Guest Post: My Husband’s Top Ten Books of 2011

Since it was so popular last time, I asked my husband to put together a list of the best books HE read this year. So today you get a break from me as I turn the blog over to Ben.

10) Inherit the Wind

“The individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than in all your shouted ;Amens!’, ‘Holy, Holies!’ and ‘Hosannahs!’ An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than any sticks turned to snakes, or the parting of waters!”

9) Crime and Punishment

One page into the book and you know you’re dealing with a writer simply on a different level.

8) Everything Beautiful Began After

Simon Van Booy’s short stories are some of the most poignant I’ve ever read, and his first novel held the same power.

7) Earth: The Audiobook

The first time I listened to this book I cried I laughed so hard. The second time I read this book I cried because of how sharp the satire was.

6) The Watchmen

The mystery and incredible artwork sucked me in and held my attention, but it wasn’t blowing me away. Then I got to the last chapter. I was knocked to the floor by an ending I didn’t see coming.

5) Goodbye, Chunky Rice

Craig Thompson, why must you break my heart so? Unspeakably beautiful and sad.

4) Bossypants

I’ve always admired (and had a huge crush on) Tina Fey. Her first book perfectly captures her self-effacing and self-deprecating humor that we’ve come to expect from one of the funniest voices of this generation.

3) Ulysses

I was fortunate enough to take a course in James Joyce taught by the amazing Jeri Johnson at the University of Oxford in England this summer. She opened my eyes to the sheer power of the most talented writer of the 20th century.

2) America, America

I think a large part of why I loved this book was because of Robertson Dean’s narration. The best narrator I’ve ever heard.

1) The Weird Sisters

Eleanor Brown is a genius. I love the Shakespeare references, the characters, the story, the pain, and the symmetry. The collective narrator is so unique and inventive. But above all, the command of language elevates this book above all I read this year. I would sometimes have to put the book down because the beauty of her sentences would reduce me to tears.

I hope you enjoyed Ben’s list, although I am a bit concerned that my husband may want to run off with Eleanor Brown now. Are the rest of your family members readers? What were some of their favorites?

The Sunday Salon: 2011 Favorites

The Sunday Salon.com

This is the week I like to look back on the previous year. I’m kicking it off today with the one everyone anticipates the most: my top reads of 2011. I’ve broken them down by category this year. Later this week my husband will be making an appearance with his top ten and I will also share my favorite albums. Finally, I will round out the reminiscing with some reading statistics and goals for 2012. Enjoy.

In no particular order, here are my favorite reads of 2011, with a one-sentence description why. You can click on each book to read my full review.

Adult Fiction 2011 

 

 

 

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner is a heart-wrenching novel about two kids who lose and find each other. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown is a beautifully-written novel about family and growing-up. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is simply magical. Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy employs gorgeous writing on its jarring emotional journey. Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman is both a hilarious and poignant look at modern family.

Audiobooks 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey made me laugh out loud – constantly. The Langauge of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a beautifully-written and beautifully-narrated story of a newly emancipate foster kid trying to find her way in life with the only thing she knows: flowers. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is my absolute favorite audiobook experience of the year, and I don’t think I’m alone. Faith by Jennifer Haigh follows a family through an unimaginable accusation, examining religion and relationships along the way. I discovered both Feed and Deadline by Mira Grant this year and found myself completely caught up in its zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic world. 

Young Adult 2011 

Shade and Shift by Jeri Smith-Ready is my absolute favorite discovery of 2011.  Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is cute and romantic and quirky – sometimes that’s all we need. Divergent by Veronica Roth kept me on the edge of my seat and has me eagerly anticipating its sequel this spring. Saving June by Hannah Harrington took me on a musical roadtrip across the country that left me emotionally exhausted. The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson surprised me enough to make it here.

Pre-2011 Books I Just Got To in 2011

Our Town by Oscar Wilde is a heartbreaking play made even better because I read it with my husband. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is an often-sad-but-ultimately-uplifting novel about a boy who loses his father on 9/11. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan was ambitious and unique. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson somehow sucked me into a European adventure while I was already on one. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr showed me that faeries are not for little kids.

Your turn. What were your favorites this year?

