Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2011 Reading in Review

I figure if I'm still in the first quarter of 2012, it's not too humiliating to do last year's round-up of books read and loved. Maybe I'm just doing it for me--I have so much fun looking back at what I read; it's a rare thing in my life to have a tangible list of accomplishments, perhaps I'll start keeping track of loads of laundry done--but maybe one or two of you will find a genre or title of interest to you.

After a dismal showing in 2010 of just 98 books read, I jumped back over 100 last year (hooray!) but only barely (boo!) Here's the breakdown:

Total books read--101
Young Adult--11

(Don't try adding to 101 from that list; some books counted in more than one category. Plus, I wasn't a math major.)

Conclusion: that year after year, I consistently read more mysteries than anything else. Mysteries were the first two manuscripts I wrote. I would dearly love to learn how to write them well. And even though my forthcoming novel is not a mystery, it does have a dead body that may or may not be a murder by the end of chapter three. Perhaps the simplest conclusion is--I like death. And justice. And motivation. And twisty plots.

Second Conclusion: as the author of a forthcoming historical (albeit alternate history) novel, I should read more historical fiction. Less than 15% of what I read last year was in the genre I'm writing? That doesn't seem quite right. To be fair, the largest part of the twenty-three non-fiction titles I read were research for my novel, so I suppose that swings it back a little more into my favor.

Third Conclusion: moving cross-country while husband starts a new job, three kids start new schools, and one child begins college on the opposite coast, is not conducive to reading as much as I would like. (Hmmm, just how much reading would that be, I wonder? What is the limit of "reading as much as I would like" before losing my mind, my eyesight, and/or my family?)

Fourth Conclusion: I love books. Stories, characters, setting, mood . . . I never get tired of it. Bring me more books!

At last, my Top Reads in 2011:

Non-fiction--EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES/Siddartha Mukharjee (a biography of cancer--compulsively readable and fascinatingly clear about both the disease and the men and women who began the fight against it in earnest)

Historical--BLACKOUT & ALL CLEAR/Connie Willis (could be classed sci-fi since it involves time travel, but these two books--which must be read as one very long story--are a brilliant recreation of WWII England as well as a breathtaking story of people trapped out of their own time and desperate not to damage either the past or the future)

Young Adult--CLOCKWORK PRINCE/Cassandra Clare (best known for her series The Mortal Instruments, Clare also writes a prequel series with demon-fighting Shadowhunters in Victorian London. A mix of steampunk and teen romance, this was the book of the year that made me weep not only for the characters but for Clare's stunning choices as a writer and sense of 'how the heck is she going to write herself out this one?'. Start with CLOCKWORK ANGEL.)

Fantasy--GAME OF THRONES, etc. /George R.R. Martin (I read all five books in the series--at least one more will be coming--in 2011 and found myself dreaming of dragons and direwolves and kingslayers and Red Weddings and the Men of the Night's Watch. If you can live with the fact that no character is completely safe in Martin's hands, then dive into this astoundingly complex medieval fantasy world.)

Mystery--JUDAS CHILD/Carol O'Connell (for all the fabulous mysteries I read this year, I chose this one because it was a new-to-me author and I was left breathless and heartbroken by this story of two kidnapped girls and the adults doing everything they can to find them. With backstory and personalities that illuminate the contemporary case, this story shone in its multiple point-of-view characters.)

And Ten More for good measure: 

1. STATE OF WONDER/Ann Patchett (by a writer that builds an intricate framework of story--drug researcher goes to the Amazon to find out why her colleague died in the jungle--then drapes it with setting--Manaus, Brazil and the jungle itself--before weaving in subtle themes of memory and intimacy and responsibility)

2. TRAVELING MERCIES/Anne LaMott (the writer's memoir of finding religion in spite of herself, beautiful essays about faith and illness and finding God in the ladies' room . . . but it was the concept of barn-raising that had me in tears. My friends know why.)

3. HELL IS EMPTY/Craig Johnson (if Johnson didn't appear on almost every year-end list I make, this book would have been best mystery of 2011--easily the best of the Walt Longmire novels, as the Wyoming sheriff sets off into the mountains during a blizzard to find escaped prisoners and their hostages--the book rests almost wholly on Walt and the results are stunning)

4. BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP/S.J. Watson (what if, every time you fell asleep, you forgot what you knew--so that every morning you woke up a stranger to yourself? And what if you suspect your husband is lying to you about the things you can't remember? This is a book to read fast and furious so as not to miss any of the twists)

5. INTO THE WILD/Jon Krakauer (true account of a young man who walked into the Alaskan wilderness and never came out--how did he go from loving family and prestigious college degree to living off the land where no one could find him until it was too late?)

6. WAY OF KINGS/Brandon Sanderson (the first in his planned ten-book series, Sanderson doesn't mess around and doesn't condescend to his readers--this is a dense book full of characters and stories and places that don't yet all match up--but they are so utterly real and compelling that I'm going nuts waiting for the next book to come out)

7. RUN/Ann Patchett (another brilliant story by the brilliant writer, this one set during a Boston snowstorm that brings two families together unexpectedly, a moving look at the ties of father and son and how family in all its complications make us who we are)

8. ROOM/Emma Donoghue (what if you were five years old and had lived your whole life with your mom in one room? And what if, one day, you helped change all that and came into a world you'd never imagined? Donoghue takes what could have been a painfully prying story about a kidnapped and imprisoned woman and makes it not only bearable but lyrical by telling it from the point of view of the son born to her in captivity)

9. THE DISTANT HOURS/Kate Morton (another gothic masterpiece by Morton, this one about a woman whose mother one day receives a long-delayed letter written almost forty years earlier--and the discoveries she makes about her mother's past and how it entwines with three reclusive sisters in a romantic manor house)

10. AT HOME/Bill Bryson (want to know how houses came to be, not to mention toothbrushes and beds and toilets and pantries? Want to laugh out loud while learning all of this? Then Bryson is your man. The best part of 2011 for me was getting to hear him speak about this book in person--there have been benefits to moving to Boston!)

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