My Year in Books (2011)

I want this life.
The end of the year is a time to look back and try to be reflective.  Good for you if you look back and try to figure out if you've been a good person, blah blah blah.  What I really care about is: What Did I Read? 

Every year I start with lofty intentions. This year, yet again, I promised myself that I would read War and Peace. I even bought it! And, surprise surprise, I didn't read it - yet again. I did, however, use it as an extremely useful bedroom doorstop during windy days (true story).  I plan on reading it one day, but that's the thing about reading -what you intend to read, and where you actually go with it is completely different.

Some brilliant writers have taken on this topic, including the hilarious Sara Nelson in her book So Many Books, So Little Time, or my hero Nick Hornby, in his columns What I'm Reading, where he documents what he has bought vs. what he is reading.  (Funny how the two never match up).  I bought tons of books this year; it was certainly a year of good intentions.  But now I look back at my shelves and they are loaded down with serious books like Ingrid Bettancourt's memoir or The Count of Monte Cristo all the way through impulse buys like James Franco's short story collection, all unread.  I have to wonder what I really did with my time.

To date (I have a week left) I have read 37 books.  So how did 2011, A Year In Books, work out? 

Books Read in 2011:
Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill (gift from a friend. first book of a year that did not end prosperously, fyi)
Mating, Norman Rush (not instructional)
One Day, David Nicholls
Me, Ricky Martin (any celeb bio that doesn't include a personal photo montage is a shame to the genre)
The Faithful Spy, Alex Berenson
War on Error, Melody Moezzi
No Lifeguard on Duty, Janice Dickinson
Attached, Amir Levine & Rachel Heller
Reinventing Mona, Jennifer Coburn
The Big Love, Sarah Dunn
Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara?, Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy (Who the hell IS that? I can't remember)
Why Men Love Bitches, Sherry Argov
The Confessions of Rick James, Rick James
I Am the Messenger, Mark Zusak
You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs, Laurie Graff
The Art of Seduction, Robert Greene
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Ayelet Waldman
Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman
LaToya, LaToya Jackson
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowling
Book of Illusions, Paul Auster (proof that friends can make stellar recommendations)
Boy Meets Girl, Meg Cabot (she never fails. EVER.)
The Male Brain, Louann Brizendine (there is one!)
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
The Maze Runner, James Dashner (precursor to The Hunger Games phenomenon. meh)
Life As I Know It Has Been "Finger Lickin Good", Colonel Sanders (best title)
The Boy Next Door, Meg Cabot
Donut Days, Lara Zielin
Bossypants, Tina Fey (great writer. weird cover)
The First Time, Cher
Everyone Loves You When You're Dead, Neil Strauss (great concept- "outtakes" from famous interviews)
A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Happy Birthday or Whatever..., Annie Choi
Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (read in Colombia!)
My Booky Wook, Russell Brand
Sky of Red Poppies, Zohreh Ghahremani

Now, I'm not saying I was a brain trust this year. I alternated between heavy heavy lit and books so light I'm almost embarrassed to list them here.  For example, a solid chunk of the books were for Celebrity Trash Bio Book Club, the greatest book club of all time.  Now twelve times a year I now read the life of a celebrity I wouldn't otherwise care about.  These are always embarrassingly absorbing page-turners that leave me liking someone who the public disdains for some reason or another, and being able to defend them in conversation with minutae that requires me to then admit my sources. Shameful. But they make reading fun, and that's what it's about.

WORST BOOK:  One Day, David Nicholls. I had this recommended and had picked it up and put it back down so many times, then dove in.  I wanted to love it. Girl meets boy. Ooooh! Wait, girl is slightly nerdy and guy is wild child and guys doesn't notice she's there and she slides into girl best friend role? Cool, I could have saved $15 and read my own diary. Jeez.  But this is more the worst book of the year for false hopes and expectations, and an eventual movie adaptation starring Anne Hathaway.

BEST FICTION:  Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell simply blew my mind.  Someone had described it as a Russian doll of novels, and that's exactly what it is.  This was closely followed by Visit from the Goon Squad, which was a more widely recognized, perhaps more easily digestible novel using some of the same techniques.  Both books excited me about the potential of good literature all over again.  Mating was also fantastic, but is a lot of work (as is Cloud Atlas). But very smart, and very underlineable; a play on anthropologist studying a relationship (see quotes below).

BEST NONFICTION:  War on Error by Melody Moezzi. I had met Melody, a frequent writer for Ms Magazine, The Huffington Post, and a zillion other places, through friends and finally got to sit down and read her book front to back.  And that's how it happened because it's a swift, highly intelligent read.  A compilation of interviews, it paints an eloquent and engaging view of the breadth of Muslims; how people personalize the faith and interpret it in their lives across the country.  It couldn't be more timely or more well-written.