The Sunday Salon: 2010 Reading in Numbers & 2011 Goals

The Sunday Salon.comHappy New Year! (I realized I didn’t say that yesterday). Today is my final year-end wrap up post and it looks ahead to 2011 a bit at the end with some goals. This is one of my favorite posts because I love stats and figuring all of this out was really fun for me. It is my year of reading in numbers. And if you missed it, I posted my favorite books of 2010 yesterday).

Some Numbers:

Books Read: 76 (up from 42 last year)
Print: 56
Audio: 20
Pages Read: 18,214
Audio Hours: 286.7 (just under 12 whole days!)
Average Pages per Book: 325
Average Pages Read per Day: 50
Books Acquired: Somewhere between 100 and 150

Fiction: 70
Nonfiction: 6

Female Authors: 49
Male Authors: 27
New (to me) Authors: 47
Most Read Author: JK Rowling (7)

Age group:

Adult: 42
Young Adult: 28
Middle Grade: 6

Genre:

Contemporary Fiction: 32
Fantasy: 10
Paranormal: 10
Classics: 8
Dystopian: 5
Memoirs: 2
Science: 2
Short Story Collection: 2
Social Issues: 2
Graphic Novel: 1
Science Fiction: 1
Verse: 1

Rereads: 7 (Just Harry Potter)

Longest Book: The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray (819 pages)
Shortest Book: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (134 pages)

Longest Audio: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (30 hours)
Shortest Audio: Stardust by Neil Gaiman (6.5 hours)

Library books: 43 (yikes!)
Books from my collection: 33

Average Rating: 4.18 out of 5

Published in:
2011: 2
2010: 27
2009: 13
2008: 3
2007: 0
2006: 2
2005: 3
2004: 0
2003: 5
2002: 0
2001: 1
2000: 1
1990s: 10
1900-1989: 6
1800s: 3 (*hangs head in shame*)

2010 Goals – How’d I do?:

  1. I want to read more adult literature than young adult/middle grade.  While I love YA/MG books, I felt like I got a little distracted from other books in 2009.  So it doesn’t matter if it’s one book more or 30 books more, I just want to read more adult literature than not. [Final count: 42 adult, 34 YA/MG]
  2. I’m aiming for 20% of my books to be classics.  That’s a little better than I did in 2009. [Boy did I fail this one].
  3. And I’m aiming for 15% of my books to me nonfiction/memoir v. fiction.  I’m trying to broaden my reading horizon. [Only 7% 🙁 ].
  4. Specific authors: Margaret Atwood (never read); Isabelle Allende (never read); Kurt Vonnegut (haven’t read in awhile). [And Margaret Atwood remains unread once more. As well as Allende].
  5. Specific books: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld; The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein; David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (my one daunting read for the year) ; Finish the last 5 Betsy-Tacy books; The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharto. [Wow. I didn’t finish any of these. I did read two more of the Betsy-Tacy books. I think specific book goals are not good for me].

Five goals in 2011:

  1. Read more during the week. I do most of my reading on the weekend but there is no reason that I can’t read for 30 minutes or an hour every day.
  2. Keep up with Goodreads. I’m going to just start from this point on and really try to use it.
  3. Read more of my own books. I read a lot of library books this year. I’d like to balance this out a little.
  4. Along those lines, limit myself to two books on hold at once at the library. I hate when all 10 of the books I have on hold come in on the same day.
  5. Use audio mostly for nonfiction and rereads. I enjoy these audiobooks the most and I really want to focus a little more on nonfiction and rereads in general.

Do you have any reading/blogging goals this year? Were you surprised by any of your stats?

My Favorite Books in 2010

I tried to just come up with a top ten list like I did last year, but when I started making it, it morphed into something new. So instead of a simple top ten, I give you my favorite books in various categories. These are books that I read in 2010 but not books that were necessarily published in 2010. I’m not going to say too much about each book. You can click on the title to read my full review.

Overall Favorites:

Finny by Justin Kramon is my absolute favorite this year. I loved it from start to finish. ★ Blankets by Craig Thompson was my first (and only so far) graphic novel. It was simply beautiful. ★ Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson is heartbreaking in a way that made me want to give the book a hug and filled with beautiful prose. ★ Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer is a necessary but jarring reminder that we all need to make intelligent decisions regarding our food. ★We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is deliciously creepy. ★ Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde took me into a fantastically-crafted new world ★ My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares surprised me. I never knew I’d love a book about soulmates. ★ Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky was so captivating that I accidentally read it in one sitting. ★ Room by Emma Donaghue is creative and sad and hopeful and I’m still thinking about it even if I haven’t reviewed it yet. ★ Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross is indescribable.

