Monday, January 2

A Year in Books (2011)

For a few years now I have been tracking every book that I read on goodreads.com.  It gives me a sense of satisfaction to check the book off my list, keeps list of "want-to-reads" to inspire me, and provides statistics about the year's reading.  A few weeks ago I realized that if I got my read-on I could beat my 2009 record of 33 books that year.  2010 had an abysmal 14 books so we won't go there.  Did I make the goal???  No.  Life caught up to me and I tied with 2009 at 33 books - if I had rallied I could have surpassed because I have another book sitting 7/8ths complete by my bedside.

So what did I read?  Did any of it impact me?  How do the stats look?

Number of Books Read  (2011):  33
Total Number of Pages Read:  11053  (29 more pages than 2009)
Most Read Author:  Bill Bryson - 6 of his books and the 7th is nearly complete.  He tends to have two types of books 1) Travel books with witty lines and apt observations.  My favourite so far in this category would be The Lost Continent:  Travels in Small Town America.  2)  Then he turns it around and writes beautifully researched books about history with a few comedic quips for good measure but generally just lots of information presented in a readable way.  The fave from this category was At Home: A Short History of Private Life
Longest:  Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. This also took me the longest to complete as the first half was completed in Kenya where my book was subsequently stolen (and likely unappreciated!) and the second half was tackled on Canadian soil.  It isn't easy to get one's hands on Can-Lit while traveling.

Best Read of 2011:
Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures:  A True Story from Hell on Earth
by Kenneth Cain, Andrew Thomson, and Heidi Postlewait

3 perspectives - 5 conflicts.  How young, idealistic humans found themselves cleaning up after the great genocides of the 1990s and how the UN went wrong.
I read this book while traveling in Kenya (a country that borders on Somalia) and learned so much about where good intentions alone will get us.  Not a light-hearted read but a definite must for anyone who considers themselves a "global citizen" (please for give the cliche, I gagged a bit when typing it).

Best Fiction Read of 2011:
The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland
I want to like Doug.  I really really want to like it.  I DO like him.  But the books I was expecting to blow me away could barely blow out a birthday candle.  The Gum Thief was an unexpected gem, one that I had not heard of nor developed any expectations.  I cared about the characters.

Most Disappointing Read of 2011:
My Stroke of Insight:  A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
by Jill Bolte Taylor
I'm stingy with my top rating of 5 stars, giving no books this year just one star although 5 books received only two stars.  I had high hopes for this book; I watched the TED Talk while baking bread and was highly intrigued.  Her story is fascinating - she even makes some very thought-provoking points - and then she rambles on like a new-age hippie for the second half of the book.  It isn't as much about her recovery process as her new spirituality.  Grain of Salt:  tons of other people love this book and I'm heartless.

Oldest Read of 2011:
The Screwtape Letters
by C.S. Lewis - published in 1942
No, I'm not that in to Christianity but good ol' C.S. speaks to me.  So much of what he wrote just tapped into human nature anyway and could be completely removed from spirituality.  Try some Lewis!  You might like him.

Recap 2011:  This year I traveled across the American states with both Jack Kerouac and Bill Bryson - first with youthful indulgence then with humour.  Mr. Bryson also brought me to the UK, Australia, back in time to Shakespeare, into an 16th century British home and right back to the big bang.  I thought about my own role as one person in this big world while reading Emergency Sex and learned that things are never how they appear in Africa in It's Our Turn to Eat.  I sympathized with the plight of street children in Ask me Why I Hurt and found myself unable to sympathize with a the selfish and frustrating Corinne Hofmann (author of The White Masai).  Through books I felt a hint of the frustration that black women would have felt living in the American South in the 1960s but just a hint.  Dave Cullen revealed the real motives and the real plan behind Columbine in the best surprise read of 2011.  And over and over again I examined what it meant to be human, to be an individual and to live in the time and place in which I am.

What was your Best Read of 2011?

The Whole Bibliography:
5 Stars:
It's Our Turn to Eat by Michaela Wrong
Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures (see above)
4 Stars:
At Home:  A short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
Ask me Why I Hurt by Randy Christensen
The Emperor's New Drugs:  Exploding the Antidepressant Myth by Irving Kirsch
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
The White Masai by Corinne Hofmann
Columbine by Dave Cullen
The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland
Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes
The Help  by Kathryn Stockett
Wasted:  A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher
3 Stars:
One Hundred Names for Love by Diane Ackerman
Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson
Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
The Mother Tongue:  English and How it Got that Way by Bill Bryson
The Lost Continent:  Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland *Last Book Finished in 2011*
Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
The Other Brain by Douglas R. Fields
The Unlikely Disciple:  A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill *Roots is a much better read*
The Screwtape Letters  by C.S. Lewis
2 Stars:
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon
My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor
Fifth Business  by Robertson Davies
Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland

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