Monday, January 23, 2012

Reading Roundup 2011

I read far, far fewer books this year than last year.  First of all, my commute changed (to become much shorter; hooray!), but second of all, my New Year's resolution for the year meant far less reading time than usual. (More on that later.)

So it's hard to write a "best books" post when I have only 88 books to choose from. I should change the rules to include New Yorker articles--I'm obsessive and read every article of every issue again this year--but that would require me to have a list somewhere of New Yorker articles. (I really liked the one about George RR Martin and how he took a really long time to finish the 5th book of his fantasy series. That was interesting. Oh, and the one about the virus hunter was really cool.)

Nonetheless, I spent part of a boring work meeting today looking at my book list and choosing my favorites for the year, so here we are. Another strange thing about this retrospective is how little fiction qualifies for my "best of" list--I did read and enjoy some novels this year, I swear, but apparently I spent more time on non-fiction. This must be the first time ever, because I've generally been a die-hard fiction fan. I must be growing up.

Fiction Top...Few
Room, by Emma Donoghue
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
The Surrendered, by Chang-Rae Lee
The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe
The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

Yeah, that's it. I read lots of other stuff I enjoyed, but it was mainly returning to my roots by reading authors I've long loved--Connie Willis, Sharon Kay Penman, A.S. Byatt--but I can't really call those books great fiction in the same sense as the above. I also listened to a number of classics--Portrait of a Lady, Ivanhoe, Sister Carrie--and enjoyed them far more than I thought I would.

Non-Fiction Top 10
American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Robert Putnam and David E. Campbell
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner
The Emperor of Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Bossypants, by Tina Fey
Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden
A Singular Woman, by Janny Scott
A Midwife’s Tale, by  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
At Home, by Bill Bryson
Wild Swans, by Jung Chang

This is where it got at least a little competitive. Honorable mentions to The Price of Motherhood, by Ann Crittenden, Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein--all three were flawed but thought-provoking.

I should do a companion list for the 10 worst books I read each year. I've got a small side gig as a book reviewer that would provide endless fodder.