Favorite Young Adult/Middle Grade:

When You Reach Me  by Rebecca Stead deserves all the praise it has received and made me long for a reread of A Wrinkle in Time. ★ The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson seemed so possible that it was hard to call it Dystopian. ★ Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder, a novel in verse, held me captive on a rainy day until I had read every last word.

Favorite Audiobooks:

America, America by Ethan Cain has a terrific narrator and an intriguing story of a boy who gets wrapped up in a political family’s drama. ★ Stardust by Neil Gaiman is a grown-up fairytale that I couldn’t get enough of. Oh, and Neil Gaiman reads it himself. Awesome. ★ A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson is exactly what it claims to be – a great overview of the whole world of science. Perfect for the science nerd in me.

Favorite Reading Experience:

While Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins may not have been the conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy we all hoped it would be, it was a lot of fun to wait it out and read it with the entire book blogosphere.

Favorite Book-I-Should-Have-Read-Years-Ago:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a book that should be placed in the hands of every teenager, male and female. I wish it had been placed in mine back then.

Favorite Comfort Reads:

I continued my late-to-the-party reading of Betsy-Tacy with Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace and it continues to be simply wonderful. ★ And The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin, a Baby-Sitters Club prequel, surprised me by being incredibly enjoyable. I loved being back in Stoneybrook with some of my oldest friends.

Favorite Short Story Collection:

Zombies vs Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier is probably the most fun I had reading a book this year.

 

And there you have it. My favorite books for a variety of reasons.

Stay tuned for my final year-end wrap up post: my year of reading in numbers (can you tell that I LOVE these year-end posts?).

 

Top Fives: 2010 Discoveries


It’s time for the final Top Fives post. I hope you’ve enjoyed them. Today is my top five 2010 discoveries. As you will see, it’s a rather eclectic list.

1. Asheville

I visited a number of new cities this year but none of them compare to Asheville. Ben spent the summer there and while I only visited for four days, I would drop everything and move there if we could. It is a lot like Ann Arbor (which you know I adore and miss like crazy) but with southern charm (credit goes to Ben for that comparison) and milder weather.. Mountains to hike on the weekends, vegetarian restaurants galore, and indie bookstores to peruse. Living in Asheville is kind of my new goal in life.

2. Vegetarianism

After years of slowly moving in this direction, I finally committed to being a vegetarian. It’s been almost an entire year now since I’ve had meat of any kind. And I love it (although my mom was cooking bacon this morning and that really tested my resolve). I feel healthier but, more importantly, I feel like I’ve correctly made the moral decision that I’ve struggled with for a long time. I appreciate that not everyone can do this but I’m so happy with my choice to give up meat.

3. Running

As I mentioned a little yesterday, I started running in 2010. Only a few months ago I thought I could never be a runner. I had tried in the past and failed. But after a few people encouraged me to try the Couch to 5k podcasts, I decided to give it a shot. Now I’m only two weeks away from my first 5k race. I’ve been plagued with a few injuries but for the most part it just feels so good to finish a run. Also, [see photo to the right] is one of the places I get to run. Hard to hate that.

4. The Avett Brothers

I couldn’t include them in my Top Fives: 2010 Albums post because they didn’t release an album this year, but I only discovered The Avett Bothers in 2010. And I LOVE them. Please go listen to I and Love and You if you haven’t already. I also wish January Wedding had existed when I got married (in January 2005).

5. Butterbeer

This one is just on here for kicks. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened this year in Orlando and thanks to some Annual passes, it’s relative proximity to my home, and the wishes of many visitors, I went three times in the first few months it was open. You can read my post on it here. But I really do love the Butterbeer. Cheers!

What did you discover in 2010?

