2011 sucked. I had to deal with the death of both of my parents, and so I spent a lot of time reading as escapism. I read eighty-one books this past year, but I was in such a low psychological state that I didn’t find many new books that wow’ed me. I started a lot of books that I didn’t finish. (Wolf Hall, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, London by Rutherford, Water: the epic struggle for wealth, power and civilization, and probably others I can’t now remember. If I didn’t finish a book, it didn’t count toward the eighty-one.)
For comfort, I re-read books that I knew I would enjoy. Every now and then, I read a new book that hit me just right, and I’m completely aware that if I had read it two weeks earlier or later, it might not have affected me the same way.
So, enough of my prose. Here’s the list:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The main character/narrator is autistic. Because he is telling the story to you, and doesn’t understand the world the way you do, you understand things before he does. Through his voice, you learn how his mind works, so you clearly understand why he responds the way he does to difficult circumstances. Fascinating and emotional.
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfuss’s long awaited sequel to The Name of the Wind was all I’d hoped for and has me eager for the final installment in the trilogy. This is an enormous book (almost 1000 pages) and I’ve been sitting here for about ten minutes trying to figure out how to summarize it, and I’ve just decided not to try. If you like fantasy and haven’t read these books yet, get The Name of the Wind. If you aren’t a fan of fantasy, I still recommend them. The writing is almost poetry (actually, there is a bit of poetry in there), and the story multi-layered.
The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay by Alex Epstein
Epstein skillfully blends the coming-of-age, the fairy, the revenge, and the legend. Revenge is the sustaining force in Morgan’s lost years, and success in battle and magic are what give her power. Epstein holds true to the legendary woman Morgan le Fay in creating this story of the child. Fans of Arthurian legend will love this book, and so will everyone else. Great characters, great writing, great story.
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
I read this book straight through, staying up until about 2:00 in the morning. Once part of the popular high school crowd, Annabel Greene is now a social outcast. Something traumatic happened, but Annabel won’t talk about it—not to her overpowering mother, not to her troubled older sisters, and not to us, the readers. Fellow outcast Owen befriends Annabel, and their relationship slowly becomes romantic. Dessen is flawless at creating the female teenage world. I’m not sure why anyone would want to return to that horrible time and place, but I love Dessen’s writing and characters, and if she’ll keep writing about it, I’ll keep reading.
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Twelve-year-old Elijah was the first child born free in the Canadian community of Buxton, where escaped slaves live freely. He is a sensitive child who wishes he were less sensitive, or “fragile” as his mother calls him. Through a series of funny, emotional, and gripping events, Elijah proves himself and an able young man. I loved Curtis’s Bud Not Buddy, and I loved this book too. This is a middle-reader story that adults will like as much as their kids. It’s a good read-aloud, as the funny scenes are even funnier when a small child is laughing along with you.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
This is a fairy tale story of a mouse who falls in love with a princess. It was made into a movie, which I haven’t seen, but which according to my son is good but quite different. DiCamillo’s writing is poetry.
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James
This was the last book my mother read before she died. She told me all about it on the phone, the day before her stroke. I read it way back in January and can’t remember a bit of it—I was in a fog of grief. This book will always have a special place in my heart.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen
Really? you ask. Yes, I answer. I picked up this book at the perfectly right time. It is the story I know practically by heart, interspersed with zombie attacks. Fun.
Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I had to include this self-help book. Again, good timing for me. After my father’s death, stress caused in me some physical ailments that have been helped by a daily yoga routine. However, this book is about more than yoga poses; it explores how to live a healthy, centered life.
and the series . . .
Thursday Next series by Jasper Fford
Clever fantasy/mystery/English-major type story. Very funny. I read these aloud to my younger son, who enjoyed them immensely. There’s a new one out I need to get.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
I read these when my older son was in elementary school, and now I’m reading them out loud with my younger son. Such clever writing.
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
I keep re-reading this. Fast-moving story, incredible characters, fantastic writing. Is there anyone who reads this blog and hasn’t read this yet? Why haven’t you? You better get going; the movie comes out in March. I’ve watch the trailer four times and cried each time. Powerful story.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson
I debated including this. The thriller is not my favorite genre, and I usually avoid books filled with sicko sexual torture. This made the list because of Lisbeth Salander. She is perfectly drawn—a powerful female character, perhaps a bit autistic, a survivor.