2011 turned out to be a light reading year. I didn’t even average a book a week, which is unheard of for me. It’s not surprising, however, when I consider that I spent the summer abroad and, once the kids started school in the fall, started treating my writing and other work as a full-time job. And that’s not even including the reading fast I was forced into as part of The Artist’s Way.
As I look over my list for the year, I must admit this hasn’t been a banner one for life-changing reading experiences. I read some good books, even some great ones, but none that made me fall so deeply in love that I wanted to shout about it from the mountaintops. Luckily, there are many more books to be read in 2012!
There were two primary themes to my reading in 2011: Italy and nonfiction. The first is obvious. I wanted to read as much as I could about the places (both in history and in the present) we were going to visit. The second is a bit surprising, as I’m way more of a fiction reader. Some of them were book club choices and some were related to the Italy trip. Still, a high percentage for me. Now, for the list of books, in the order (more or less) that I read them.
- The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver – Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and while this isn’t my favorite of her books, it is still stunning.
- Three Junes, by Julia Glass – Gorgeously written, this was a Margareaders selection and the 2002 National Book Award winner. Not for you if you are into plot-driven books.
- Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead – This series was my guilty pleasure last winter. We shared a ski condo in Keystone, and I was often going to bed with the kids in the same room. I started reading these on my Kindle app so as not to go to sleep at 8:00. Very fun!
- The Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore – Margareaders selection. Not my typical book but thought-provoking.
- Frostbite, by Richelle Mead
- Shadow Kiss, by Richelle Mead
- Half-Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls – Very good, but lacked the immediacy and poignancy of The Glass Castle (which is one of my favorite books)
- Blood Promise, by Richelle Mead
- Spirit Bound, by Richelle Mead
- The Last Will of Moira Leahy, by Therese Walsh – LOVED this book. Dreamy, suspenseful, romantic. Stayed up until 3:00 in the morning to finish.
- The Last Sacrifice, by Richelle Mead
- Miss Garnet’s Angel, by Sally Vickers – Vickers does it again with psychological profiles being front and center in a story where Venice becomes a character. The first of my Italy books for the year.
- The Food of Love, by Anthony Capella – Delightful Cyrano de Bergerac-esque tale of food and love (two of my favorite topics) in Rome
- La Bella Lingua, by Dianne Hales – Engaging and entertaining history of the Italian language, which should be known as the language of love.
- Venice is a Fish, by Tiziano Scarpa – Gorgeous and sensual “guide” to Venice.
- When in Rome, by Robert Hutchinson – The title is a bit misleading, since it’s the memoir of a journalist’s year writing about the Vatican (which is NOT Rome). Fascinating nonetheless
- The Glassblower of Murano, by Marina Fiorato – Historical fiction alternating between the stories of a Murano glassblower in the 1500s and his descendent in the present day
- The Wedding Officer, by Anthony Capella – Half love story, half harrowing account of WWII as it played out in Naples. Very different from The Food of Love, but equally as good.
- The Borgia Bride, by Jeanne Kalogrides – Steamy, fast-paced and with enough history thrown in to make it respectable
- Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins – Lovely girl meets boy YA novel that takes place in Paris
- Extra Virgin, by Annie Hawkes – Memoir of a woman who bought a house in Liguria (Italian Riviera) with her sister. I enjoyed learning the history, culture and lifestyle of this region, particularly the art of making olive oil. Given that it was a memoir, however, it was oddly distant and impersonal.
- Leonardo’s Swans, by Karen Essex – My favorite kind of historical fiction – compelling characters in compelling times. Add to that the obsession over being immortalized by one of the world’s greatest artists and you have a recipe for a great book.
- The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim – Four English women, strangers to one another, rent a villa for a month on the Italian Riviera near Portofino. Since I started reading this book while I was in the Riviera, I found it even more enchanting. A comedy of manners and errors, and oh so very British, it deserves its place among the classics.
- Same as it Never Was, by Claire Scovell LaZebnik – Light chicklit that was fun to read but not all that believable of a plot
- Pompeii, by Robert Harris- I read this whole book on my flight home from Italy this summer. It was both fascinating and gripping. I finished the last ten pages at the baggage claim because I just couldn’t wait to finish it. Yes, I realize that we already know the ending. However, having just been to the ruins of Pompeii and the crater of Vesuvius, I felt the suspense of the novel keenly, and it brought the ruins alive for me.
