What I Read in 2011

** denotes favorite book(s) of the month

DECEMBER  2011

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle : This might be Doyle’s tour de force, being equal parts creepy and mysterious with creepy mysterious characters on the creepy and mysterious moors – plus, Watson gets his turn to shine and the climax is utterly chilling.
Rebecca
– Daphne Du Maurier : “The Classic Tale of Romantic Suspense,” the book’s cover said, and it wasn’t lying, as the unnamed protagonist (brilliant) reflects on the chilling and terrible events that caused her to become a strong woman.
100 Facts About Pandas – David O’Doherty, Claudia O’Doherty, Mike Ahern : I bought this book for my sister as a joke, and it is delightful, just chock full of complete lies about pandas, including the (untrue) fact that a group of pandas is called a cupboard.
**Frindle
– Andrew Clements : This book made me tear up, as I had completely forgotten that it’s not about a pen (er, frindle); instead, it’s about a teacher who believes in a student and propels him on the road to success by being the antagonist in his story.
The BFG
– Roald Dahl: Another delightful children’s novel that has a lot of big (pun!) things to say about war, humanity, and the power of one individual…and dreams.

NOVEMBER 2011
Where Things Come Back – John Corey Whaley : This is a lovely novel about a “damn woodpecker,” a missing brother, a religious fanatic, a small town, and a teenager who is trying to figure out life – girls, friends, and hope – in the shadow of a life-changing occurrence.
**The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell : Heart-breaking, challenging, beautifully-written, and amazingly imaginative story with endearing characters that live and breathe and experience God along with the reader.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle : You can’t kill off a character like Sherlock Holmes; silly Sir Arthur!


OCTOBER 2011
The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett : I saw the movie first, I admit, and the book has a different feel than the movie, more sparse, sudden, and halting in the best sense.
**84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff : I adore this book, because it is beautiful: in 97 short pages of letters, the reader gets a sense of the characters, the setting, the era (long gone by), and the love for literature that spanned the Atlantic.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J. K. Rowling : The fourth book of the series is one of the longest, as well as being the point in the series where everything changes for Harry, his friends, his school, and the entire wizarding world.
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle :  This collection of short stories is famous mostly because of “The Final Problem” – where Doyle tried to rid himself of his hero once and for all – but there are some other gems, like the introduction of Mycroft and Holmes’s recounting of his first case.


SEPTEMBER 2011
**The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle : This collection contains most of the well-known Holmes tales – Scandal in Bohemia, the Five Orange Pips, Speckled Band – and reading it was like becoming reacquainted with the experiences of a friend I know well. 
The Imposter’s Daughter – Laurie Sandell : I randomly picked this book up at the library because I saw it was a memoir with comics, which I can’t resist, and I found it interesting but really only because of the comics.
The Introvert Advantage – Marti Olsen : I didn’t realize how wrong this culture made me feel until this book showed me how right I am to be who I am – a pathetic way of saying introverts are pretty great, despite popular opinion.
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky – Heidi W. Durrow : I picked it up because it’s set in Portland, but couldn’t put it down because it asks difficult questions about race, stereotypes, expectations, and prejudices, mainly, “Who is a person if she cannot be categorized?”
The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams : A challenging middle-grade book about a boy who finds great freedom in wearing a dress and pretending to be a foreign exchange student, it asks hard questions about acceptance, love, and gender stereotypes.


AUGUST 2011
**Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J. K. Rowling : The third book of the series has always been my favorite, because it has everything you could want: exciting Quiddich drama, schooltime shenanigans, time-travel, a secret map, and finally an adult who loves Harry and can be a semblance of family for him.
Many Waters – Madeline L’Engle : Finally I read the last of the Time Quartet, remembering why it isn’t my favorite, yet also impressed with the difficult subject matter that L’Engle undertakes – patriarchal society, predestination, and a culture of lust – in this “children’s” book.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J. K. Rowling : While this book isn’t near the top of my personal ranking of the seven, I enjoyed remembering when Hogwarts was a little lighter – petrified people and possession aside – and the characters are still innocently hopeful.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick : This children’s book is innovative in its structure – narrative stopping to let illustration continue the story – but the story itself fell a bit flat for me, as I was excited about the potential of the tale, the medium, and the history and wished that the storytelling itself was more vivid and less paint-by-number.


