The 10 Best Books I Read in 2011

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Book lovers never go to bed alone. – Unknown

Some of you occasionally follow me over here on my GoodReads account which I started in January to keep track of the books I’ve read and how much I like them.

Earlier this year I set a 2011 reading goal for myself. 100 books. Yes, 100. A Benjamin of books.

A little over-ambitious. I know.

Did I make it? Not quite.

I read 65 books in 2011! While that is only 65% of my goal, averaging out to reading 1.25 books a week.

(I did make that goal before I knew we would be moving, buying our first home and that we would be heavily DIYing our own renovations. So I don’t feel so bad. Ahhh, those peaceful evenings reading in the bay window of our old apartment seem a million miles away. Also, I made that goal before the invention of Pinterest. Enough said.)

But I digress.

See the full list of new books here (I didn’t count books that I had already read before – maybe then I would be up to 100!).

After reviewing my 2011 reads, my top 10 books (in no particular order) that I have read this year are:

1. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Wallis

This book is the perfect example of reading a book when you’re in the right mood. I had read “Glass Castles” by Wallis and it was a fantastic read. The first time I had started to read this and couldn’t get through the first chapter. The second time I picked it up I finished it within 48 hours.

Half Broke Horses is about Wallis’ grandmother – a bonafide modern woman of the West in the early 20th century. She was a teacher, a flapper, a rum-runner, Amelia Earhart wannabe and resourceful cowgirl. This is the story of her life.

2. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

I blogged about this book here.

I loved this book. I thought it was beautifully and intricately written. To spend my days studying and selecting colored glass seems like a dream… okay, I’m being completely idealistic. The book also forces you to ponder the topic of artistry ownership, something all artists need to think about at some point in their lives.

3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebekah Skloot

An intriguing read on the world of biotechnology and the woman whose cells started it all. This is the story of HeLa, or Henrietta Lacks. Actually, this is the story of her family, who didn’t know that 50 million metric tons of their mother’s cells were being used for medical testing all over the world until 20 years after her death. This book tackles modern day medical biotechnology as well as racism in medical testing in U.S. history.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larsson (I know, 3 books)

This Scandinavian suspense/thriller/murder mystery trio explores the concept of violent crimes against women. Mikael Blomkvist  and Lisbeth Salandar are a modern day Lois and Clark with 10,000 the edge. You can read just one, but I recommend reading all three. I watched the Swedish movie in subtitles, but am looking forward to the American version coming out soon.

5. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (I know, 3 books again)

This year’s Tween hit, the Hunger Games pairs the futuristic world of Panam with historically gruesome Roman gladiator entertainment. The worlds of Katniss and Peetah get turned upside down when their names are drawn to represent District 12 in the horrific Hunger Games. Another book-turned-movie I am looking forward to next year.

6. At Home by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is never a disappointment. On his endeavor for writing this book, he did not want to leave the confines of his home. What does he do? Explores the history of the world by going through his household objects room-by-room.  Only Bryson can write 5 pages on the history of the ice cube or salt and pepper and make it hilariously interesting.

7. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

This is not the story of the prestigiously eccentric architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This is the story of his lifelong lover, Mamah Borthwick. This book spans the story of the fame and the shame of their illicit relationship throughout Mamah’s life.


8. The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown

I won’t lie. I totally read this before the Royal Wedding because I was caught up in the hype. I am a lover of biographies and this one by Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown was a gripper. I am young enough not to remember much about Princess Diana’s life when she was alive. I do remember waking up earlier one morning and coming downstairs only to see my Mother glued to the television talking to a friend on the phone. I knew bits and pieces of the life of Shy Di, but this book was quite intriguing. And I definitely followed it with with “Diana: In Her Own Words” because they referenced it so much in the book. Two Princess Diana biographies in 1 week? Excessive. I know. But totally worth it in my Wills&Kate prepfest.

9. The Reason for God by Tim Keller

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Church in NYC, is known as the Christian Unapologetic. The Reason for God is a book that goes through the reasons people give for not believing in God. He proceeds to go through refuting reason by reason (chapter by chapter). I’ve been studying this book with a small group and watching the discussion video Tim Keller made with a panel of self-professed non-believers to discuss. Instead of a hasty argument, the book and coinciding video discussions are highly thought provoking.