My Year of Reading (in Numbers)

Some Numbers:

  • Books Read: 42 (1 audio)
  • Pages Read: 13,807 + 13.1 hrs audio
  • Average Pages per Book: 337
  • Books Acquired: 156
  • Fiction: 38
  • Nonfiction: 4
  • Female Authors: 26
  • Male Authors: 16
  • New (to me) Authors: 24
  • Most Read Author: Maud Hart Lovelace (5)
  • Kid’s Lit: 13
  • Contemporary Fiction: 11
  • Classics: 6
  • Young Adult: 5
  • Memoirs: 3
  • Plays: 2
  • Essays: 1
  • Short Story Collection: 1
  • Rereads: 3
  • Series Started: 4
  • Longest Book: War and Peace (1,386 pages)
  • Shortest Book: The Tales of Beedle the Bard (107 pages)
  • Library books: 10
  • Books from my collection: 32
  • Challenges finished: 1 (Maud Hart Lovelace)
  • Challenges failed: 1 (Everything Austen – will finish this year)
  • Challenges continuing: 1 (Shelf Discovery)

2009 Goals

  • Read 48 Books (4/month) – Failed
  • Read Northanger Abbey and re-read Pride and Prejudice
  • 12 Classics (1/month) – Failed (I read 6 and was much better earlier in the year)
  • Specific Books
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
    Peony in Love by Lisa See
    The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
    Something Rotten and First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
    The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray (I’m halfway through)
    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

    To sum up: I thought I would read more this year since it’s the first full year that I haven’t been in school, but regular old work life turned out to be more time-consuming than expected. I also didn’t mean to read so much kid’s lit but between Betsy-Tacy, Harry Potter re-reads, and The Mysterious Benedict Society that somehow became my biggest genre. I think it was a successful year even if it wasn’t my best according to numbers.  I discovered the greater book-blogging community, reading challenges, and I participated in my first read-a-thon.  And I enjoyed almost everything that I read which has to be the most important measuring stick.

    Thank you all for listening to my ramblings this year and leaving wonderful comments for me.  I’m looking forward to seeing what 2010 brings.

    My Favorite Reads of 2009

    When I sat down to write this post, I was going to give you my top 5 reads of 2009.  I only read 42 books so anything more than that seemed like a cop-out.  But I read some really good books this year and I could only get my favorites list down to 10.  With one honorable mention.  I know – it’s pathetic.  But I have actually ranked them so you can see my top five.  You will also notice that there is significant overlap with this post and my husband’s below. Mostly because as soon as one of us loves a book, we incessantly nag the other to read it (in 2009’s case, it was all me nagging I think).  My next post will be a year-end reading recap with stats and other fun figures, but for now here are my top 5 10 11 books of 2009.

    Honorable Mention: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

    (review)

    A surprisingly enjoyable read that I couldn’t bear to leave off this list.  It is a book about a teenage girl at a private boarding school who tries to break secret society traditions and gender roles.  And she likes P.G. Wodehouse.

    10: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

    After creating this list, I realized that I failed to review a number of my favorite books.  And I read this one almost a year ago now so it’s hard to remember what it was exactly that I liked about it.  I guess I feel like it’s one of those great coming of age stories that all girls (well boys too but they’ll be hard to convince) should read like To Kill a Mockingbird or Little Women.

    9: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

    (review)

    As much as I love happy endings, I also love tragic ones.  I loved this story so much as I was reading it, but the way it ended sealed its fate on this list.

    8: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

    (review)

    A fantastic series for young readers and equally enthralling for adults.  This year I read all three MBS books and while I enjoyed all of them, this one was the best by leaps and bounds.  I was looking for a new group of kids to start following and Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance were just what I needed.

    7: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

    (review)

    This book took me ages to read.  I really struggled to get into it.  I don’t know if it was my mood at the time or my desire to love this book as much as everyone else, but it just wasn’t working for me.  Then I decided I was reading it no matter what.  And I fell in love with it.  I’ve just learned that my attention span for epic novels (this, War and Peace, Middlesex, etc.) is just something I will probably struggle with no matter how good they are.

    6: Peony in Love by Lisa See

    (review)

    Part of why I love reading is because of the knowledge I gain through each book.  Peony in Love (and all of See’s novels) are full of history and culture that I knew very little about.  The characters in this book are based on real people and the book that the story revolves around is a real book.  The way that See manages to shape this into a story is simply amazing.

    5: Heaven to Betsy by Maud Hart Lovelace

    (review)

    I think I will always remember 2009 as the year I discovered Betsy-Tacy.  I wish I had read it as a child so that I could have reread it 10 times by now.

