Books

Top-shelf reading: The best of the best of 2010

I read a lot of books — somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 a year. Most of them I read for duty's sake, but many of those are also a pleasure.

A rare few are great pleasures — books I would be thrilled to read even if reading were not my job, books I know I will remember and maybe even read again for fun.

Here are those rare few for 2010, in no particular order and in their own idiosyncratic categories. If you have a bookstore gift card burning a hole in your pocket, consider them.

Best novel, or linked short story collection, or, who cares, I loved this book: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Knopf) is a brilliant, surprising mash-up of exuberance and poignancy, youth and aging, love and loss, past and future and lots of rock 'n' roll.

Best real-life thriller: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Crown) is the amazing story of a woman whose cells, gathered without her knowledge as she was dying of cancer in 1951, have been instrumental in almost every kind of medical research imaginable. Skloot also tells the harrowing tale of Lacks' survivors.

Runner-up: Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin by Hampton Sides (Doubleday), in which the author takes a story whose ending we all know and makes it read like a breathless crime novel.

Best crime fiction: A four-way tie, among Djibouti by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow), I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (William Morrow), Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow) and The Reversal by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown).

Best really good novel even though it never could have completely lived up to its hype: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Best scary hilarious futuristic satire with a tender heart: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (Random House), and I just hope that a decade from now, we still see this book as fiction.

Best audio book about a rock star read by a movie star: Life by Keith Richards (Hachette Audio), read by Johnny Depp, singer-songwriter Joe Hurley and the Rolling Stones co-founder himself. It takes all three readers because this boisterous, engaging memoir fills 20 CDs. Who knew Keef remembered so much?

Best unexpectedly successful comeback: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 (University of California Press), a scholarly doorstop that startled its publisher by flying off shelves real and virtual. Twain's best work? No, but what a huge delight it is to hear that inimitable voice again a century after his death.

Best surprise: The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O'Hagan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) sounded in synopsis — a novel about Monroe's last days, narrated by her Maltese dog — as if it could be hopelessly corny, but it turned out to be one of the smartest and most charming and literary books I read all year.

Best last act: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (Knopf). Wow, and alas.

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