Also (and on the complete end of the spectrum), The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene. A friend had recommended it and it was absolutely fantastic.  It studies the greatest lovers and seducers through history- whether literal or politicians, etc., and breaks the tales down for analysis. Equal parts history, inspiration, and how-to.  Incredibly readable.

SURPRISE BOOK OF THE YEAR: My mom's SKY OF RED POPPIES.  True story.  I had read many early drafts and finally got to sit down with the published, final, completely edited, bound version of the book this year.  I was engaged by learning more about the hushed society of Iran in the 1960s, and I found myself laughing out loud or being engaged by passages I had read time and again.  Then I turned the last page in tears.  It's so rare for fiction to be touching in that way. It's humbling when you know the person who wrote it.

MOST EMBARRASSING READ: Uh... anything from celebrity trash bio book club?  With honorable mention to LaToya Jackson's biography.  And yes, I read it in public. And yes, I'd do it all over again.

WRITERS I'LL KEEP READING:  In addition to those mentioned in these shout-outs, Ayelet Waldman and Paul Auster impressed. I finished both of their books sure that at some point I would pick up others by them.

BOOKS BY OTHER PEOPLE THAT I WILL PICK UP INSPIRED BY THIS YEAR AS A RESULT OF THESE READS:  Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist mentioned in The Art of Seduction; I want to read more about her. Will read Michael Chabon (finally) now that I've read his wife Waldman. After reading Rick James trash talk Prince (he says he stole all his moves), I will pick up the unauthorized Prince bio for sure and see what he has to say about Rick. Will read about the Branch Davidians/Waco (c/o Klosterman's essay about it) 


"The closest you can come in life to experiencing free will is when you do things at random." Mating, p13

"He would say only slightly facetiously that the main effort of arranging your life should be to progressively reduce the amount of time required to decently maintain yourself so that you can have all the time you want for reading."  Mating, Norman Rush, p 194.

"Liars are the enemy. They transcend class, sex, and nation. They make everything impossible." Mating, p315

"You fall in love with a person because your subconscious likes something about their subconscious, and it isn't until much later that you discover that that thing your subconscious liked was the fact that this person was built to hurt you in precisely the way you most fear."  The Big Love, Sarah Dunn, p146

"Keep on unfolding, no matter what."  The Big Love, p 225

"Boredom is the ultimate social evil." The Art of Seduction, p130

"No one is naturally mysterious, at least not for long." The Art of Seduction, Robert Greene, p190

"People secretly yearn to be led astray by someone who knows where they are going." The Art of Seduction, p315

"No one is born timid; timidity is a protection we develop.  If we never stick our necks out, if we never try, we will never have to suffer the consequences of failure or success."  The Art of Seduction, p410

"Our world will not die as a result of the bomb, as the papers say, it will die of laughter, of banality, of making a joke of everything, and a lousy joke at that." The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, p107

"Sometimes what matters isn't what one gives but what one gives up." The Shadow of the Wind, p186

"Life has enough torturers as it is, without you going around moonlighting as a Grand Inquisitor against yourself." The Shadow of the Wind, p319

"Waiting is the rust of the soul." The Shadow of the Wind, p315

"Inspiration gives no warnings" Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, p4

WHAT I LEARNED FROM BOOKS THIS YEAR:  That all the rich magnates of the world had the same secret philosophy, and one beautiful leatherbound version later, I'm not sure I know what it is.   That there are a lot of people writing books about playing hard to get.  That I much prefer to read light chick lit about girls who don't have the slightest clue how to play hard to get and still have it work out for them.  That LaToya is less Michael's sister and (as my own sister puts it) "just another crazy fan".  That I must pick my YA carefully; not every book is the Hunger Games.  That Tina Fey and Russell Brand are excellent writers.  That sometimes when a book wins every freaking award out there, it actually deserves them.  That I need to read much, much more.

I just signed up for so there's probably gonna be a little more rhyme and reason, and even more page-turning in 2012. Can't wait!


Anonymous said...

really good + impressive list! i will take some to add to my fiftyfifty list. think i may try + recall my own list of books read this past year...


Bookgirl said...

thanks, glad you like it! i've had better reading years, but there were definitely some gems in here. recapping my list got me fired up for 50/50. drop me the link to your books read list if you post it, pls!!!

none said...

lilly! so happy to discover your fun blog. oh man, i'm tempted to tackle this challenge myself but i may end up never bathing or eating. either way, excited to see your updates on goodreads!