Introducing the Andys: Alchemy’s Best Books of 2010

Happy New Year, dear readers! I just read the “state of the blog” update that WordPress sent out to all its members, and this reminded me that a) I do have a blog, and b) I should probably pop in to say hello. I hope you had the lovely winter holiday of your choice.

It’s still very busy in the LAV world, and I still feel more contemplative than talkative, but I did want to share some bookish love before we officially close the chapter on what has been another interesting year for libraries.  It’s comforting to know that, no matter how much change and challenge whirls around our heads, we can always find refuge between the covers of a good book.

Hence, the Andys.  I get most of my reading materials from the library in which I work, so I think it’s only fair to praise this year’s favorites in the name of Mr. Carnegie.  I’d love it if our library gave an actual book award – I think it could be a fun, community-engaging project, and we could start small by simply bestowing honor, and then in future years working up to the black-tie gala, red carpet cakewalk, and hideous Lucite statuettes.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here are the first-ever Alchemy Andys, awarded to books I really enjoyed in 2010, regardless of when they were originally published.

Graphic Novels

All of the comics I read this year were exceptional, but my favorite, hands down, was David Petersen’s Mouse Guard.  The story is compelling, and the artwork is so beautiful that I found myself gazing at pages repeatedly, drinking in the beauty with my eyes.  I never wanted the story to end, and I can’t wait for it to continue.


No contest.  Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series.  Good grief!  I started this series at the end of 2009 and burned through all of them in record speed in 2010.  Vampire noir on top, with a sweet, satisfying punk rock romance underneath.  And the ending?  Have mercy.  If you can handle the juxtaposition of violent and profane with wounded/star-crossed , start with Already Dead.


Another year gone by, another thousand or so books recommended, and I still don’t like mysteries.  Now that fellow library blogger Will Manley is deep into his mystery project, and having a change of heart about the genre, I just might be the last mystery skeptic in the profession. 

All that being said, I loved Tana French’s In the Woods.  Perhaps it was the setting — Ireland– or my deep and abiding affection for broken, wounded characters (so much like real life).  At any rate, I found this tale of a policeman whose own childhood was affected by crime both gripping and moving.  I’ll not spoil the end, but boy was I rooting for some things to happen, and crushed when they didn’t, even as I understood why they couldn’t.


I thought this Andy would be tough to award, given how much non-fiction I tend to read.  When you’re the pop non-fiction collection developer, you find yourself sampling a lot of the goods.  The hands-down winner, however, was Rob Sheffield’s hilarious memoir, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran.  Sheffield’s account of teenage crushes and musical obsessions had me laughing out loud in public places all over this fair metropolis, and during the chapter about driving an ice cream truck with Prince blaring away on the radio, nobody would come near me due to the non-stop idiot giggling that bubbled forth from me without pause.  If you’ve been a teenage boy, loved a teenage boy, grew up in the 80s,  or simply need a good laugh, grab this.


This is where I lose some of you on charges of nepotism.  One of the most excellent things about Pittsburgh is that it’s full of poets.  Even with this year’s losses of the Gist Street Reading Series (may it rest in peace) and the International Poetry Forum (sob), Pittsburgh is still very much a poetry town.  You wouldn’t think that based on our reputation, but it’s true.

That’s why I’m honored and pleased to give the Andy to a volume of poetry I can’t stop rereading, one that’s really moved me:  Renee Alberts’s No Water.  Often, in hectic moments, I find myself repeating one line over and over as I work:  “The wine breathes.”  It is strangely soothing and meditative, and helps me center and focus.  The wine breathes, and so do I.  The entire collection is lovely, but it’s that one moment that stuck with me that sealed the deal.

Sci-fi / Fantasy

I could kiss Charles Yu right on the mouth for his hilarious-sad-philosophical novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, so I’d like to apologize right off the bat to Mrs. Yu, if there is one (poaching ain’t classy).  The prose is simple, but the ideas are quite profound; sentences glitter like what I imagine Brian Greene’s string theories must be like:  webs of nouns and verbs that nudge us to question the nature of generally accepted constants like time, love, truth, and “now” (whenever that is).  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scratch your head.  Yu nails it.  Whatever “it” is.  One morose time-machine repairman, for the win.

Short Stories

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage gets the Andy for being red-state raw and authentically angry. As much as we would like to think that everyone in America shops at Whole Paycheck, walks around with an e-reader, and frets about whether to pick the body-scanner or the pat-down at the airport, there’s a whole other America out there, composed of people whose sincere efforts to do better for themselves are smacked down again and again by forces out of their control. A shock of cold water to the face for those who ever wonder about the “other” America beneath the glossy facade you see on CNN. Brilliant.

YA Fiction

In my only nod to popular opinion, I have to go with Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay.  Judging solely from the heated “Team Gale” versus “Team Peeta” arguments, it would seem that few readers of the Hunger Games trilogy realized what a masterpiece they really had in their hands.  Katniss Everdeen sees and experiences horrors no teenage girl should ever have to, and survives to create the best ending for herself that a PTSD survivor can hope for.

