Before we get to the matter at hand — listing the triumphant winners of the 2010 Nobbie Awards for the Best Books of the Year — allow me a few notes.

First, although this piece carries my by-line, I didn’t write it, as such.  Rather, like some editorial Timbaland or DJ Dangermouse, I “sampled” submissions by our selection committee (who have all been sworn to absolute secrecy, on pain of either death or having to spend an entire weekend listening to an audiobook of the new Christine O’Donnell memoir).

Second, while the work of TNB contributors was allowed this year — and some of our contributors’ fine titles made the list — books by TNB editors were declared ineligible.  Thus, Slut Lullabies, the sublime short story collection by our fiction editor, Gina Frangello, is not here, although it received support.

Finally, two of the books on the list — both novels — garnered more votes than anything else.  I have marked them with an asterisk.  If there really were a Nobbie statuette — and we’re working on it for next year — it would go to these two authors.

Thanks for reading (in more ways than one).

* A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan

Explosive imagination matched with serious literary chops, Goon Squad hopscotches time and place to immortalize a time and place (namely, those early loves of friends and music).Egan explores both personal themes and Great American ones, and the result is all the stronger in comparison with another much (more)-anticipated book from 2010 that was supposed to be telling us about The Way We Live Now.Plus, the best section written in PowerPoint ever. (Knopf)


An Object of Beauty

Steve Martin

Along with Denis Johnson, Martin has turned out to be one of the strongest heartfelt American writers of fiction of the new century. This book kicks out the jams. (Grand Central Publishing)


Bad Marie

Marcy Dermansky

Dermansky’s slim, subversive novel—concerning a wayward, drunken, selfish, and sexy nanny who abducts her charge (and her charge’s French father!) and absconds to Paris for a hedonistic food-and-sex fest before reality hits—is generally described as “naughty,” “evil,” or “wicked,” usually modified by the adverb “deliciously.”Marie may not be the kind of girl you take home to mother, but she’d sure be fun to bring to France for a long weekend.A fun, fun read. (Harper Perennial)


Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk

Tony DuShane

Catcher in the Rye, Jehovah’s Witness Edition. Written thoughtfully, lovingly, and optimistically, Confessions casts open the door on one of the weirdest groups in America and makes it seem downright nice. It’s a fascinating, human take on what most of us consider to be little more than a cult. (Soft Skull)


* Currency

Zoe Zolbrod

Zoe Zolbrod’s masterful debut is an examination of the tenuous relationship between love, money, culture, race, gender, and politics, disguised as a page-turning literary thriller—a perfect book for armchair travelers, globe trotters, and lovers of literary fiction and thrillers alike.In Piv, the small time Thai hustler and the protagonist, Zolbrod gives us a character for the ages.Gripping, literary, exotic, and sexy. (O/V Books)



Davis Schneiderman

It’s the year 2039, and Lake Michigan is mysteriously emptied of water…and then, things get really weird.A ruthless energy and frantic creativity reminiscent of Kathy Acker. Drain will blow your mind.  (Triquarterly)



René Belletto

(translated by Alexander Hertich)

An experimental work of fiction that is utterly alive, sometimes funny, sometimes rather chilling, that puts a work so anticipated as Tom McCarthy’s C into the category of well-intended-but-a-slave-to-concept. Belletto should be better known here as the French author who most successfully mixes genres—roman noir, policier, science-fiction and literary fiction—better than anyone. (Dalkey Archive Press)


Half a Life

Darin Strauss

In the spirit of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Strauss looks back on, and learns to cope with, a sudden and life-altering death: in this case, his inadvertently killing a high school classmate in a freak car accident half a life ago.That he manages to do so without once evoking self-pity is a testament to his power as a writer. (McSweeney’s)


Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer

Edited by Robert Swartwood

A delightful conceptual artifact. (W.W. Norton & Co.)