- The Messenger of Athens, by Anne Zouroudi – Literary mystery? Good book and a good writer who was able to make a Greek island believably dreary and desolate
- The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield – Gothic literary tome, complete with moors and rattling windows
- The Art of Non-Conformity, by Chris Guillebeau – Who hasn’t heard of this book? Easy to read and with good points of departure for planning a life you want to lead rather than one that is accepted by others.
- Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall – Very close to the best book I read this year. The perfect combination of science, memoir and travelogue. The book is mind-boggling, funny and intense. It’s a book about the human spirit disguised as a running book.
- My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor – A brain scientist evaluates her own stroke as it is happening. When she loses the language/logic center in the left hemisphere, she discovers a peace she never knew existed. A must read
- Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand – Another Margareaders selection. So many people I know raved about and loved this book, including some of the Margareaders. No doubt it is a brilliant book, and I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the Pacific side of the WWII conflict. Overall I couldn’t get past the horrors the main character endured, especially since this is a biography. It didn’t help that I read it in September, which is a tough month for me anyway. The subject of the book – Louie Zamparelli – was treated with too much emotional distance. Since I couldn’t understand his feelings, all that was left for me was the treachery of what was done to him.
- A Week in October, by Elisabeth Subercaseaux – This book’s chapters alternated between a sick woman’s journal recounting an affair she (supposedly) had for a week a few months before her death and that of her husband reading the journal, supposedly without his wife’s knowledge. It was beautifully written and quite cerebral – two characteristics I ordinarily love in a book. However, when you have both an unreliable narrator (the wife’s story in the journal) and an ending that is left too ambiguous, it no longer works for me.
- Stories I Only Tell My Friends, by Rob Lowe – Before you laugh, I’ll have you know Rob Lowe is a decent writer and this book was NOT ghost written. If you “came of age” in the eighties in the U.S. you should read this book. It is juicy without being petty, and I enjoyed being taken back to all of those movies I loved and grew up with. And yes, I did have Rob plastered all over my wall when I was in the 8th grade. He had me at Pony Boy.
- The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone – The winner for my best book of 2011. This fictional biography of Michelangelo is beautiful, epic, inspiring and unforgettable. I don’t think further description could do it justice. I marked so many passages in the book I might as well re-read it.
- Perfect Chemistry, by Simone Elkeles – Highly addictive YA romance
- The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway – Gorgeous book. More of a psychological examination of the way war changes people rather than specifically about the siege of Sarajevo
- Eragon, by Christopher Paolini – When your 8 year-old daughter reads a 600 page book, you need to read it too. I was so proud of her and she loved it so much. I liked it, and I can’t believe Paolini was only 15 when he wrote it. It wasn’t a love-affair however, perhaps because I am a Lord of the Rings and Narnia snob.
Books I read aloud to the kids – not including the hundreds of picture books we read, and I do mean hundreds
- See You Later, Gladiator – Time Warp Trio series, by Jon Scieszka – The Time Warp Trio series is historical fiction/time travel similar to The Magic Tree House series but with lots of boy (read: bathroom) humor. I was laughing just as hard as my kids reading these. Added bonus: when we met Jon at a book signing at the Boulder Bookstore, Jay was able to recall every potty reference in all of the books we read. So much so that Jon signed one of his books to him as “Stinker.” TRUE story!
- Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci – Time Warp Trio series – For example, in this book we not only learn about da Vinci’s military engineering and mechanical inventions, but also that Thomas Crapper invented the modern flush toilet.
- Tut, Tut – Time Warp Trio series – This book has an evil character named Hatsnat (pronounced Hotsnot). Imagine trying to read that name out loud throughout the whole book without laughing.
- It’s All Greek to Me – Time Warp Trio series – In this book, our trio is plunged into Hades where they confront Zeus, who believes they’ve stolen his lightning-bolt.
- Tales from the Odyssey, Part 1, by Mary Pope Osborne – I wondered how any author could render a version of The Odyssey that removes some of the wilder *ahem* escapades Odysseus has in his long journey home while still retaining the core and heart of the story. Leave it to Mary Pope Osborne – she did it.
- Tales from the Odyssey, Part 2, by Mary Pope Osborne
Thoughts? Any highlights from your own reading year you want to share?Categories: Authors, Book Club, Books, Children's Books · Tags: Authors, Book Club, Book List, Books, Books I Read in 2011, Julie Hedlund, Margareaders, Writer