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2010 Megalist: General Fiction, the Top Ten

I’ve just posted the latest revision of my 2010 Megalist at my other blogging home, Blogging for a Good Book. The compilation continues, now including 83 best-of-the-year lists and award nominees. Over 1600 books are compiled into the list, which will continue to be updated until its completion sometime in March. The Megalist is an Excel spreadsheet, so if you have that software, download your own copy so that you can view the entire list and sort it as you see fit.

Today, I’d like to take a closer look at the top of the “General Fiction” category, which includes any work of fiction (published in the United States in 2010) that doesn’t fit better in the mysteries & thrillers, speculative, historical, or YA categories. Here are the top 10 vote getters so far:

1. Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (35 votes to date)

Franzen’s love-it-or-hate-it masterwork is a suburban epic, the tale of a hard-to-like Minnesota family trying to find some freedom while battling ineffectively against the currents of history: gentrification, environmental destruction, wars, profiteering, and the conservation movement. Sexual desire, competition, greed, envy, nature, status, hypocrisy, and disaffection are all major themes in this satire of the modern condition.

2. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan (29 votes to date)

Egan traces Bennie, an aging punk-rock musician turned music producer, and his employee Sasha, a kleptomaniac with a complicated past. Following these two and their acquaintances through the past and present, she builds a story about the drift of friendships and relationships over a lifetime, the corruption of power, the atrophy of rebellion, and the impact of technology.

3. Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray (20 votes to date)

The title tells you what happens to the tragicomic boy hero of Murray’s novel, but the treat is exploring what brings his doom in 600 pages about life at a Dublin Catholic prep school filled with hormone-and-technology drugged boys and the teachers who try to keep them down to a dull roar. Touching on everything from string theory to flatulence, hip-hop to Robert Frost, ritalin to drug dealing, this funny, fizzy work is full to the brim with great characters.

4 (tie). The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman (17 votes to date)

In chapters that read like linked short stories, Rachman explores events at a slowly dying English-language newspaper in Rome. Rachman’s experience as a journalist is lovingly channeled into a work that finds equal parts of heroism and disillusionment in the frustrations of daily struggle, something noble in regret, fear, resentment, and sundry other hurts.

4 (tie). To the End of the Land, by David Grossman (17 votes to date)

While she worries about her son, Ofer, re-enlisted in the Israeli army and sent to the front of an offensive, Ora retreats for a hike in the Galilee with her estranged lover and friend Avram, a man deeply scarred by his own experiences during the Yom Kippur War. Her husband, Avram’s one-time friend Ilan, has left and gone to Bolivia with Ora’s other son Adam. Ora’s foreboding feelings of  grief for Ofer, harrowing events on the hike, and dark memories in each character’s past combine to create a powerful antiwar novel.

6. The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall (14 votes to date)

Udall’s second novel is the darkly comic tale of Golden Richards, a polygamist with four wives, 28 children, a foundering business, and enough distractions, secrets, and lies for a dozen men. Jokey but empathetic, chaotic but brimming with well-chosen details and interesting characters, it’s an epic of family pushed to the brink.

7 (tie). Great House, by Nicole Krauss (12 votes to date)

Several stories are linked together by themes of loss, attempts at reconstruction, and the presence of a behemoth writing desk. A Jewish-Chilean poet disappears during the Pinochet regime. An angry Israeli man faces the looming death of his wife. An antiques dealer looks for the things stolen from his father by the Nazis. A grieving widower remembers his wife’s death from Alzheimer’s and explores a dark secret from her past. An American scholar remembers time spent shuttling between Oxford and London and her friendship with the two children of an antiques dealer.

7 (tie). How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu (12 votes to date)

Jonas Woldemarium retraces the honeymoon trip of his Ethiopian immigrant parents, trying to understand the legacy of a couple that have become violently opposed to each other in America. Jonas is near divorce himself, and has become a compulsive liar in his work trying to gain asylum for African refugees. Mengestu’s second novel is a tour-de-force that explores the many disorienting influences of the immigrant experience.

9 (tie). The Ask, by Sam Lipsyte (11 votes to date)

Failed painter Milo Burke is the antihero of Lipsyte’s black comic opus. He’s trying to solicit funds for the arts program of a third-rate university, and his attempts to navigate his mediocre life take him through a variety of funny set pieces in sour, disillusioned America.

9 (tie). Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson (11 votes to date)

A stiff-upper lip is the best weapon of Major Ernest Pettigrew as he tries to prevent his greedy relatives, particularly his yuppie son Roger, from selling the shotguns that belonged to him and his brother Bertie, recently deceased. A charming comedy-of-manners, Last Stand also concerns Pettigrew’s surprising courtship of Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani widow who runs the village quickie mart.

These are just a few of the pleasures to be found by book groups among the 229 novels that have been recognized in one of the sources I’ve compiled in 2010’s Megalist. Check back here and at Blogging for a Good Book to learn about more of them as I continue to write about the results.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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