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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. The Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore – Margareaders selection.  Not my typical book but thought-provoking.
  5. Frostbite, by Richelle Mead
  6. Shadow Kiss, by Richelle Mead
  7. 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)
  8. Blood Promise, by Richelle Mead
  9. Spirit Bound, by Richelle Mead
  10. 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.
  11. The Last Sacrifice, by Richelle Mead
  12. 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.
  13. The Food of Love, by Anthony Capella – Delightful Cyrano de Bergerac-esque tale of food and love (two of my favorite topics) in Rome
  14. La Bella Lingua, by Dianne Hales – Engaging and entertaining history of the Italian language, which should be known as the language of love.
  15. Venice is a Fish, by Tiziano Scarpa – Gorgeous and sensual “guide” to Venice.
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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.
  19. The Borgia Bride, by Jeanne Kalogrides – Steamy, fast-paced and with enough history thrown in to make it respectable
  20. Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins – Lovely girl meets boy YA novel that takes place in Paris
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. Same as it Never Was, by Claire Scovell LaZebnik – Light chicklit that was fun to read but not all that believable of a plot
  25. 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.
  26. 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
  27. The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield – Gothic literary tome, complete with moors and rattling windows
  28. 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.
  29. 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.
  30. 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
  31. 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.
  32. 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.
  33. 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.
  34. 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.
  35. Perfect Chemistry, by Simone Elkeles – Highly addictive YA romance
  36. 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
  37. 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

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Tales from the Odyssey, Part 2, by Mary Pope Osborne

Thoughts? Any highlights from your own reading year you want to share?

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66 Comments

  1. Great list, Julie — some of which I’m transferring on to my 2012 list! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow, how you ever found time to read all those books and still regiment the personal creative tract you’ve been on…wow…You ARE my heroin now…
    Happy New Year

    • I usually read more, actually. I can’t live without reading. This year, I hope to get back to my more usual “book a week” mode.

  3. I loved The Enchanted April. The film is beautiful also.

  4. Very good list, makes me realise I still have a lot of books to read ..

  5. I liked Tales from the Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne too. I thought it told the story well for kids. It seems that you (or your kids) like mythology! I do too 😉

    • My kids DO love mythology (and so do I). Do you have any recommendations for us?

      • Of course I wil recommend the Percy Jackson books 🙂 (the mythology is close) and they are fun to read but meant for older kids 9+. I read “Usborne Illustrated Guide to Greek Myths & Legends” by Cheryl Evans and Anne Millard and thoought it was good. It has some mythology stories and pictures. There’s a fun series called the goddess girls that I read. It takes the gods and goddesses and puts them in high school (not great for LEARNING mythology but they are fun to read).

        • She got the whole Percy Jackson series for Christmas, and I look forward to reading those too! I almost got her the Goddess Girls for Christmas, but the book store was out of the first in the series so I passed. I’ll keep that in mind for the future.

  6. Great list. I challenged myself to read 100 books and didn’t quite make it – only hit 70 – but read lots of good books. My husband LOVES Born To Run and read Unbroken over xmas vacation – said it was well-written but a very tough read! I read Eragon out loud to my kids when it first came out, and we’ve also read all the Time Warp Trio books and Mary Pope Osborne’s mythology books as well as all the Magic Tree House. I want to read Anna And The French Kiss but haven’t yet. The nest book I read this year was probably The Help – really awesome and I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet!

  7. Thanks for sharing your list, Julie. I love to find out about new (to me) books through personal recommendatons. I’m checking out some of your favorites right now.

  8. What a wonderful list! I also read Thirteenth Tale last year and LOVED it. The type of book that on first glance would not be the kind to compel me to read, but once I got into it the writing was spectacular. Vampire Academy is also a guilty pleasure of mine too. (Finally, a main character that has MY name! Unheard of!) Finishing the last one right now and then moving on to the spinoff series in hopes it will be just as good!

    • You’ll have to let me know if the Bloodlines series is as good. I’ve been hesitant to pick it up. However, I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in my guilty pleasures!

      P.S. One of my best friends from college is named Lissa. 🙂

  9. Great list and what an awesome idea to keep track of the books you read. I’m going to start and file and do the same thing for this year.

    We read Unbroken for book club and I had the same reaction you did. As I read, even knowing it was a biography, I kept shaking me head muttering, ‘really?’. It was hard to grasp the reality of it, even though I ‘knew’ it was true, because, as you said, the nature of the writing kept my at arms-length from the characters.

    • Glad to know I’m not the only one with that reaction to Unbroken.

      I’ve already created a draft post with “Books I Read in 2012.” It really is a great way to keep track. I missed 2010 and it’s such a bummer. Going back over the lists is like revisiting old friends.

  10. I have both the The Lacuna and Pompeii on my shelf in the “To Read” section. I’m inclined to move them up a few notches thanks to your list. 🙂

    I’ll be checking out the rest, too!

  11. Great collection of books. very eclectic.

  12. Jennifer DuBose

    Wow Julie, impressive list! A few more for mine, now, too! I’m delighted with a couple, which will make perfect birthday gifts for loved ones, this year. I’m inspired! Love the challenge to read 100 in a year. I might hit 52, one per week, if I let the laundry go 🙂

    • Oh I’m only going for 52 too. One year I read 99 books, but that was before I was seriously dedicated to writing. Now I’d be more than happy with a book a week.

  13. So this was a light year for you? Impressive and inspiring. I like the idea of listing what you’ve read throughout the year. Thanks, too, for sharing what you read to the kids.