How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop, The Machine Speaks

Dave Tompkins

Part military espionage, part homage to Afrikka Bambatta. Wonderful and weird.  Best enjoyed with You Tube nearby, to cue up all those obscure eighties electro jams. (Melville House)


Just Kids

Patti Smith

Not just a memoir of names—though what a world she inhabited! Smith exposes a deep connection to the nerves she extended into a culturally creative time and place. And all these years later, she unloads in a significantly endearing manner. It took a decade to write, it was written by one of the greatest artist’s of a generation about two of the greatest artists of a generation. It won the National Book Award, and it’ll probably make you cry. (Ecco)


Keyhole Factory

William Gillespie



11/11/11 will not only signal the next Armistice Day, but the day the World As We Know It ends, in Gillespie’s stunning novel. Keyhole Factory’s intersecting narrative structure draws from the “webwork” plot composition method of all-but forgotten mid-twentieth century writer Harry Stephen Keeler, and is perhaps the most fully realized postmodern version of the method.This book is exactly what you would expect from a publisher as daring as Spineless, and at the same time, completely beyond expectation. (Spineless)





Keith Richards

What’s impressive is how bloody professional this man is as a musician. Though his life has been filled with mayhem, his devotion to both his own music as a Rolling Stone and to the roots of his music in the African-American experience is nothing less than clear-sighted and moving in how he writes about it. Yes, he may have spent a whole week wide awake on smack when laying down tracks for Exile on Main Street, but, as he says, it was always about the music. This is a man who falls asleep with a guitar in his hands. How many of us writers nod off at the keyboard?Okay, don’t answer that. (Little, Brown)


Miracle Boy

Pinckney Benedict

Absolutely phenomenal short story collection—kind of a Stephen King meets Flannery O’Connor experience. The title tale— a young boy’s feet are accidentally chopped off by his father in a farming accident, and he and his friends must cope—may just be the best short story ever written. Other stories feature kids trying to spy dead people in a wrecked car, stories of hauntings, bodily possession, and the approaching end of the world–all set in back-roads communities, and all told with tremendous literary skill. (Press 53)


Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism)

Frank Schaeffer

Finally, a mature voice of balance and reason. Honest, down-to-earth spiritual writing from a writer who isn’t trying to sell you anything. (Da Capo Press)


Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

David Shields

No book in 2010 incited a better conversation about art and literature than Reality Hunger.  Shields’ attempt at an ars poetica for the 21st century digital world wasn’t for everyone, but it was impossible to dismiss.  (Knopf)


Repeat Until Rich

Josh Axelrad



Axelrad’s existential gambling memoir is both compelling and magical.  The kind of book that makes you wonder how the author pulled it off. (Penguin)



Richard Yates

Tao Lin

A terrifying “mix” of hilarious and mind-numbingly boring. (Melville House)



Emma Donoghue

Donoghue’s triumphant bestseller is the rare work of edgy literary fiction with mass appeal.  At once a horror story and a gripping family drama, its 5-year-old narrator is one of the most memorable narrative voices of the year. (Little, Brown)



Ian McEwan

McEwan takes a boring, complex but drastically important subject (climate change) and manages to make it fascinating.  He also writes compellingly about the eternal but rarely discussed struggle of fat people grappling with their weight better than any writer in recent memory.  (Nan A. Talese)



D. R. Haney

A collection of short (and sometimes very short) pieces originally published on TNB, Subversia‘s mosaic structure cuts against the grain of the traditional memoir, focusing on a variety of moments, both big and small, as well as on people, places, and artwork that made their mark on the author’s life.  A powerful, arresting portrait of an artist in metamorphosis. (TNB Books)



Aaron Dietz

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a superhero?Dietz sure has, and then some. One of the most imaginative books of the year (that is still actually about being human). (Emergency Press)


The Gathering of the Elders

Wesli Court




In this volume Court, the altar [sic] ego of accomplished poet Lewis Turco, has crafted a wide variety of poems in a wide variety of styles, providing a wonderful peek into the ranging possibilities of skillful poetry. (Star Cloud Press)





The Insufferable Gaucho

Roberto Bolaño

With two Bolaño masterpieces, The Savage Detectives and 2666, already in the bank, some feared that Gaucho would represent the dregs of this great writer’s work. Not at all. The stories (and essays) collected in this  edition are as alive and risky as anything he ever published.  (New Directions)


The Summer We Fell Apart

Robin Antalek

This soaring debut concerns the tribulations of the Haas family—four grown children and their mother—before, during, and after the death of the failed-playwright patriarch, who was as achingly absent in their childhoods as he is in the novel.Oh, and don’t let the prim and proper cover fool you—The Summer We Fell Apart has some racy passages, including the most uncomfortable ménage à trois scene in recent memory. (Harper Perennial)