The Hunger Games was never really a romance, though romantic feelings play a part in it.  It is a trilogy about the horrors of war, the manipulation and abuse that can occur in the media, unbridled politics and power, the gap between rich and poor, the excesses of the former, and the deprivation of the latter, all exaggerated almost beyond belief.  But the scary part is, it could really happen.  Katniss’s Appalachia is not all that far removed from the real one, reality television gets crazier by the moment, and do you really want to get me started on the wealth discrepancy in America?

No, you really don’t.   But you do want to take another look at Mockingjay, so you can officially declare yourself “Team Katniss.”

There will be no Andy for drama or mainstream fiction this year.  Sad, but true.  Nothing moved me.  Then again, given my fondness for time machine repairmen and tough-talking vampires, is anyone surprised?  While I appreciate “good” literature, I am very much a genre grrrl.  And I’m at peace with that.  You could argue that it is genre readers, after all, who are keeping libraries afloat these days.  A can of worms for another time.

But first:  on Wednesday we will finally get to the bottom of Winter RAT, and sometime next week I will get around to telling you just where I was all December, and why, and how it moved me.  Literally and figuratively.

Until then, I hope your new year is off to a wonderful start.  I’ve decided to celebrate by re-reading one of my favorite books and diving into a classic I somehow never found time for.

What are your readerly plans for 2011?  Any suggestions so far?

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  1. afewsocks said,

    January 3, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    LOVED Tana French’s In the Woods and as for poetry, I am really really enjoying Lighthead by Terrance Hayes! Love that he’s one of ours!

  2. Elissa said,

    January 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Will have to look for Mouse Guard! Also love your review of Mockingjay. It’s my favorite YA (actually for me it’s my favorite book) of the year, too.

  3. JR said,

    January 4, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I have to agree with you about Mockingjay. Many people do not seem to have figured out the author’s real message, while “enjoying” the reality theater that superificially makes up the stories. What I loved was was the author’s complete refusal to make this black and white. The leader of the good side is just as corrupt and vicious as the bad guy, Snow. And you are right. This was really a story about PTSD. Looked at that way, it is really no surprise who Katniss chose to live her life with. So, do you think it has a chance for the Newbery or is it just too violent for them to consider?

  4. JR said,

    January 4, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Or rather, the Printz. It likely is too violent for the Newbery, come to think of it, but should be a solid contender for YA Fiction which means the Printz.

  5. January 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Woo, we get comments!

    @afewsocks, yes, Lighthead = wonderful! I did not finish it, as I could not get into it, but I appreciated it from a lit crit pov. Are you getting the sequels to In the Woods?

    @Elissa, I think you will really like Mouse Guard. Make yourself some tea, snuggle up in a blanket, and prepare to be transported!

    @JR, couldn’t agree with you more. If this doesn’t get a Printz nod, I’d be very surprised. I’d wager the same goes for the Alex Awards, given the high cross-over appeal for the trilogy – or is the Alex only for non-fic? I forget…

  6. Elissa said,

    January 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Alex for any book that’s published for adults, that has teen appeal, so Mockingjay wouldn’t be eligible for that one. Since HG was ignored by awards committees the year it came out, I’d love to see Mockingjay get Printz recognition!

  7. Elissa said,

    January 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Whoops, that would be “Alex IS for any book…”

  8. January 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    @Elissa, whoops, thank you. I always screw up the direction of the Alex. :)

  9. Will Manley said,

    January 5, 2011 at 1:01 am

    LAV…I loved this post. What riches lie therein. Many thanks. My favorite book from ’10 was Peter Ackroyd’s new translation of the Canterbury Tales. Vintage wines can sometimes be enhanced with a snappy new bottle. This text brings out he bouquet like none other. Huzzah to Chaucer renewed!

  10. JR said,

    January 5, 2011 at 1:30 am

    WIll have you read all the complaints that the English used in the book is too um, low class? Jest call me dumb, but wasn’t Chaucer trying to be low class in his work to increase readership? Never mind that his wife was an off and on important member of the royal court! (governess if I remember correctly. And his wife’s sister was a long time “associate” of one of the royal princes before she finally was able to become his wife. Can’t remember the names at this moment: it is too late at night, and I hit the Bailey’s too hard at the Unwinders’ tavern!

  11. Will Manley said,

    January 5, 2011 at 11:00 am

    LAV…total agreeance on this one. Chaucer’s charm was his earthiness…his ability to articulate a less than reverent posture on a delightfully eclectic group of folks off on a pilgrimage. Delightful stuff…real and compelling; not highminded and illusory. Hope you took advantage of our free taxi service last night.

  12. Will Manley said,

    January 5, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Sorry, JR…I meant JR, not LAV.

  13. JR said,

    January 5, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Yes, I used the taxi service, thanks for providing it!

  14. January 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    @Will, hello! Welcome back, and thank you for the tip on the new Chaucer translation. I’d been musing about going back to Canterbury Tales, and now I have an excuse – it’s on my list! Bumped up, of course, because it’s you. And because you like Bailey’s, which is the best thing that ever happened to coffee. :)

  15. January 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    [...] One of the books I read at the tail end of 2010 was Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. I first heard of it from Slog or the Boston Bibliophile or It came up a few times in feeds I subscribe to. Then it was mentioned again in this year end post from Library Alchemy. [...]

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