    4: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

    (review)

    Everyone I’ve discussed this book with has said that it took them some time to get into the novel.  Me? I was pulled into the story immediately.  It revolves around one apartment building in France and its diverse and eccentric tenants.  Our two narrators are a 12-year-old girl intent on killing herself and a middle-aged concierge hiding her true passion for high culture and the book is full of philosophical ramblings and right place, right time interactions.  Tell me you don’t want to read that book.

    3: Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy

    I never reviewed Love Begins in Winter. I’m not sure why because I have so many good things to say about it.  The book is made up of five short stories about chance encounters, hope, and (you guess-it) love.  It is remarkably written – one of those books that makes you realize how wonderful language can be when manipulated just right.  This was a spur of the moment buy and read and I’m thankful I wandered into that bookstore in St. Louis and picked it up.

    2: The Hunger Games (review) and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

    (review)

    The Hunger Games/Catching Fire make the list at #2 because this series was my most enjoyable reading experience of the year.  I got completely lost in the books and cannot wait for the third book to come out in the fall.  They weren’t the “best” books I read this year, but reading is entertainment and entertain me these did.

    1: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (review)

    I apparently never reviewed this book and thus my thoughts about it are escaping me, but I know for a fact that it is my favorite book read in 2009.  It was one of those books that gets as close to perfect as possible.  The language was beautiful, the story was beautiful, and the characters were beautiful.  Please read it.

    ***

    Wow, this post took way longer than I anticipated. I really hope you enjoyed it. And stay tuned for my next 2009-recap post.

    Happy New Year!

    Guest Post: My Husband's Top Ten Books of 2009

    Today you all get a special treat. My husband has decided to write a guest post with his favorite reads of 2009.  Ben reads even more than I do and he’s a high school English teacher so reading is sort of his thing. I like to think that I have something to do with it since his passion for reading started around the same time as our relationship, but I know he would have become a reader anyway. I am working on my own top reads of the year as well as a reading recap post.  In the meantime, and without further ado, I turn this post over to Ben.

    *****

    10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: We grow up and see the word differently as Francine’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of being a child in America, just as we did with Scout Finch.

    9. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: SPOILERS This novel was a laugh-out-loud chronicle of a typical teenage boy. Until it turned dark. The dizzying pace at which Oscar spirals downwards reminds us that life is fragile. END SPOILERS

    8. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: From the opening, haunting pages Strout hooks the reader.  The way characters and stories are woven together across generations is simply marvelous.  Uplifting and heart-wrenching at the same time.

    7. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan: Typical Ian McEwan- wonderful prose, great story, tension, and an unforgettable twist.

    6. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: This is the third Pulitzer winner on my list (Oscar Wao and Olive Kitteridge) and it’s easy to see why.  The struggles of Calliope/Cal become a metaphor for the city of Detroit (lovingly and harshly portrayed).  Severe, unblinking, and honest, Eugenides opens our eyes to the realities of an intersexed person.

    5. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss: Absolutely beautiful and lyrical prose.  Krauss breaks your heart with Leo’s story, only to put it back together through Alma.

    4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: Extremely intriguing, mysterious, and dark.  We discover the true horrors of Kathy, Rose, and Tommy’s purpose in life is discovered (or at least suspected) by the reader much sooner than the characters, which makes it all the more terrifying.  Your heart bleeds and hopes for Kathy as she struggles with the realities of her life.

    3. The Hunger Games/Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: These novels have filled part of the hole left in my soul by the ending of Harry Potter.  A combination of “The Lottery”, “The Most Dangerous Game”, and The Truman Show.  Insanely addictive and captivating, I cannot wait until the final volume is released next summer (rumored to be titled The Victors).

    2. Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy: The most poignant and beautifully written book I’ve read in several years.  This collection of short stories touched me the way that only a select few books have.  I was nearly brought to tears multiple times, not because of the stories, but by the beauty of the language.

    1. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon: This first novel shows the promise of Chabon’s talent (which will later be fully realized in the brilliant tour de force that is The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier and Clay).  This book gave me that ineffable feeling that accompanies reading a truly special piece of literature.  Carefully crafted plot and characters lead us to conflicts that arise naturally, as if the author simply let the characters take the story where they will.