JULY 2011
*The Road – Cormac McCarthy : “Devastatingly hopeful,” a friend called this book, and it ran my emotions raw through its exquisitely sparse and bleak style and subject matter, but eventually, I saw the hope and the answer: that love has to be the most important thing, because without it, we have nothing and there is no meaning to life.
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins : One of the quickest reads lately, I really enjoyed this dystopian futuristic novel about a society that forces children to fight to the death, which sounds horrid – and it is – but Collins doesn’t shy away from the horror while focusing on the characters and the humanity instead.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson : I didn’t love this book, especially the writing style, the slow pacing, and some of the intense and graphic subject matter (which may be due to the fact of its translation from Swedish), but the characters continued to intrigue me to the end, so human and yet so foreign to me that I almost think of the setting as an alternate universe…called Sweden.
The Sign of Four – A. Conan Doyle : This isn’t one of Doyle’s best, as he seems fixated on creating a hurried and random love story alongside un-politically correct portraits of natives, but Holmes still reigns supreme, as we find out more about his character flaws and strengths, one of the latter being his utter delight in answering a puzzle.
Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes – Maya Angelou : I would recommend this book to anyone who loves cooking, food, or stories about people, as it is a beautiful memoir about a woman’s life with food, from the time she is a small child tasting her grandmother’s cooking laced with love to when she is a successful and professional adult, feasting on expensive dishes and gaining the respect of those around her with her kitchen know-how.
*Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins : The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy didn’t disappoint, as it followed characters during the aftermath of the Games, a time in which they hoped to end the anxiety and frustration, but instead finding danger is escalating due to the possibility of revolt.
Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins : My favorite thing about this trilogy is how Collins allows her characters to be irreversibly changed by the events they experience, and the last chapter in her Hunger Games trilogy forces the characters readers have come to love to change in difficult ways, as the world is torn apart by rebellion and no one can be trusted.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J. K. Rowling : This is where it all begins, my friends: a baby is dropped off by a giant man driving a flying motorcycle, watched by an old man with a long white beard and a cat with glasses-shaped patches…and 10 years later, a little boy finds out he is a wizard, he is the “one who lived,” and his life will never be the same.
Divine Right’s Trip – Gurney Norman : This is the third time I’ve read this book, and while the first half is just as trippy and psychedelic as ever, for the first time, I was touched deeply by the second half, as D.R. finds himself, his family, and a purpose, and through all of that, finds the balance he has been craving.


JUNE 2011
**Persuasion – Jane Austen : I like Anne Eliot best for a few reasons: she’s older and lives with some regrets, she is not particularly pretty (though she gets prettier as the book goes on), she is kind to people who choose not to be kind to her, she is calm in a crisis, she recognizes that the choices she has made are hers alone and have brought her to her present position, and finally (most importantly) she knows her heart belongs to only one man and will not settle for anyone else.
Maisie Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear : Mysteries being my first love, I judge them harsher than most types of fiction, but to me this book is more a glimpse of England after World War I, of what a terribly sad place it was and the changes (physical, mental, emotional) that that Great War wrought over in Europe.
A Study in Scarlet – A. Conan Doyle : This is the short tale where Doyle sets up everything: we meet the major characters, we find out their strengths and weaknesses, and we try to figure out the answer to a crazy and preposterous mystery where the conclusion involves Mormonism and love lost.
Bossypants – Tina Fey : I listened to the audiobook this time (which I feel like counts as re-reading because I heard every word again), and it was definitely worth it, if only for Fey’s inflections, asides, and impressions.


MAY 2011
Much Ado About Nothing  – William Shakespeare : The introduction to this edition highlighted the inconsistencies and implausibilities of this play, but honestly, the snappy dialogue between Beatrice and Benedick is so witty and clever, it makes up for the shallow villain and “guilty until proven innocent” plotline.
**Bossypants – Tina Fey : This comedy genius’s memoir is funny, of course, written in a clever and engaging voice, but it is also honest about the frustrations and trials of show business, where nothing is easy, days are long, and nothing is for certain, especially if you’re a strong woman fully invested in a critically-acclaimed yet low-rated show.
Mansfield Park – Jane Austen : Fanny Price is so incredibly different from the Elizabeth Bennett heroine we associate with the author, but perhaps that is why Fanny is called Austen’s favorite, a girl so anxious to please and demure to a fault. 


