As a reader, I want the novels and the non-fiction books I read to pull me into another world and keep me there until I close their covers.
Here are some books published in 2010 that did just that for me. Don't call it a best-of list. Call it something more modest and, I hope, more helpful: a selection of books that I read and personally recommend.
Room (Little, Brown, $24.99): In Emma Donoghue's novel, 5-year-old Jack and his mom have lived his whole life in a shed in their kidnapper's yard, with only each other to get through the days. With Jack as the narrator, the novel is an amazing literary tour de force of world building. It's also a deep meditation on and extrapolation of the challenges of parenting small children.
Galileo's Dream (Spectra, $26): Kim Stanley Robinson recreates the great Italian scientist Galileo's life of discovery, high emotions and papal intrigue — and also sends him into the future world of the Jovian moons. Robinson is especially good at capturing the driving curiosity and excitement Galileo brought to his experiments.
Blackout (Spectra, $26): Connie Willis' mission in Blackout parallels that of her time-traveling historians in the novel: to observe and record the heroism of everyday people during the Blitz in Britain during World War II. Her time-traveling students from a near-future Oxford operate under the assumption they will not be able to change history, but this becomes an increasingly vital question in Blackout. (Willis published All Clear (Spectra, $26), the second half of this project, in October.)
Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection (Fulcrum Press, $22.95): Editor Matt Dembicki paired 21 Native American storytellers from many different nations with graphic artists and comics creators for an anthology of tales that ought to appeal to graphic novel lovers, folklore enthusiasts, storytellers, young adult readers and everyone interested in the many Native American cultures.
Bitter Seeds (Tor, $25.99): In Ian Tregillis' debut novel, an evil genius Nazi scientist has transformed stolen children into young übermenschen by running wires from portable batteries into their brains: One can summon up flames, another wreaks Hulk-like damage on the world. Battered Britain turns to a secret weapon: warlocks. But the blood price paid for that weapon is high in this opening book of a dark sci-fantasy trilogy.
The Emperor of All Maladies (Scribner, $30): Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee's impressive, sobering new history of cancer and its treatment recounts many moments of brilliance and heroism by doctors and patients, but also fumbles, ego-driven conflicts and refusals by experts to let facts get in the way of their cherished ideas. A chief lesson it imparts is that cancer treatments must be specific, targeted and based on intimate knowledge of how the cells operate.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Crown, $26): Rebecca Skloot traces the history of a line of fast-growing cancer cells that have been used in scientific research to help develop polio vaccine, cancer medication, cloning and genetic hybrids — and the life story of the woman whose body those cells were taken from.
A Week at the Airport (Vintage, $15): After spending a week as writer-in-residence at Terminal 5 of London's Heathrow Airport, Alain de Botton has written not just a thoughtful book about the experience, but one's that bemused, witty, philosophical, occasionally even a little nutty. He walks around the complexities and contradictions of airport life and the airline industry like someone walking around a Boeing 777 on the runway, both admiring and fearing its power.