Category Archives: year in review

Reading Year in Review and Top Ten Books of 2011.

My blog is about to celebrate its 5th anniversary next month.  I wrote my first post on January 6th, 2007, partly to slow down and think about what I was reading again and partly in an effort to get more comfortable with sharing my writing in a “public” space (I would like to thank my 4 loyal readers at this time: Mom, Dad, Alison Covey, Kendra Bloom).  Every year when I’m home for Christmas I read every post I wrote over the year and choose the top ten best books I’ve read.

Usually, it takes me many hours to reread my blog posts for the year. As I read, I take notes and end up with a list at least 20 contenders for the coveted top ten.  I have to do some serious thinking and rereading of posts to decide which books had the biggest impact on my thought life–and then spend some serious time laughing about the nerdy ways I spend my time.  This year was not so difficult.  Sadly, I don’t think I can attribute that to any increased coolness to my life, but I do think I have a few answers/self justifications for the reasons why this year I had only 23 posts (2008 holds the all-time high of 97):

  • The spring was filled with YA books that enriched my teaching life and a side project I’m working on, but weren’t necessarily significant enough for me to subject my loyal readers (see above) to. 
  •  The summer, normally the two months that I read the highest number of books, was filled with Infinite Jest, a book that I felt I needed to finish before I posted anything about it.  (Then, the fall happened and I still have 5 additional posts about Infinite Jest sitting in my drafts.) 
  • This fall, I got caught up reading books for and with my students. Many of my Saturday mornings, normally my drink-a-hot-beverage-and-write-about-my-reading time, were filled with training for my half marathon.  Also, my book club choice was For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway, which is not a read-before-you-fall-asleep kind of book: I would make it literally 3 pages and fall asleep. I’m finally about to finish it, which I owe to traveling 3 out of the last 5 weekends on U.S. Airways, who does not offer in-flight television.  

All that to say, it is interesting to look back on a year through the lens of reading. I am nerdily excited for what 2012 will bring in my reading life…and the reflections that accompany good books.  As for the Top Ten, I have to credit Margaret, who is the sole other member of my book club, because six of our choices made the top ten list this year. So, in no particular order:

The Hours by Michael Cunningham/Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (rereads)
These books have to be paired together and were two of the most thought provoking reads of the year.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
This book received an insane amount of press when it was published last year.  Overall, especially because my book club read read The Corrections first, I throughly enjoyed getting inside the mind of Franzen.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteygart
Not especially well written, but it definitely was the instigator of many great conversations and some science-fiction/technology induced nightmares.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
I think this was the most historically significant, jarring book that I read this year, and combined with its lyrical prose, it left me speechless.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Short. Beautiful. Inspiring.

Bossypants by Tina Fey
The most enjoyable book of the year.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Harder than my book club’s run with the Russians a few years ago and encompassing almost all of my summer, this book was well worth it.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years  by Donald Miller (reread)
This book was a non-fiction, good reminder of all things I love about story and life.

The Summer Book by Tove Janssen(reread)
This book has become one of my yearly rereads and I’ve written about it a few times.  I spend the quiet, early summer mornings I have at my parents’ house on their screened in porch reading just a chapter or two a day so that I can savor and soak in it during my entire visit.  This year it was my respite from Infinite Jest, to make sure that reading was not only speaking into the my academically-minded side of my brain, but also my soul.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I read the first book of this series as soon as it came out, on recommendation of our Teachers College professional developer.  I never finished the series because I felt like I knew enough to talk about it with kids and had so many other books to read.  However, after the Epic-Literary-Reread book club on Harry Potter with my students last year, I thought that it would be cool to do the same thing with The Hunger Games this year.  I read these books in about a week and was amazed to see all of the entry points for young readers to have uber literary conversations. I have also been amazed at how many of my adult friends have been reading the series and are eager to discuss. A post-movie discussion party is in the works.

Cheers to reading and a 2012 filled with more writing about it!

Best Books of 2010.

This year was the first year that I actually numbered the reading experiences. Each is linked to the original blog post (or two).  Enjoy.

10. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It’s a mystery about (life and) books. It’s set in Barcelona. What is not to love?

9. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I thought it would be a little too sappy or not well written, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

8. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemiresky.  I love historical fiction and Nemiresky’s personal story as connected to this unfinished piece about Germany’s occupation in France was fascinating.

7. American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I wasn’t sure how I escaped Roth.  This dark story went along brilliantly with a lot of the cultural portraits and critiques I’ve read or seen recently.

6. March by Geraldine Brooks: how I got away with not writing about this book, I have no idea.  This short book followed the father’s story from Little Women, but had plenty to say about both men and women. Post to follow soon!

5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy by Steig Larsson: I jumped on the bandwagon and got sucked in.  These are incredibly smart and addictive mysteries (technically I’m finishing the third one in the final days of 2010…100 pages in as of now).

 4. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver: The Poisonwood Bible was one of the most thought provoking books I’ve ever read.  My book club decided to read this as soon as it came out and it was a gorgeous blend of storytelling and history.

3. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann: this book was phenomenal. Go buy it now. 

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling reread with students: Harry Potter 7 made my top ten list back in 2008, but this fall’s rereading experience with my students was a-maz-ing. So much passion. So much intellect.

1. Great House by Nicole Krauss: History of Love, Krauss’ second novel, made the top ten in 2008 right along with HP. I could not wait for this book to be released and had its date on my refrigerator months in advance.  This book is beautiful, haunting and thought provoking.

Year in Review Part Two: paragraph style

If you know me, you know that I function better in Microsoft Word and paragraphs than Excel or even the most basic kind of list. So, here are a few paragraphs about story in my life this year.

