Books: 2011 Wrap-up

book2011I’d hoped to read 60 books in 2011.  I didn’t hit that goal, but I managed 47, which was eight more than I read in 2010. (Frank, by contrast, ended the year with 151 (!) which just boggles my apparently puny mind.)

I also read longer books this year. In the last quarter, several of the books I read were 800+ pages long, though they were also my most interesting books, so I sped through them really quickly.

2010: 39 books (14,683 pages) read

2011: 47 books (20,024 pages) read

I’m going to try for 60 books again this year, but if I don’t make it, I hope it’s because I spent a lot of that time writing, instead of on Twitter or surfing the web or, god forbid, obsessing about the election.

Here is a list of my favorites for 2011. I read several really good books, but these are the ones that I craved and devoured:

Fiction:

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
We like to ask people about their favorite books, and this one is our friend Beth’s favorite book ever. That’s pretty high praise especially from a smart cookie like Beth, but the title made me wonder if it was some sort of inspirational self-help book, which slightly dampened my enthusiasm for reading it. Boy was I wrong. This book is amazing. It’s a novel about a boy in South Africa named Peekay and his amazing mentor. I love a good coming of age book, and this one definitely fits the description, but that’s not all it is. It’s also about boxing and waterfalls and mining. Highly recommended!

 

11-22-63 by Stephen King
Yeah, yeah, it’s looked down upon in some circles, but I enjoy Stephen King, and this was an amazing read. It’s about time travel and revolves around the JFK assassination, but underneath it’s really a love story. It’s really character driven, and I found I really missed the characters when I was done with the book. It’s got something for everyone: history, shooting, sex, time travel. What’s not to love?

 

A Song of Ice and Fire (5 book series, so far) by George R R Martin
You’ve probably heard of Game of Thrones by this point. It’s a show on HBO but also a fantastic book series – 5 books and counting. Frank says that when I read these books (for about 3 weeks straight) I “disappeared from the family”. This might be a little bit true. I don’t know how to describe these books in a way that does justice to them, except to say that they’re a fantasy series filled with politics, murder, lots of sex, betrayal and a bit of humor. And I’ll say this: I typically cannot STAND the fantasy genre. I’ve never understood why the fantasy world has arrested itself in medieval England, and I cringe at the covers, at the dragons, at the weapons, all of it.But I LOVED these books. I loved them so hard that I didn’t realize til I’d blazed through them that each one is at least 800 pages long. They’re really, really good.

And one final thought: unlike most books that have become shows/movies, I recommend watching the HBO show season 1 first, before reading the books. The casting is perfect, and I loved being able to picture the characters as I read. Unfortunately, this means that book 1 will be tedious, but I thought it was worth it to do it in this order.

 

Nonfiction:

The Social Animal by David Brooks
Ok, these summaries are wearing me out. This one looks at what drives individual behavior and decision making, through the lenses of psychology, sociology, and biology. It uses two fictional characters, Harold and Erica, to show how we change over time emotionally and psychologically, and what drives us. It also examines success and how it’s defined.It sounds dry, but it isn’t, really. I thought it was pretty interesting.

 


In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen
I think most things about World War II are interesting (and horrifying). This book is about a largely ineffectual man who’s offered a diplomatic post in Berlin in 1933. It covers a lot of his experiences, but a large focus of the book is on his daughter, Martha, who’s so intent on being a party girl and social climber that she becomes a bit of an apologist for the Nazis (at least for a while). We see some well-known villains in the story, and we see them in a unique way.This book is more a snapshot of Berlin in the 1930s than a comprehensive discussion of Hitler Germany. It ends before the truly awful parts take place, and we only see the characters who come into the sphere of this family’s experiences. Frank thought that was a little dissatisfying, but I liked the glimpse into their lives.

I also really enjoyed the premise behind The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. For me, it was a little overly religious, and the example stories fairly trite, but the nugget of insight was really helpful. The idea is this: the way you like to receive love is often the way you express love, but may not correspond to how your mate (or family member, or friend) likes to receive love.

For example, some people really need to hear that they’re doing a great job/are wonderful/are smart/are beautiful/are capable – they need words of affirmation. So, guess how they show others they love them? Yep, by expressing their love/admiration/respect all the time. Which is GREAT! But maybe doesn’t completely meet their mate’s needs, because they need physical touch, or acts of service, or something else, to feel loved.

It’s a super simple concept, but really valuable to understand. My favorite thing was when Christopher and I talked about it, and he was able to peg all the people in our family (the book offers 5 categories or “Love Languages”) and said it helped him understand them better.  Pretty cool.

I don’t think it’s the best book in terms of the quality of the writing, but the perspective it provided us merits a mention.

What were your favorite books of 2011? I’d love some recommendations.

Our full book list can be found here (currently under re-construction. I’ll post the link when we’re up & running again.)

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