Books have been an important part of my life as long as I can remember. I can recall my mother reading Grimm's Fairy Tales to me from a large, green-cover edition (I still have it). I can remember the very first book I bought on my own -- Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion. It was a Whitman Books edition that cost all of 59 cents at the local dime store.
I loved the monthly flyers sent home from school for the Scholastic Book Club. My parents kept me to a set budget, so I worked hard at maximizing how many books I could get. My parents indulged me, I think, because I was the family reader. My love of books has never waned (ask my wife, who has a rule of "you buy one, you give one away" or the builder of our house who reinforced the floor of one of the bedrooms to accommodate the bookshelves).
I read a lot of good books this year, and I'm challenged to come up with the list of the best I've read. One thing I can tell is that I'm reading more contemporary poetry than I used to read. The number of mysteries and non-fiction is down a bit, and fiction has a slight increase.
So here's my list for 2010.
Refractions by Makoto Fujimara. This is a wonderful groups of essays on art and culture, framed partially by the first-hand experience of 9-11.
A Short Trip to the Edge by Scott Cairns. Cairns takes us on several pilgrimages to Mount Athos in Greece.
Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman. One of the best books I've read on the importance of translations, by one of the leading translators of Spanish and Latin American fiction.
Parting the Waters by Jeanne Damoff. It's hard to imagine what this family endured with the near-death of a child and its aftermath, but it is an eloquent tribute to faith, love and determination.
Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer. I've blogged about this book for almost five months. It's an important book about the state of the church in North America.
Simon Called Peter by Dom Mauro Guiseppe Lepori. A meditation on the person who was (and is) St. Peter.
God in the Yard by L.L. Barkat. I didn't spend a year in the back yard, but I did learn many things from following the exercises in this book.
Barbies at Communion by Marcus Goodyear. These are poems coming from the hand, and the heart, of a poet mastering his art.
Contingency Plans by David Wheeler. A beautiful collection
The Prison Poems by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ten extraordinary poems written by the German pastor in prison prior to his executive by the Nazis at the end of World War II.
Another Hotel Room by Steven Marty Grant. I love the grit and city feels of these poems.
The Written Word by Shaun Masterton. Poetry written from a man's heart.
Lighthead by Terrance Hayes. This one happened to win this year's Pulizer Prize for poetry. But I liked it (and reviewed it) before that happened.
Leavings by Wendell Berry. It's Wendell Berry, beloved by writers everywhere; enough said.
Ballistics by Billy Collins. Yes, there's a poem or two about ballistics included.
Silence by Shusaku Endo. A story of Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan; a story about apostasy and faith.
River Rising by Athol Dickson. It was published several years ago, and it is still a remarkable novel.
That Distant Land: Collected Stories by Wendell Berry. See above; enough said.
Snow Day by Billy Coffey. A novel by a writer who breathes storytelling.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. A lot of people find this novel difficult, especially with the one-person narrator. It is a wonderful book about a pastor looking backward to his father and grandfather.
City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell. A quietly moving story about missions in China from 1906 to 1932.
Every Breath You Take by Travis Thrasher. A novel that is a kind of love song from a dead father to his daughter.
Someone to Blame by C.S. Lakin. A novel about appearances and prejudices and anger and how they turn on innocent people.
Almost Home by Chris Fabry. I think I could read anything this author writes. The third of the three "Dogwood" novels (connected only by setting), it is captivating.
Darlington Woods by Mike Dellosso. Dellosso artfully blends past and present into a first-class suspense and horror story.
Solitary by Travis Thrasher. The first in a Young Adult series, Solitary makes great reading for adults, too.
The Unseen by T.L. Hines. The official category for this book would be "speculative," but the story of a young man who lives around people but where no one can see him is a riveting read.
Tomorrow We Die by Shawn Grady. A paramedic himself, Grady writes what he knows, and he keeps the suspense going non-stop.
Photograph: Book Tunnel by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.