There are three main ways that story impacted my life this year, for better or for worse.

1. Television.  Having no real responsibilities outside my job paired with my introverted need to recharge by myself and the fact that I avoid the outdoors at all costs in the winter means that I have a tendency to get wrapped up in a few shows. Besides the fact that I can thank television for starting many of my friendships, my argument for you TV haters out there is that story is story is story.  And some of these shows made me think more than a lot of the books I read. Television winners of 2009:  Friday Night Lights (thank you Mary Elaine and Carolyn), Mad Men, Damages, The Closer.

2. Young Adult Literature.  My job being what it is, I like to stay relatively up to date on what my students are reading. I have a love/hate relationship with YA Lit for many reasons. I love coming across literary heroes for my students and having answers when they ask me what I recommend.  I love it when books open windows for life experiences and make my students deeper, more well rounded people. But, sometimes my brain stops working when I’m reading a lot of Young Adult Lit, or it only stays in teacher mode.  I read so many young adult novels this fall/early winter (Impossible, Your Own Sylvia, The Secret Garden, The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Tenth Circle), that I’m ready for some seriously challenging and thought provoking adult fiction.

3. Book Clubs. This was by far the best part of my reading year.  A friend and I decided to start our own book club  and read: Lolita, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Anne of Green Gables, The Savage Detectives, The House of the Spirits and The Age of Innocence. Our meetings are some of my favorite nights and reading books with someone makes me a better reader…I read more closely and carefully. If you’re not in a book club, start one. We started by wanting to read more of the classics that we somehow were never assigned to read.

4. I am my mother’s daughter and come from a long line of readers. When my brother and I were little, we were “required” to read for at least 30 minutes every night. I laugh now because my brother and I both have a ridiculous amount of books piled up on our nightstands. My mom and I both bought the same book for my brother for Christmas.  We are both in book clubs. I no longer bring books home because I know she’ll have a few that I want to read since my last trip.  My cousins are my favorite book recommenders (and television commenters, for that matter) and the ones that keep my “to read” pile nice and high. I love it.

Books on Deck for 2010:

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
No Logo by Naomi Klein
(plus all the ones on my blog sidebar. I’d better get on that.)

Year In Review Part One

My top ten reading experiences of 2009:

1. The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein.  Hands down the most thought provoking book (fiction or nonfiction) of the year.

2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The first of the Russians that my book club read. Love.

3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. There really aren’t words for how much I loved this book. Favorite fiction read of the year.

4. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  One of the most beautiful, honest memoirs I’ve ever read.

5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Children’s Lit combined with gorgeous, gorgeous pencil drawing illustrations. So enjoyable.

6. Compassion by Henri Nouwen. Most influential book in my thought life. How I want to live.

7. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano.  Bolano fascinates me (his Amulet made last year’s list).
8. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Long, but so worth it, especially when reading with a book club.

9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.  Because rereading this book never gets old.

10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Not so much for its literary value, but for the perfect morning of escapism I had in Central Park this summer.

Year in Review Part Two

My job affords the luxury of having a ridiculous amount of time to do nothing. (Being a teacher is hard work! Please note that the 8 weeks of vacation I have each year are absolutely necessary to my sanity!) A first, I took no work home to Kentucky with me this year. I have spent my long mornings (well, technically shorter, I guess, as I haven’t set an alarm clock. Long in the time spent in my pajamas before I get dressed for the day) reading the Times, New York Magazine and every blog entry from 2008. The interesting part is that I have 96 posts in comparison with 2007’s 53. I did start posting poetry this year, which can account for a bit of the increase of posts. I have also spent less time writing in my moleskin journal this year than any other year in the past decade (it feels weird to be able to say that), so for better or worse, I have reflected on life with reading as my main vehicle. As I was reading–and thinking–this week, I remembered one of my favorite movie scenes of all time: when John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity organizes his music collection autobiographically. It was interesting to consider my reading life this year in the same manner. Here’s what I’ve found:

1. Nonfiction was an education. I’ve read more nonfiction this year than ever before. This has been a year where I’ve discovered my own opinions and have tried to wade through the social and political issues and complications that plague my mind and weigh heavily on my heart. Reading books like Blessed Unrest, Not for Sale, and Jesus for President were an incredible way to learn and to process.

2. Fiction was a means of escape. Comparing my writing style this years to last was telling: somewhere along the way–actually, in November–I realized that my posts were more “review” and “recommendation” style rather than delving into the issues or complicated emotions found in fiction that I typically, and previously, like to unearth. Two things precipitated this reading as escape: one, it was a year of watching friends move (or missing the ones who left in 2007). For as long as I can remember, I have had a-maz-ing girl friends, and for much of this year I felt like Carrie in Sex and the City when she was in Paris looking through the windows at girl friends having brunch. Books became a distraction, especially in the summer when I had nothing else to do and didn’t feel like thinking.

3. Poetry was an attempt to crystallize and capture the moments when for a split second everything seemed clear. It is cathartic to record them in writing, and to revisit.

4. The weather has a huge impact on my thought life.

5. Writing with links and pictures and referencing old pieces of writing reminds me of my capstone lit class at Miami. We studied the definition of modern and post modern and the role that technology has in our ability to tell stories. It all seems to follow my ongoing frustration that sometimes there just aren’t words.

I haven’t done a “favorite people of life” post in a while (see sidebar labels: all posts including pictures of great friends). Here are some of the faces New York City misses:

The hope is that 2009 will bring more in depth reading, good times with new friends, adventure traveling with the old and the ability to read Harry Potter in Spanish. Books on deck:

The Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
shoot. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Suggestions welcomed. Book partnerships adored.