Day staffers' favorite books of 2010

"The Glass Rainbow"
James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)

Over the course of several volumes in Burke's series starring detective Dave Robicheaux and his best friend, private eye Clete Purcel, the character development of these massively heroic but flawed figures is transcendant in crime literature. Recurrent all along has been their war against the existence of Evil with a capital "E," and the psychological and physical wounds suffered by Dave and Clete are cumulative. This is a book about mortality and friendship, and your heart soars even as Burke effortlessly melts it.

- Rick Koster

Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown)

While inspired by a real-life story in Austria, in which 42-year-old Elisabeth Fritzl was held captive in a concealed corridor by her father, Donoghue's story is not one detailing such horrors. Instead she goes inside the mind of 5-year-old Jack, who is being raised by his mother in a single room. Through the eyes of happy and imaginative Jack, we only get brief glimpses into the dark shadow of their captivity. Our natural inclination is to root for their escape, but it's not nearly as black and white, as Jack is torn from the only world he's known and his mother struggles to maintain their bond.

- Katie Warchut

Don Winslow (Simon & Schuster)

This visceral crime story has a kaleidoscopic cast of all-star characters headed up by pot-dealing SoCal anti-heroes Chon and Ben and their female accomplice, Ophelia. When the Baja Cartel kidnaps Ophelia to persuade Chon and Ben to work for the cartel, the two pals are forced to give up their mellow lifestyle and go into a presumably doomed battle against the sociopathic Mexican crime gang. It's insanely funny, hip-beyond-measure, cruelly dark - and sports Winslow nuancing through a hell-melt of a plot with the grace of a trapeze artist.

- Rick Koster

"Empire of the Summer Moon"
S.C. Gwynne (Scribner)

The subtitle for this riveting book is "Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History." Quanah Parker was the last of the great Comanche leaders, the half-breed son of Cynthia Anne Parker, who was kidnapped by the Comanches at the age of nine. Gwynne paints a harrowing portrait of the devastation the Comanches wreaked on the white settlers and any other tribe that tried make its home in the southern Great Plains. They were so formidable, Gwynne argues, that they actually rolled back the westward expansion of the pioneers for 40 years. Start this book and you won't put it down.

- Kenton Robinson

"The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them"
Elif Batumen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The funniest book of 2010, bar none, "The Possessed" is a set of literary essays cum memoirs about the author's (and others') obsession with Russian literature. Batumen is a brilliant teller of quirky tales to make you laugh out loud, the kind of person who spends a summer in Samarkand translating obscure legends from Old Uzbek (such as the story of the soldier who sponsored fights between chicken and sheep) and tracking down rumors of Tolstoy's possible murder.

- Kenton Robinson

"The Imperfectionists"
Tom Rachman (The Dial Press)

Not a perfect book, this, but one that charts the decline and fall of a small English-language newspaper in Rome through a series of interlocking tales about each of the characters who work in the newsroom, with some great twists along the way. You don't have to be a journalist to appreciate this book, as Rachman is great at painting flesh and blood characters anyone could identify with.

- Kenton Robinson

"A Visit From the Goon Squad"
Jennifer Egan (Knopf)

Like "The Imperfectionists," this book is another series of stories about related characters, but, like a great record album, each story successfully builds on the next. Music is central to the book, revolving loosely around Bennie Salazar, once a punk-rocker and now a record company executive. The chapters are told in the first-, second- and third-person, with an especially quirky chapter told in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, but somehow it all manages to be more interesting than annoying. Even though it's constantly changing, Egan's questions with stay with you, about the passage of time, how we change, compromise, or draw the line.

- Katie Warchut

Ace Atkins (Putnam)

It's true that Atkins is a friend and godfather to our dog, Gumbo. But he's also a masterful novelist whose recent string of history-based crime novels is unique and brilliant. This one, about Depression era gangster Machine Gun Kelly and his wife, Kathryn, is masterfully researched and dazzling in its revelations. Few folks know that Kelly was basically a bumbling and hugely inept felon, and even fewer realize that Kathryn was the fame-starved power-behind-the-curtain of Kelly's career. Funny as hell and completely absorbing.

- Rick Koster

Anne Carson (New Directions)

More a monument than a book, "Nox" is a "poem" composed of letters, photographs and fragments of memory exploring Carson's grief over the death of her brother. The physical "book" is an objet d'art, an accordion of pages, a folded scroll enclosed in a box with all the gravity of a tombstone. And Carson, always the classical scholar, unfolds the story of her brother's life and death through the lens of Catullus' poem No. 101 ("for his brother who died in the Troad.") This is an incredibly moving work of art.

- Kenton Robinson


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