Thelonious Monk, The Life and Times of an American Original

Robin D.G. Kelly

Monk is the great jazz pianist of our time. And he’s been gone for decades. Kelly’s book is exhaustive, and if he wrangles in some race history in the matter, why the hell not? He’s a scholar, and this is not only an exhaustive book, it’s a wonderful celebration of Monk. (Free Press)


Up from the Blue

Susan Henderson

Everything you want in a novel: gorgeous prose, well-drawn and fascinating characters, rich detail, assured voice, and, above all, a gripping story that will continue to haunt you long after you’ve finished reading. (Harper Perennial)


Who Fears Death

Nnedi Okorafor



The latest novel by Nigerian-American fantasy/science-fiction author Nnedi Okorafor is at its core a story richly embroidered with event, language, and character.  In a dystopian Africa of the future it deals unflinchingly with the plight of the outsider in an environment of genocidal struggle between races, with its inevitable brutality. (DAW Books)




Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life

Rob Roberge

In the tradition of Jesus’ Son, this collection explores the underbelly of America, addicts and criminals, but never sinks to nihilism.Roberge is a master of the down-and-out heart, and this collection, a decade in the making, is the strongest of this immensely talented and critically acclaimed (but under-recognized in the mainstream) author’s three books to date. (Red Hen Press)

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GREG OLEAR is the Los Angeles Times bestselling author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker and founding editor of The Weeklings.

35 responses to “Presenting…the 2010 Nobbie Awards”

  1. […] To see the full list, CLICK HERE. […]

  2. What a list. Anyone who talks shit about the state of modern literature can read this and weep.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      My thoughts, exactly, David. I’m actually excited by TONS of these titles. And the ones I’ve already read have been great.

      Honored that Super made the list, and I KNOW Zoe Zolbrod’s Currency is fantastic, though I haven’t finished it yet.

      I keep hearing fantastic things about Half a Life. Gotta’ read that one.

  3. Tom Hansen says:

    Good list. Nice to see Super on there

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Thanks, Tom! I’m actually really surprised and pleased–this is a good list (though I’d have liked to have seen American Junkie on this list–it’s on my list of favorite 2010 books!).

  4. […] year, The Nervous Breakdown releases the Nobbie Awards: a list of the site’s editors’ favorite books of that […]

  5. zoe zolbrod says:

    I can’t overstate how happy I am to be on this list. The books I’ve read on it have left me awe-struck and/or given me so much pleasure, making it twice the honor. A good number of them I wouldn’t have been aware of it not for TNB, which I’ve come to rely on as a source for hearing about books I otherwise wouldn’t. (AMERICAN JUNKIE is one of these. I can’t get out of my mind.)

  6. Jim says:

    Smart list. How about some write-ins: Composed by Rosanne Cash. They Came to Nashville by Marshall Chapman (the Willie Nelson chapter alone is worth the price of admission.)

  7. Great list! Can’t wait to crack into the Pinckney Benedict. I just love that guy.

  8. What a great list! So many different styles and presses represented.

    I can’t wait for this semester to end so I can do some fun reading again…

  9. Tony DuShane says:

    great list, i especially can’t wait to read jennifer egan’s book.

    and thank you for including my book….very exciting news.

  10. I’m super pleased that BAD MARIE appears on this list in the company of so many other great novels. Wow.

  11. Any list with a Thelonius Monk book on it is one I want to read every entry of.

  12. Rachel Pollon says:

    Oooh, what a good list. So many of these titles have been on my “to get” list and I’m glad to have a reminder/nudge. I’m currently in the midst of the Keith Richard book. Dang, I dig it. Speaking of which, it’s late and I should get to bed… where Keith (in book form, but of course) is waiting for me. Good list!

  13. Judy Prince says:

    So helpful to have this brief-blurbs list, Greg. I’ve marked several for getting close to, and am glad to have as as Rachel Pollon just wrote, “a suggestion/nudge.”

    Am I the only TNBer who doesn’t know what NOBbie awards actually means?

  14. Appreciate so much being placed in such stellar company.

  15. Josh Axelrad says:

    Destabilizingly great company to find oneself included in. I need a drink.

    Thank you.

