Category Archives: year in review

Year In Review and Top Ten Books of 2012

This year, my reading life seemed to be anchored in studying history and looking for wonder.   It is easy to get caught up with trivialities and the day to day, and for me, that is when I begin to feel the least like myself.  Thank goodness for the books that keep my eyes open and my brain thinking–and, more importantly, for the people in my life this year who were such good reminders of truth and beauty.  


I started this blog in January 2007, so each December since I’ve read through all my posts of the year and done a reading “year in review” that includes my top ten.  What’s different about this list and most book lists out there is that I get to maybe one newly published book a year (too expensive for this teacher and too heavy for this car-less commuter), so my choices never reflect the newly published.   Here are lists past if you feel so inclined:  20112010200920082007.  If you want a closer look at what they’re about, click on the title for my original posting. 


A laugh-out-loud/don’t take yourself too seriously read:  


1. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy  Kaling.  I read this book on the train home from my New Years gathering and finished it the first morning of 2012 and laughing was the best possible way to start a new year.


The best vacation reads: 


2. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Crosse.  This is a read for book lovers that I curled up with during this year’s February break.  It was thought provoking, but for me, mid-winter, it was more of an enjoyable escape during a week off work: a quest to make the perfect book store with a mystery tucked in.

3. Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy.  I read about this book in New York Magazine and started it during one of the first few days of my summer break.  One morning I took a roll and a coffee to Prospect Park, thinking I would spend 30 minutes or so reading.  Two hours later I got up, completely moved by the poetic characters and language.  Absolutely beautiful. 

I got pulled in by World War Two this year: 

4. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand.  The true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner, Air Force Bomber and POW in the Pacific during World War Two, this book was an incredible story of the endurance of a man as well as a heart wrenching glimpse into the life of a POW both during and after imprisonment.


5. Night by Elie Wiesel.  Wiesel’s memoir of his time spent in a concentration camp, I re-read this book with students in an incredibly powerful club in the spring.  I would put this book on humanity’s must-read list–it is dark and difficult to swallow, but so important.


6. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen.  This is the story of William Dodd, America’s ambassador to Germany in the thirties, when things with Hitler were beginning to heat up.  It was a fascinating read and a great introduction to the politics leading up to World War Two.


7.  Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas.  This book is a commitment: it is over 600 pages of very small type. However, I was completely enthralled by this biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian theologian from the 1930s and early 40s who was a key part of the resistance to Hitler and the Valkyrie plot to assassinate him.  It was such an inspiring read of someone who refused to sit back in safety when something felt gut-wrong to him no matter what others were saying–and for that, he is a hero in my eyes.


A book that will keep you guessing long after you finish it: 


8.  Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.  This was probably the most challenging, unique read of my year and the kind of book that as soon as I finished it left me wishing I could immediately start over and then head into a literature course to discuss it.


A classic worth re-reading: 



9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I loved reading this book in high school (my honors English teacher even helped us organize a mock-tail party in full dress attire a la Gatsby at the end of the year).  I’m reading this book in a club with students later this year, so I reread it for the first time since graduate school and it gave me lots to think about.

My favorite book turned movie of the year: 


10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  I read this years ago and enjoyed it and decided to re-read it before the movie came out.  Chbosky captures the mind and coming of age of wallflower Charlie through a series of letters.   I went to see the movie at BAM after an amazing brunch and it really turned into a perfect afternoon, because the movie version is incredible–the kind that restores one’s faith in humanity incredible.  I highly recommend both, but the book first, obviously!


I’m always looking for recommendations and I love hearing about people’s best reading experiences of the year! Stay tuned for my New Year’s Reading Resolution and my reading plan for the early months of 2013.  


The New York Times wrote earlier this year about stories AND science: “The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.” So, that is your motivation for finding a new book or two to explore in the new year.  

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

www.akindoflibrary.blogspot.com

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.