10. Shucked by Erin Byers Murray

I have a confession. I read and enjoyed this book, but I’ve never eaten an oyster. This is a memoir from a Bostonian who gave up her cushy lifestyle-writing career to harvest oysters in the Duxbury Bay. Hard labor, freezing waters and some pesky bivalve-growing spin the tales of this classic New England farm life story. I’m officially hooked line and sinker and am ready for my first oyster tasting.

 

What was your favorite book you read this year?

Yellowed Pages

Guilty Pleasures. We all have one.

Maybe yours is Starbucks frappucinos, or placemats or funky high heels. Maybe it’s an old VHS tape, a crummy t-shirt or early 90s dance song.

I know what mine is. You may be able to guess.

I am a strong woman until I see those three little words.

Used. Book. Sale.

Like today. I stopped by our local library book sale because I wrote on my calendar (*ahem about 6 months ago) that it was our local library book sale week. It was glorious. I love thumbing through piles and piles of books. Old, new, fiction, poetry, travel, classics.

New books smell good, but old books smell better. I am not sure why that is.

I take that back. Old books that are well taken care of smell good. Old ones that smell like musty basement cardboard boxes I can do without and I will plug my nose as I pass it by.

Old books that are loved have a certain smell. Any book-lover will agree. It’s as if all the tea, muffins, cable knit throw blanket and hearth-side reading chairs all leave little pieces of themselves absorbed into the paper. It’s like all the rainy skies, warm book-reading hands, loud laughs, grimaces and even the tears have been stuck inside to form a simple, papery smell that can not be reproduced.

The other perk about used books is that they are already broken in. There’s no need to feel bad about dog-earring a page because you can’t find your bookmark, which I never can. I love that you can hold the book wide open one-handedly. There is no spine-crackling, finger-lickin’ stiff page-turning or weird new book smell.

The yellowed pages. The cracked spine. The scuffed corners. Just like wrinkles and age spots, they are marking the journey it’s taken through time.

I especially love when there are messages written inside.

I have the funniest one in my Wurthing Heights novel. It’s from a girl to some boy (okay, who think he actually read Wuthering Heights? I’m going to say no.) and she talked about how the novel is like their love – it transcends time and place. *insert guffaws here*

Books can take you anywhere. Pick one up soon. Short ones count too.

And always, always read the book before you watch the movie. You won’t regret it.

Unless it’s the Vampire Diaries series. Because, well…. trust me.

Thoughts from a Bookworm

One of my favorite authors once said “you can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” Say it again, Clive. Although I’ll admit, I occasionally substitute that tea for gummi worms.

As a kid I was a bookworm. The wormiest, as opposed to bookish. Bookish would imply that I was abnormally smart, rather than the scrunchie-wearing, craft-making, reading-fiend of a creature that I was.

I would read huddled next to my alarm clock with the little nightlight on after my lights were supposed to be out. I even remember reading by the little bit of light that peaked in from the hallway. And I wonder why my eyesight is so bad?

I still have this alarm clock. I can’t bear to part with it. The buttons are shaped like clouds and raindrops and the alarm is to the tune of “It’s a Small World”. I may or may not have used this clock through college.

I had a temporary reading lapse during the college years. Who has time to read for fun when you have to read endless pages for class? That didn’t last long. As soon as I was done with classes I picked up my trusty Lord of the Rings trilogy set and haven’t stopped reading again since.

Here’s my two cents on reading.

Read 25 Pages of Anything. I only started reading Twilight (and Harry Potter for that matter) at the bequest of a good friend. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that took me a while to get into, but ended up loving the book. I’m now (no apologies) kind of a twerd (Twilight nerd). Alright, not kind of. I am one. I thought vampire books were lame, now I love them. But that’s besides the point. I have Fyodor Dostoyevsky next to J.K. Rowlings next to Jane Austen next to Sophie Kinsella. The point is, read anything. It doesn’t need to be impressive, just enjoyable.

Not Interested? Put ‘er Down. I’ve stopped reading quite a few books after just 25 pages. Life is too short to read books you aren’t interested in. Move on. I am always reading 3-5 books at once. Some people think it’s crazy. Some books I finish in 2 days, others it takes me months to finish. If I don’t feel like reading it at that moment, I don’t.

Plus, it improves your memory, expands your vocabulary and you’ll already know the end of pretty much every movie that will ever be made.

That being said. I’m off to read. : )