  14. My list only shares 2 of yours–you know what that means, I now have more suggestions to put on my wish list!!! 🙂

  15. I didn’t read as many books as I’d hoped to this year either, and I’m determined to step it up a bit for this next year. I didn’t keep a list of the books I read either, so I think I’ll do that and maybe it will help keep me on track. I’d like to get more middle grade reading in, as I often stick too much to YA.

    Hope you had a fantastic holiday break! Here’s to a very successful 2012!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

    • I’ll be reading more middle grade this year too, as that’s what my daughter is now reading and I want to be able to talk books with her! 🙂

  16. Wow. I had to bookmark this post because you have way too many great books. I’m always on the lookout for a good read and now that I’m in a book club, I need even more help. You might not have read a book a week, but darn! You got through a huge heap of books in just one year. I’m loving your kids’ section, too. I might have to get some of those because, as a fantasy writer, you get some great fantastical facts from kid’s books without all the boring bits. ; )

    • Tameri – that’s what I love about kids’ books too – all the deep stuff and the boring bits are out. They’re great for a pick-me-up between heavier things. 🙂

  17. I love other people’s reading lists because I always come across new books to read. LOL! My fav books from 2011 are The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen. Although they’ve both come out in film, I don’t think I’ll ever watch the movies because I don’t want the memory of the stories to be tainted by someone else’s version.

    Thanks for the wonderful list!

    • The Help and Water for Elephants are both amazing books, and surprisingly, the movies for both are very good too. I usually don’t like movies based on books nearly as much as the books, but those two were very close.

  18. Just bought the Rob Lowe book. I’m trusting you . . .

  19. Stroke of Insight (your recommendation) is the only one of these I read this year. I read The Agony and the Ecstasy a few years ago . . . great book.

  20. Fab list, Julie! I read and enjoyed “Stroke of Insight…” Inspiring woman and tale.

    I read more books in 2011 than I have in any other year, I’m pretty sure, thanks to my Kindle. So grateful for our many options and oodles of great books!

  21. Wow, what a great list! Read Agony and the Ecstasy while I was in high school (dark ages) and remember how impressive it was. Have been hearing good things about Anna and the French Kiss, so must add it to my TBR list. I’m of course intrigued by Food of Love :). Thanks for sharing!

  22. I enjoyed the first person account in Half Broke Horses. It was fun to see how Walls’ mother was shaped by her grandmother, even if some of it was imagined.

    Here are some of my favs from 2011:
    BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys (YA)
    ZEITOUN by Dave Eggers
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
    THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie (YA) (I read this again in 2011- it’s that good)
    THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z by Kate Messner (MG)
    MAUS: A SURVIVOR’S TALE by Art Spiegelman

    • Loved Cutting for Stone – amazing book! I have Zeitoun on my list, and I seriously need to get Part-Time Indian based on your recommendation. Same for Gianna Z.

  23. I enjoyed your list. The only book I read on your list was “My Stroke of Insight.” Great book for so many reasons — quite spiritual, but also helpful. You certainly have given me some ideas for future reading. Thank you. One of my favorite authors is Kristin Hannah and her books “Winter Garden,” and “Night Road.” She’ll soon be releasing “Home Front.” I read such a wide variety of books though. Nice to see some adult books on someone’s list.

  24. Great list! Fascinating as I’ve not heard of many of the books you listed. I’ll have to check them out! I enjoyed The Lacuna and The Thirteenth Tale, and loved Anna & the French Kiss! I posted my list on my blog yesterday. Here’s to a great writing and reading year!

    I’ll be curious about your journey with The Artist’s Way as I just finished mine with Finding Water (by Julia Cameron). I posted my journey here: http://d-michiko-f.livejournal.com/tag/finding%20water

  25. Such a great list! But here is my question…do you BUY all of these books or get them from the library or a combination of both? I tend to read books that are a little older because my budget and NYC apartment requires me to cut back on book buying. However, I do buy a few books a year. Just curious how others do it…

    • Marcie,

      I have so many books in my house I could read just what’s here for the rest of my life and still not finish. But I do continue to buy a lot of books. It’s my way of supporting the industry! 🙂

  26. Love the Artist’s Way. I will have to pick up Born To Run. Once a Runner is my all time favorite running book–I was so happy when they brought it back into print. It’s always nice when a book about a sport you love also has other layers!

    Great list!

  27. I’m currently reading the Rob Lowe book. He was Sodapop, though. Just sayin’. 🙂

  28. A wonderful list. A few of these are in my TBR pile. I listened to the audio of Unbroken. I had similar thoughts. I’m challenging myself to read more this year, but not sure I’ll be staying up to 3 a.m. as I’m trying to be writing by around 5:30 a.m. 🙂

  29. What an awesome goal, a book a week. I found myself reading less in 2011 too. I’m with you on reading more in 2012. Congrats on your trip to Italy. 🙂

  30. Fantastic list! I’ll have to make sure to check out some of your recommendations! I can never have too much Christopher Paolini!

  31. Great List, Julie. I am impressed that you kept track of all of the books you read. I am not good at remember titles and authors. I read some really good ones this year, but am not as organized as you, so could never list them. I love Barbara Kingsolver and I also loved Born to Run. I tried to read Three Junes, but it was too slow for me.

  32. Hi Julie – just found you when googling the Artist’s Way – I’ve just begun it again and have started to blog about it as well. Love your list and your blog.
    Linda

  33. Wow, you read a lot this past year! I recognized some of the titles, but others were new to me. And now for a new year of reading great books! *clinks glass*

  34. Julie, this is a great list…and many I need to check out for myself in 2012! Thanks for sharing it.

    • Thanks Gregory! I’m glad you enjoyed the list. It’s always dangerous for book lovers to get more recommendations, but it’s also irresistible. 🙂

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