Without any attempt to list all the books I read this year, much less try to gauge the "best" of them, these are some of the books that I thoroughly enjoyed, or which had a strong impact on me, in 2010. In two parts.
Warlock by Oakley Hall. An absolutely epic novel which is ostensibly a morality tale set in the wild west, but which evolves over many pages into a deeply thoughtful meditation on good and evil. Not only a damn good story with many complicated characters, but also a cynical look at a national myth, ending as a damning report on human society in general. Riveting.
Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham. A tormented tale from the 1940's of a travelling carnival worker driven by ambition to become a manipulative mentalist. A gripping ride of a circus novel with many sidetracks into murder, addiction, lust and madness. Features several memorable scenes of geeks reduced by poverty and alcohol to a subhuman existence. Disquieting.
Nada by Carmen LaForet. A sad and beautiful coming-of-age novel from 1945 in which a girl, orphaned by the Spanish Civil War, travels from the country to live with her relatives in Barcelona. The luxurious house she remembers from her childhood has been reduced to a dark and dusty prison populated by her odd and unpredictable family, physically and psychologically devasted by the war. It would read like a gothic horror story if the details weren't so beautifully observed and historically accurate. "Cities, my child, are hell. And in all of Spain no city resembles hell more than Barcelona . . . A young girl in Barcelona must be like a fortress. Do you understand?"
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. An absolutely stunning collection of short stories, nearly every one of which can take your breath away. All the more notable for the fact that many of them are as short as a single page or even shorter. Sharp observations of moments of deep resonance in ordinary lives. I often found myself reading single stories again and again to understand what made the austere descriptions of friends and family relationships so powerfully affecting. I came up with no easy answers, I think it must be dark magic.
Sidetracked by Henning Mankell. I began reading this celebrated series in 2007 or so and have been going through them in order. This one, the 5th, is my favorite so far and while I have enjoyed them all, this is the first which really thrilled me. The compelling narrative is told from the points of view of both our trusty detective, Kurt Wallender, and from the deranged and methodical killer. The killer himself is an inspired creation, truly awful yet powerfully sympathetic.