From The Goon Squad all have some tie to the music industry and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman details the collapse of an English language newspaper in Rome through the eyes of the paper’s employees.
All caught up on these lists and want to find the next big thing? Well the buzz is building for a few debut novelists coming in February 2011 so place your holds fast. Karen Russell published her short story collection St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves back in 2006 and was featured in The New Yorker’s debut fiction issue and named one of their “20 under 40”. Her first novel Swamplandia! details the peculiar Bigtree family’s trials amidst a fading amusement park in backwater Florida, recommended for fans of Aimee Bender and George Saunders. Benjamin Hale was awarded the Provost’s Fellowship while at the Iowa Writers Workshop and the resulting novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, a memoir of an educated and artistic chimpanzee, should be quite popular here. Finally, Teju Cole has his U.S. debut with a meditative novel Open City which follows the conversations and internal monologues of a young Nigerian immigrant wandering in post 9/11 New York. Cole created an interesting companion Tumblr page for topics that occur in the novel and the Publisher’s Weekly starred review should help this book find a wider readership.
Be sure to visit the Iowa City Public Library’s Fiction Desk for help locating these or any other “Best of…” titles. Happy reading in the New Year and comment here or on our Facebook page throughout the year to let us know what is topping your 2011 list!