Books of the Year 2010

THE FIVE BEST OF THE CROP

By Benjamin Schwarz

December 2010 ATLANTIC   vintage-library-ads-man-overbored The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg Deborah Eisenberg PICADOR. This collection of 20 years’ worth of stories—their milieus vividly defined, their dialogue unsettlingly real, their characters hyperobservant—establishes Eisenberg’s place at the pinnacle of American fiction.

A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers Pantheon. Will Friedwald. Friedwald chronicles the Great American Songbook, its creators, and its interpreters—a body of work that stands at the apogee of this nation’s civilization. Quirky, opinionated, shaped by exquisite taste and judgment, this feat of musical and cultural criticism offers an exuberant glimpse into the American character.

Private Life: A Novel Jane Smiley KNOPF.  A heartbreaking, bitter, and gorgeous epoch-spanning novel of a woman’s life stunted by marriage, this is Smiley’s best book yet. Making dazzling and meticulous use of her historical scope, she has written a work at once majestic and gemlike.

The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind Melvin Konner HARVARD. This monumental book—more than 900 pages long, 30 years in the making, grand and intricate, breathtakingly inclusive and painstakingly particular—probes the biological evolution of human behavior and specifically the behavior of children. It is the flower of an astoundingly productive and innovative period of scholarship.

What Becomes: Stories A. L. Kennedy KNOPF. Kennedy’s approach in these lapidary stories is off-kilter and desolate—most of them involve unions unhappy or unraveling, and violence animates several. The author, a supremely refined stylist, leaves the reader shaken, but not in despair. Humor, albeit of a particularly hard-won variety, suggests Kennedy (a sometime stand-up comic), is necessary for fortitude.

***

FIFTEEN ADDITIONAL PICKS

The Bradshaw Variations: A Novel, by Rachel Cusk (FSG)

Elizabethan Architecture, by Mark Girouard (Yale)

Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet, by Jennifer Homans (Random House)

The Fruit, the Tree and the Serpent: Why We See So Well, by Lynne A. Isbell (Harvard)

Family Britain: 1951-1957, byDavid Kynaston (Walker)

Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews, by Peter Longerich (Oxford)

The Complete Architecture of Adler and Sullivan, by Richard Nickel and Aaron Siskind with John Vinci and Ward Miller (Chicago)

Rethinking France: Le Lieux de memoire (a four-volume work, concluded this year) edited by Pierre Nora (Chicago)

Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, by Nicholas Phillipson (Yale)

My Hollywood: A Novel, by Mona Simpson (Knopf)

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic)

Muriel Spark: The Biography, by Martin Stannard (Norton)

Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater, by Larry Stempel (Norton)

Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580–1865, by Christopher Tomlins (Cambridge)

Trespass: A Novel, by Rose Tremain (Norton)

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