I already linked to my year in reading post for The Millions, but before I realized they wanted something short I did the usual maniacal scroll through the year's blog posts, and made a demented cheat sheet for the purposes of summary. I am too lazy to write it up with links, but I think I'll gather the names here with a few thoughts, by category. Anything I mention here is pretty strongly recommended unless I say otherwise.
New and newish 'literary' novels: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall; Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses (I'd had this lying around forever, somehow didn't quite pick it up, but I really loved it); Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (couldn't put it down); Michelle Huneven's Blame (this book deserved more attention than it got, I thought it was very good indeed, at least as good as Kate Christensen's Trouble). Sam Lipsyte's The Ask belongs in this group too, only I read it in the form of an advance reading copy in 2009!
I thoroughly enjoyed Justin Cronin's The Passage, and do not agree with the verdict of it offered in this hilarious albeit mean-spirited list of the 10 worst novels of 2010 (but I do agree with one of his assessments, a book I read only a chunk of but disliked so much I haven't even mentioned it on my blog!).
Lewis Shiner's Black & White (you can get here for free!) is stunningly good and generically unplaceable; it could have been published as literary fiction or crime or fantasy, it is just when it comes down to it an excellent novel.
I liked Sebastian Faulks' Human Traces quite a bit, only it is sadder and thus less fully immersive than some of his other novels; I also enjoyed Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood.
Connie Willis's Blackout and All Clear, highly recommended but with the proviso that they are definitely really one long novel and should be read consecutively. I also finally read Octavia Butler's Seed to Harvest books, which are much to my taste.
Some rereads: Mary Renault's Alexander books, favorite novels by Cintra Wilson and Helen DeWitt and Alan Hollinghurst. Also, and amazingly immersively (especially the first, which is one of my favorite novels of all time): War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
I continued to read Thomas Bernhard with amazement; this year's discovery was The Loser.
I loved, loved, loved reading Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo and Lymond books; they are not my perfect books, there is something overly complex (almost abstruse) about them, but they are spectacularly good light reading, particularly because of volume. Am tempted to get them for my Kindle and periodically reread; would be nice, anyway, to know that they were there for an emergency! (Also thinking about purchasing Susan Howatch's books for same purposes - or Trollope would work too...)
I also loved Donna Tartt's The Little Friend.
Sigrid Nunez's new novel Salvation City could (appealingly) have been published as YA. Joshilyn Jackson's Backseat Saints is a good example of a book that only contingencies of publishing stopped from making literary fiction/best of year lists.
I loved two strange novels about open-water swimming by Jenifer Levin, Water Dance and The Sea of Light. 2010 turned into a year in which I didn't swim nearly as much as I would have liked, but I will hope to remedy this in 2011...
I discovered F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack novels and Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series.
Elif Batuman's The Possessed was quite magical; it even reminded me of my favorite novel of all time, Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows! John Waters' Role Models was also altogether charming.
Some good nonfiction I read (I always read a ton more novels, though): Claire Tomalin's Pepys biography; Loic Wacquant's Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer, which made me wish I were a sociologist. Michael Lewis's The Blind Side does not have the depth of either of those two, but I enjoyed it a great deal, despite knowing virtually nothing about football.
Two other important books for me this year as I began work on a new novel: Andrew Dolkart's book about the architectural history of Morningside Heights and the really wonderful book Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (and to a lesser extent the book by 'Ninjalicious' called Access All Areas); also, of course, the Euripides play The Bacchae, which I think I might reread for the eighth or ninth time later this afternoon.
New and newish books by Jo Walton, Diana Wynne Jones (one of my particular all-time literary heroes), Robin McKinley and Terry Pratchett in the fantasy/YA realm (and I also finally got around to reading the fourth installment of Lian Hearn's lovely Tales of the Otori), and by a host of excellent crime writers already known to me: Kate Atkinson, Ken Bruen, Lee Child (times two!), Robert Crais, Tana French, Deon Meyer, Arnaldur Indridason. Also read, for the first time, the crime fiction of Liz Rigbey, Caroline Carver, David Levien, Ake Edwardsson, Asa Larsson, C. J. Sansom and Jo Nesbo.
Joe Hill's Horns was very good but not as much to my particular personal tastes as Heart-Shaped Box. Robert Harris's Pompeii was not at all bad but not as good as his best books. I liked Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim novels very much indeed. Jilly Cooper's Jump! did not live up to my hopes but was still an enjoyable read.
I was mesmerized and delighted by Keith Richards's Life.
I thought Kristen Hersh's Rat Girl was a considerably better book than Patti Smith's Just Kids.
Indispensable: Gail Steketee and Randy Frost's Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.
I enjoyed autobiographies by Monica Seles and Andre Agassi (the latter is particularly worthwhile), as well as Nick Flynn's Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. And like many other readers, I was fascinated and touched Tony Judt's memoirs, composed and published in pieces in the last months before he died of ALS.
I am sure I have left some important things out, but these are some of the books I loved in 2010....