  16. What they all said and more… great company to be in and fantastic reads!

  17. Small world. One of my friends I went to high school with is in the Hint Fiction collection. His name is Barry Napier. He writes some cool stuff, mostly dark, but not always. NPR gave him a little plug a bit ago for his story “Through a Tiny Window” at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2010/10/28/130884892/whole-worlds-in-less-than-25-words

    You can find his blog online at http://barrynapierwriting.wordpress.com. I guess you could say I’m plugging him but he deserves it. He is a very, very dedicated writer.

  18. Davis says:

    It’s an honor to be here, and a great list to look forward to…

  19. Lisa says:

    TNB should make the Nobbie list (part or parcel) available through the bookstore. Separate it into fiction/non-fiction/poetry/all of the above.

  20. new orleans lady says:

    Now I have to overnight my revised Chistmas list to Santa.

  21. I love your list…except for the Keith Richards memoir. I leafed through this at Borders (no, I did not read the whole thing), and let’s just say that I was startled by it. Why was I startled? I am afraid to explain, but it has to do with the writing, or lack thereof. Sure, he has had an interesting life (understatement); I am sure he will get a huge audience. But to me, a good memoir takes three things: story, voice and audience finding consonance with the writer’s life. I love the Stones, though; I really do.

    I heard Patti Smith’s book is amazing…and kudos to all these writers. Great idea, the Nobbie Awards.



  22. Oh gosh, I did not mean to offend with my impression of Keith Richards’ memoir. I think it was the section about losing his son that turned me the wrong way; I felt as if this was dictated and odd and flat. Being a mom, it’s hard to relate to what I saw as indifference; that shocked me. That may not be how it was meant, but that’s how I took it, and I could not relate.

    Re: consonance–I was thinking about this more, and I think a memoir either makes us feel consonance (even if the life of the writer/speaker is much different), or that life is so mind-boggling strange/hard/different that it makes us feel we lived a bit of it, too, just by reading.

    • Tom Hansen says:

      Elizabeth, I’m afraid I already beat you to the punch re:possibly offending (although I doubt that I did, really). I haven’t read it either, but I posted somewhere about my disgust at anyone being paid seven million for a memoir, and also about wanting my teenage memories of the Stones to remain the way they are and the legend of Keith to remain shrouded in mystery. That may be a dumb stance to take, and I understand people’s interest in him, nevertheless…

      Interesting thoughts on memoir. I hadn’t ever thought of it in those terms (consonance) but very well put. When I was writing mine I thought of it as trying to find common ground with people who hadn’t experienced what I had (a really bad heroin addiction, drug dealing and an unusual family situation)

  23. Excellent list! I’ve read about a third of them and totally agree with you. Will read the remaining two-thirds as soon as I can. Thanks for posting this! I want to see the award. Surely you’ve drawn up something that shows what you want it to look like! I think it should be made of paper, since this is an award for the written word. No?

  24. Sara Habein says:

    Great list. My to-read list just feels a lot heavier.

  25. rob roberge says:

    Wow–it’s really an honor to be on this list. Thank you, whoever picked such a thing.

    I’m glad, too, that the intro mentioned why Gina Frangello’s SLUT LULLABIES wasn’t eligible, as it was one of the best collections I read this year. My own list would have Tom Hansen’s AMERICAN JUNKIE on it, as well (as one more to augment people’s “to read” lists). A great read.

    And I, like a lot of people have mentioned, now have a bunch more to put on the ‘to read on winter break’ list. Been wanting to check out the Egan for quite a while.

    And while I’m really looking forward to checking out Keith’s book, I must say that it doesn’t take much dedication or drive (though the man has both in spades) to nod out/fall asleep with a guitar in one’s hands. I’ve done it plenty…and my band-mates didn’t seem to take it as a sign of my dedication or love of craft. The bastards.

    And, as for writers nodding off at the keyboard, it’s just as easy as nodding off with a guitar in your hands. It doesn’t really mean you’re dedicated to you craft…it just means you got enough drugs that day. 🙂

    But, still… Keith’s smarter and more invested in the history of his craft than most people give him credit for–looking forward to the book.

  26. Marni Grossman says:

    “To the End of the Land” by David Grossman is brilliant. We’re not related, I swear.

  27. […] Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon. It was chosen as one of The Nervous Breakdown’s favorite books of the year. And the Gotham Writer’s Workshop featured Hint Fiction as their writing contest this past fall. […]

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