APRIL 2011
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen : One of Austen’s lesser-read works, it’s bitingly witty and seriously funny, the tale of poor heroine Catherine who has a head full of innocence and Gothic novels, which ends up getting her in trouble in the real world where seemingly-good people are manipulative and other things are just as they seem and nothing more.
A Traveller’s History of Scotland– Andrew Fisher : Another sprint through thousands of years of history, this one was a little better written, and I came away with three thoughts: Scotland always seems like the neglected younger brother who never quite was able to escape England’s shadow even while so desperate to make its own way; religious freedom is an amazing gift that Americans do not understand in the least; and Fisher ends his history with little hope and more than a little disdain, but I’m not sure what he wants from Scotland – rebellion?
The Soloist – Steve Lopez : Of course I’ve seen the movie, but the book takes it a step further, helping us really delve into the relationship between “Mr. Lopez” and Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, and Lopez does not hold back at all, sharing his frustrations, fears, and joys while befriending a homeless musical genius for the sake of a column and then staying his friend for the sake of his own dry soul. 
On the Edge: My Story – Richard Hammond : I’m a fan of memoirs and of British television so this combined two of my favorite things, and although the writing was less than impressive (still beating Anthony Rapp’s terrible memoir), Hammond’s honesty was endearing, as he recounted the recovery process and overwhelming fear that dogged him after a horrible crash on the television program Top Gear and the brain damage it caused.
**Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture – Dan Gibson, Jordan Green, John Pattison : This book, composed of 100 short, often humorous and poingnat essays, is the worst kind of tease: it’s a book that makes you want to read other books, books that will challenge, surprise, and reveal God in unexpected ways.
As You Do: Adventures with Evel, Oliver, and the Vice President of Botswana – Richard Hammond : This book was more Hammond’s style, as it is composed of behind the scenes glances at the crazy stuff he does on (and off) the show: dog sledding, salt flat racing, and running through flooded streets, culminating in a particularly interesting look at Hammond meeting his hero, Evel Knievel.


MARCH 2011
**All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age – Hubert Dreyfuss & Sean Dorrence Kelly : I don’t read a lot of (or any) philosophy, so it was an interesting and heady read about how our culture is unable to recognize the sacred, whereas more ancient (and “primitive”) cultures were able to and thus were, in some ways, happier.
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography – Susan Cheever : Alcott was a fascinating woman for her time, a stubborn and independent woman forced to take care of her family for her entire life, and a book about her is destined to be interesting, even as Cheever’s writing style wore on me and I wondered why the world needed another biography on a heavily-biographied individual.
Out of the Silent Planet – C. S. Lewis : Lewis wrote this science fiction novel in 1965, during an unsettling and exciting time in history that contained lots of changes, and he embedded that sense throughout the book, creating a magical world with incredibly specific details as Ransom explores Malacandra, meets the hross and the seroni, and finds out things about his own race that are painful.
A Traveller’s History of England – Christopher Daniell : I realized much too late that I know very little about the two countries I’ll be vising in a few months, and this book was a good primer, though it simply skated through thousands of years of history with no depth and very little focus on the social aspects of the ages.


FEBRUARY 2011
Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography– Amy Frykholm : A quote from this book is that “biography is always an act of imagination” and that is very true in this case, as Frykholm constructs the life of a mystic anchoress who penned one of the most interesting looks at the love of God to come out of 15th century.
**Room – Emma Donoghue : Fantastic novel about a little boy who grows up with his ma – who was abducted at age 19 – in a 11×11 room that cannot continue to contain his questions and his curiosity even as his mother is reaching the end of her endurance with their current endurance.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake– Aimee Bender : From the description, one would think this is about a young girl’s sudden ability to taste the feelings of whoever made her food in the food itself, but it’s really about family and relationships and how to deal with broken people while being incredibly broken yourself.
Up in the Air – Walter Kirn : Yes, this is the book that the movie was based on, but it’s vastly different in that many of the major plot points are changed, as well as the tone changing as you see the world from Ryan’s own perspective, the way he lives his life, as you are the person sitting next to him on a flight (also, the twist at the end of the book is NOT the same one at the end of the movie).


JANUARY 2011
A Bigger World Yet – Tim Timmerman (now available on Amazon!) :  It mainly concerns men and same-sex needs, but it also touches on the bigger issues of community, love, and Christian culture, written by a man who has lived his life within all of these issues.
Maus II
– Art Spiegleman : The second part of a graphic novel about the Holocaust, a man (mouse) tries to reconcile his complicated feelings for his father while recording his father’s stories about being a Jew during WWII.
A Wind in the Door
– Madeline L’Engle : The third book in the Time Quartet, L’Engle takes on her most complicated storyline yet, taking Charles Wallace on a ride through time on a unicorn to stop nuclear war.
**The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
– Rebecca Skloot : A fascinating nonfiction tale about a poor black woman whose cells are taken before she dies from cancer, and her cells are continuing to live today, being used in countless clinical trials, even while her poverty-stricken, uneducated family lives without any understanding of what has been done.

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