2011—A Literary Roundup

Happy New Year, Everyone!

This time of year, I send out an email to all my book lovin’ buddies detailing everything I’ve read over the last 12 months. I’ve been sending this New Year’s email for at least 8 years, and it’s the impetus behind my blog. However, it occurred to me just today (blame the addled brain) that there are a number of people for whom I don’t have an email address, so I thought I would throw up the email here as well.

As always, you are welcome to share with friends, family, neighbors and felons. There’s a reader in all of us.

Every Last One (Anna Quindlen)

I kicked off 2011 with a very good read, albeit a really depressing one. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what is going to happen halfway into the novel, but it isn’t any less shocking when it does. Not recommended for anyone who has suffered a recent loss — it’s pretty traumatic. That said, it’s an excellent story depicting a family that survives the most crushing and tragic of losses and their attempt to adapt to a “new normal.”

An Object of Beauty (Steve Martin)

This is my favorite of all of Martin’s books. Set in the art world in NYC, prior to 9/11, readers learn the story of a young Lacey Yeager as she works her way to the top of the art scene and her way back down. The dude can write.

Ten Thousand Saints (Eleanor Henderson)

I recently read this is being touted as a possible Pulitzer nomination. While not one of my favorites for the year, I can appreciate that it’s extremely well-written, and perhaps that’s the reason for the attention. I personally found the story of these kids, circa mid-80s, really slow and laborious to read. Another story dealing with how people cope with a tragic death. I promise, it’s not a theme.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning (Nancy Pickard)

At the suggestion of a friend, I picked this up and am glad I did — a quick read with an ending I didn’t see coming, even though I was forewarned and therefore trying to figure it out. A classic whodunit involving a wealthy ranching family in Kansas.

These Things Hidden (Heather Gudenkauf)

I loved “Weight of Silence” so I eagerly picked this up — a follow up to her debut effort. I like Gudenkauf more than I ever could Jodi (I like to inflict serious emotional trauma with all of my plot lines) Picoult, because she can tell a great story, even if it’s also a little contrived, without you wanting to throw yourself off a cliff after reading it. Girl does bad thing. Girl goes to prison. Girl gets out of prison. Girl’s family shuns her. Girl needs to make things right. Discuss.

The Night Strangers (Chris Bohjalian)

Love love LOVE Bohjalian. This is way creepier and darker than any of his previous books I have read, but he still kills it with the ending that you never saw coming (or did, and wish you didn’t.) Family moves to New England to escape father’s tragedy (botched water landing of a plane, few survivors) and ends up with much larger problems. Ghosts, creepy people that never age, PTSD and more. Yummy!

The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)

Whee! Romance, drama, intrigue … all set amidst a beautiful night circus that is the stuff of dreams. It’s the magical, and maybe a little bit brutal, love story of Marco and Celia, two illusionists doomed to face each other in a battle to the death. Do not skip this book.

The Leftovers (Tom Perrotta)

Another of my favorite authors, Tom Perrotta’s story of a Rapture-like event and it’s aftermath is still a tumbleweed in my brain months later, it’s that good. You would think it would be creepy, or that it doesn’t seem possible, but really, when you read it, it just kind of all makes sense. Again with the family dynamics! I loved following the twists and turns in all these character’s interpersonal relationships, none of which really left me unsatisfied. Another don’t miss book.

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

A great biography that is a heavy read, but in homage to all things Apple, I felt I had to read. I still struggle with what I think of the man on a personal level, but at the end of the day, those around him that knew and loved him embraced him in totality, and my opinion doesn’t really matter. I’m just glad we got him for a short while. What a difference he made.

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Benjamin Hale)

This was probably the STRANGEST book I read all year, and it’s been getting critical praise. Looking back, I think the story of a chimp that has self-evolved to near-human status has grown on me, and I would love for someone else to read it just so I can debrief, but should you choose to accept the mission, get ready for a seriously wild ride. No joke. It’s freaky.

A Visit From The Goon Squad (Jennfier Egan)

The Pulitzer winner for 2011, I was compelled to read this for cool points. It’s quite good, and it’s series of short-but-entwined stories about a bunch of kids that made a band that grew up and went different ways make it a great “keep in the car and read it while waiting in the car pool line” kind of book. BUT — if you do read it here and there, you may find yourself paging back to remember who is who. Not that that is a bad thing … just a confusing thing.

Leaving Van Gogh (Carol Wallace)

Along the same vein as “Loving Frank” and “The Paris Wife”. Historical fiction, following the last month’s of Van Gogh’s life and the people that surrounded him, especially his personal physician. A sad, sweet story.

