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Originally published Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Lit Life

Lit Life: An early word on the best books of 2010

Today's Lit Life column takes a look at three early lists naming the best books of 2010, and calls out titles that achieved consensus that they are well worth reading. Top books: Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom," Isabel Wilkerson's "The Warmth of Other Suns" and Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

Seattle Times book editor

Lit life |

By my reckoning, counting Monday there are 44 days left in 2010. But just like those Christmas decorations that start creeping into the big box stores in September, best-books-of-2010 lists are already clogging my inbox.

Last week I got three best-of lists: from the retail giant; from Library Journal (magazine for the library profession) and Publishers Weekly (magazine for the publishing profession). May I just say that librarians think differently from retailers? Three books made both the Amazon and the Library Journal 10-best lists. The librarians' and publishers' lists also shared a total of three. The publishers and Amazon agreed more often: six books made both the Amazon and Publishers Weekly lists.

So I mushed all these lists together, to give you an early look at books that have achieved some consensus that they are really, really good. Here are the books that made all three:

"Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Franzen, author of 2001's "The Corrections," came roaring back this fall with a novel that deconstructs the lives of Patty and Walter Berglund, two well-intentioned liberals who manage to muck up just about everything in their lives. This book is tremendously affecting, though I'm not sure why, because much of it is like watching a train wreck.

"The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House). A work of social history, Wilkerson's book chronicles the migration of 6 million blacks out of the South between World War I and the 1970s, telling the story through the lives of three principal characters. "A fresh, rich book," said The Seattle Times review. Retailers, librarians and publishers apparently agree.

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot (Crown). This book tells the true story of Lacks, a cancer-stricken African-American woman who died in 1951 but whose cells far outlived her. Research scientists used and abused her cell line, and multiple medical and ethical controversies dogged this curious version of immortality. Amazon pronounced "Henrietta Lacks" the best book of the year.

Do you want to know which books made two out of three lists? Sure you do:

"Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House). By the author of "Seabiscuit:" The story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner and World War II bombardier who crashed, spent 47 days on a raft in the Pacific, then landed in a prison run by a an extraordinarily sadistic Japanese commander. "Unbroken" chronicles his ordeal and his postwar struggle for recovery (Amazon, PW).

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith (Ecco). The rock star's memoir of her life in 1960s-'70s New York, focusing on her friendship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Her eulogy "lays bare the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe's life and work," said Publisher's Weekly (Amazon, PW).

"The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine" by Michael Lewis (Norton). A character-driven account of the financial crash of 2008, written by the author of "Liar's Poker." (Amazon, PW).

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at

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