My earliest and fondest memories of books are those cuddled on the couch with one of my parents, my sister on the other side, listening to The Chronicles of Narnia or the Little House on the Prairie books. This year, I read three chapter books to Addison and Davis and got far into a fourth. The act of listening to a book being read is a unique way to engage literature and one we typically equate with youth. However, this year as I have listened to 10 books on audio, I have become convinced that being read to allows you to notice things that you miss when you read with your eyes and not your ears.
Goodreads has made it possible to catalog my reading this year and discover other books of similar interest, and the book club I joined in February has kept my reading list ever fresh and interesting. Below are the 19 books I completed this year ranked from 5 stars down to 2 with links to reviews I've already done and brief comments on those I have not mentioned before.
As a side note, let me add that 2011 was a banner year for finding outstanding new favorites. I read two of the best books I've ever read, one of which is now in my top 3 of all time, Cutting for Stone. It is a book that now, many months after finishing it, still lives with me, and I'm sure I will re-read in the near future. I also find it interesting as I look back on the books I read this year that several recurring threads wove their way through many of them, most notably racial tension. Several focused on the Holocaust, one on illegal immigration, two on Jim Crow. Race was examined from an American, European, Asian, and African perspective, mediated through a medical mindset, retrospected through history's lens and laid bare in its most grotesque form in war as genocide.
This is the 6th of the 7 books in the Gabaldon Outlander series, all of which are at least 1,000 pages. I started the series in April 2010 and will probably finish the 7th book this January. I have come to the conclusion that while Gabaldon is a very gifted writer, she struggles with brevity, which ultimately detracts from her books. You may laugh at such a patently obvious observation given her books' lengths. However, at first, I was willing to concede that in order to effect the epic journey of time's passage (the books cover several decades and centuries), it was necessary for her to write such long books. Now, however, I am unconvinced. Quantity does not equal quality. All this being said, A Breath of Snow in Ashes was a very good book with inventive twists and, in my opinion, would have been better to conclude the series. Right now I am in the throes of book 7, which has been a terrible snoozer, feeling too invested to walk away but slightly dreading the fact that book 8 is still being written and may or may not be the finale.
This beloved childhood tale never gets old. I cannot tell you how many times I have read it or had it read to me, and I still get chills at all the right parts. A must read for every parent and child.
The Borrowers is a wonderful, fanciful story, which delights young imaginations and will make you wonder what does happen to all the AA batteries you keep buying and can't find when you need.
I hopped on The Hunger Games bandwagon this summer and was quickly sucked into its addictive vortex. This was a book club pick and by the time of our meeting I had completed the trilogy. THG is fast-paced in a disarming way, blending the brutality of ancient Greece and Rome with the voyeuristic narcissism of modern-day reality television and the terror-inspiring dystopia of futuristic technology, strange bedfellows that somehow work together in a cacophonous symmetry. The relationships in the book are admittedly adolescent, which I think is part of its charm. The writing style taps into the emotional intensity of now thankfully long-gone teenage years and ramps up the volume in a way that is completely engrossing. It is a book that is probably a lot deeper than most people realize, and I walked away feeling like it was an incredible indictment of our modern, entertainment-crazed culture. Somehow that has been lost with all the current movie-hype for its March release. Ah, the irony.
Unfortunately, not nearly as interesting as the first book.
Two narratives from different times collide in this French-based book about a journalist investigating the infamous Vel' d'Hiv Roundup during World War II when more than 7,000 French Jews were held by the French police in a velodrome with no food, water, or sanitation for 5 days before being shipped to Auschwitz. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about World War II, but this was an event I had never heard of, not surprising considering the French efforts to ignore their own responsibility in the Holocaust. A very sobering tale but, unfortunately, not all that well written.
Little Bee probably deserves 3.5 or 4 stars, but it was a very hard book for me to read given its heavy content. You may find it otherwise, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves soulful stories. Though I really failed to connect with one of the main characters in the book, by contrast the title character, Little Bee, was so beautifully written, so penetrating in her insights, someone who had lived too much life for her young years, it is worth reading just to get to know her as a character.
This is the 2nd book of 2011 that was also made into a movie this year (The Help was the other one). If you enjoy mystery and intrigue, you will love this book. Very engaging characters and a creative story with a bizarre twist at the end. A note of warning, it is very violent and not for the faint of heart.
A good, not a great, book. An odd example of an excellent writing style out-performing the plot.
I picked up Room while on vacation and had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. It is written from the perspective of a young boy who has lived his entire life in captivity in a single room with his mother. Of course, he doesn't know he's a captive, and so the book embodies irony in its classic sense, the reader knowing what the narrator does not that he is the victim of a heinous crime. The narrative style takes a while to get used to given the limited vocabulary and life experience of the story teller. This is another book not for the faint of heart but a story of human triumph and endurance in the face of insurmountable obstacles.
Book club pick. Pure fluff.
A fascinating true story of incredible survival, but another heavy one.
Left me with a big SO WHAT at the end. A book in which I struggled to find even one character I really liked. Sadly, this was my book club pick.
Please share your favorites from this year. I am always looking to add to my "to read" list.