Bossypants (Tina Fey)

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I snorted just as loudly with this book as I have with anything Sedaris has ever written. Go get it and enjoy.

State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)

Also being touted as a Pulitzer possibility, Ann Patchett takes readers to the Amazon in search of a missing, maybe dead researcher and of an “off the reservation” lead scientist who quite possibly has discovered the fountain of youth — at least for women. Another well-written tale, and if you can suspend reality for a few hours (which, after all, is why some of us read to begin with) you will be wildly entertained.

Run (Ann Patchett)

After “State of Wonder,” I felt obligated to read another Patchett title and to be different, I chose this over “Bel Canto.” I think I may have actually liked this story better, but can’t really offer a reason why — maybe it seemed just a little more … real. I love stories that involved strange family dynamics (definitely a theme here), and this explores a father’s relationship with his sons and the lengths parents are willing to go to protect their brood. From a kid’s perspective, you may walk away feeling like you owe your parents an apology, or maybe not.

Room (Emma Donoghue)

Another popular selection that came from a friend’s recommendation, and AGAIN with family dynamics, it’s the story of one girl, her son, and their “normal” — a small room in which they’re being held captive by a batshit crazy man. I won’t say more other than read it. READ IT.

Before I Go to Sleep (S.J. Watson)

I’ve got a few problems with all the plot contrivances, but overall, a great thriller. Story centers on the 40-something Christine Lucas, who is tasked with the unfortunate job of waking each day with no recollection of the last 20 years. Is her husband a good guy? A bad guy? And does she have writer’s cramp from keeping such a long journal? Read and find out.

Attachments (Rainbow Rowell)

A little formulaic but a lot of fun, the story switches off between the narration of a night-time IT security guy at the local newspaper and two columists and their emails back and forth to each other. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes sweet and happy endings all around.

Unfamiliar Fishes (Sarah Vowell)

This was on my to-read list for two reasons: 1) I have to chaperone a high school band trip to Hawaii and 2)I adore Sarah Vowell. She doesn’t disappoint with another well-researched, well-written history of our 50th state, leaving me wondering why history teachers do not ditch the textbook for her work instead. So much funnier and probably more accurate.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends (Rob Lowe)

Total bubblegum book, but the dude doesn’t age – he’s just as good looking as he was when we all had posters of him on our bedroom walls. Maybe a touch over the top, but great beach or weekend at the in-laws read.

When She Woke (Hillary Jordan)

Great book. It’s “The Scarlet Letter” meets “A Handmaid’s Tale. If you’re in a man-hating, government-intrusion-hating mood, you will dig this. And you’ll want to steer clear of tanning beds for awhile.

Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

My guess is that most people have already read this, so it should come as no surprise when I say WOW. What an amazing piece of nonfiction. Supposedly, a movie is in the works, and I will be first in line to see it. If you’ve yet to pick this up, what are you waiting for?

The Family Fang (Kevin Wilson

Kooky family dynamics (yes!), performance artists, messed up kids as adults — I breezed through it during a 6-hour car ride. What a whack set of parents!

11/22/63 (Stephen King)

I’m so glad I found one of my favorite authors again. This is a King tour-de-force, but gear up for a long ride at 850 pages. The story might put an end to whatever “what ifs” or “Could would shouldas” you ever wrestle with.

The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach)

Absolutely one of my favorites for the year. Harbach’s debut effort as a novelist is excellent, as you find yourself rooting for all the characters in this book – ALL of them. (Well, maybe not Pella’s douche of a hubby, but everyone else.) I especially fell in love with Henry Skrimshander and Mike Schwartz, wanting them to both find their way to what’s next after college. Omigosh go get this book.

The Paris Wife(Paula McClain)

Oh, what a tragic love story. I want to climb in the book and sit with Hadley Richardson at a Paris cafe and tell her everything will be OK, even when it won’t. Why does Hemingway have to be such an asshole? She loves you, damnit! Put down the hooch and get it together, man!

My must-reads? The Art of Fielding, 11/22/63, Unbroken, Room, Bossypants, Steve Jobs, The Night Strangers, The Night Circus and The Leftovers.

What I’m reading now? I Want My MTV. (Totally gossipy hilarious fun!!!!)

2 thoughts

  1. I just have to say that having been book-club-less for a few years now, that I loved stumbling across your blog. It seems that we have similar tastes in books (also opinions of a certain author with the initials J.P.). It’s been great to have an ongoing list of books to check out from the library! And I’m so glad you posted your year-end review! Thank you!

  2. Really great list! Makes me want to read the books that are on the list that I am not familiar with. I am so glad that my book club buddy shared this link.
    All I have to do now is find some more time to read…

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