January 2, 2012

2011, The Year in Books

I struggled with my books goal this year. The random selection of the yearly goal of 30 pushed me well beyond what I otherwise would have done. As of March 8th, I had read none. Yikes. That may be the longest period of time I've gone without reading a book since I learned to read.

I eeked out 12 by early June. This was around the time when I realized LuLu completely took advantage of me with respect to the Flower Girl Saves the Day book I wrote for my niece in June. Not a good books moment in my life, overall.

Thankfully, I turned it around and hit 20 books by October 3, 2011, which was not on track for the goal. So, I took drastic action and focused on short books for the rest of the year.

I increased the randomness in my life by quite a bit and ripped through books 21-28 in less than a month.

I also cleared 30 books with plenty to spare. Here's the rundown:

  1. The History of Argentina (Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations) by Daniel K. Lewis. Amazing cultural background for our trip to Argentina. Fascinating how different the experience has been of people my age, many of whom I interacted with. Particularly amazing that women didn't vote 'til 1947, and no peaceful change of political regimes until the late 20th century.

  2. Dreaming the Biosphere by Rebecca Reider. A very well-researched academic look at the biosphere. A bit too much focus on myth and history for my preference, but I sincerely enjoyed learning about the crazy details of the folks behind the project.

  3. The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside the Biosphere by Jane Poynter. A personal account of the first stay in the biosphere. I very much enjoyed her accounts of the day-to-day farming tasks and cringed at the detail and extent of the political interpersonal dramas

  4. Labyrithns: Selected Stories and Other Writings by Jorge Luis Borges. Puzzles within puzzles. English translated from one of the most well-known Argentinian voices. Often I found myself starting a short story only to exhaust myself with promises of "later, when I have more time to focus." Much philosophical and historical meaning buried and hidden in the beautiful multi-stepped passages of this book. Enjoyable, but thought-provoking in a difficult way.

  5. Saturday by Ian McEwan. A beautiful tale of a very full day that examines the interelations between all of life's unseemingly connected events.

  6. Mennonite In a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. A hilariously snarky tale of a sheltered Mennonite who became a world-weary academic and eventually goes home again. Also, fascinating details on the Mennonite culture and its evolution in modern America.

  7. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. In the tradition of epic tales, while wonderfully modern and questioning in a non-biased way. Upon finishing, I wanted to re-read it immediately, to think and absorb the powerful lessons that it hinted at but did not preach -- are historic ways better? Are humans merely seeking more motion? Are running shoes a terrible thing (I wear them and replace them often!)?

  8. Chi Running by Danny Dreyer. A great perspective on proper running form, relaxing into the run (interestingly similar to the themes in Born to Run), and incorporating principles of proper Chi into running and life.

  9. Unacustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Gorgeous vignettes of the Bengali-American or Bengali-British experience. Pain and loss told acheingly well.

  10. Atonement by Ian McEwan. A child's crime. Embraced and given momentum by adults in a terrible display of humanity's worst. War. Writing. All told with an embrace of the mundane details one remembers when in the midst of heatwrenching drama.

  11. Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. A lovingly intimate story of a family in a small town. Infinities within infinties -- drama and intrigue all buried in what appears from the outside to be a boringly normal and uninteresting group who tend to a corner store.

  12. Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox. A collection of 2-5 page articles from a British Master Gardener sharing thoughts on flowers, gardens, beauty, history and civilization. A great introduction to the art of gardening for beauty's sake (instead of food).

  13. The Heart And the Fist by Eric Greitens. A personal tale of aid and conflict, struggles with protection and leading. Navy Seals. Adventures. Overall, an easy, informative, wonderfully entertaining read.

  14. Moneyball by Michael Lewis. A baseball parable of exploiting the human bias that often gets in the way of accepting mathematically or scientifically uncomfortable truths.

  15. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. Mr. McCourt's memoir of growing up as an Irish-American in Brooklyn and Limerick is filled with almost shocking tales of a child's matter of fact approach to life in extreme poverty.

  16. Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Futuristic speculative fiction at its finest. Physical and philosophical concepts retold, reinvented, and most importantly, all renamed in fictional languages. One of the more impressive written works of imaginative cohesiveness I've ever read.

  17. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. A data nerd and control-freak ex-lawyer-cum-author's novel about her year-long approach to increasing happiness. I enjoyed it thoroughly. But, I may be biased…

  18. House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. The heartwrenching tragedy of a gorgeous young woman constantly self-sabotaging in the whimsicle leisure classes of early 20th century New York.

  19. Ringworld by Larry Niven. (The origin of the Halo Game) Painfully stark (emphasis on *painful*) wording combines with great imagination on the science side and ridiculous stereotypes on the gender side for one of the great Sci-Fi classics.

  20. An artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (see the 20-28 book blog post for more detail)

  21. Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez. (See the 20-28 book blog post for more detail)

  22. Mudbound by Hilary Jordan. (See the 20-28 book blog post for more detail)

  23. Running For The Hansons by Sage Canaday. (See the 20-28 book blog post for more detail)

  24. Notes from My Travels by Angelina Jolie. (See the 20-28 book blog post for more detail)

  25. Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende. (See the 20-28 book blog post for more detail)

  26. 90-Day Geisha by Chelsea Haywood. (See the 20-28 book blog post for more detail)

  27. Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. (See the 20-28 book blog post for more detail)

  28. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffengger. (See the 20-28 book blog post for more detail)

  29. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. There's a reason this book became a New York Times Bestseller and then was optioned into a movie. It was good. You should read it. I read it and had a book club conversation with my sister, which was a first for us. And fun.

  30. Consumption by Kevin Patterson. Ay. So much to say -- human evolution. Epidemologic evolution. Inuits. Mainlanders. Health. Disease. Death. Hunting. Life. Adventure. Love (fleetingly). A great tale.

  31. Full House: The Spread of Excellence From Plato to Darwin by Stephen Jay Gould. This book drove me crazy. The points he made are interesting, but the writing style was Not. For. Me. "So far I have only demonstrated…" "Most of this chapter has focused on…" Uggghh! Just write what you want to say, Man. E says the reason I didn't enjoy this book is that I don't know how to skim. I think he's right. Occupational hazard, I suppose.

  32. Codex by Lev Grossman. A very enjoyable modern mystery. Multi-player games, steganograms, library science, New York youth and British old money. Very satisfying during the read, but I felt the ending was a bit of a let-down (or a set-up for a sequel).

  33. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. A sad tale of uptight british lovers who part ways on their wedding night after an abismal failure to communicate about the oh-so-embarrassing realities of consummation (or failure thereof).

So, in the books mirrors life category, we've got 1 on travel, 2 on running, 1 on gardening, and a bunch of navel gazing about life experiences or locations I've never experienced. Seems about right.

As an aside: 13/33 books were written by women (39.4%), a non-trivial increase over the 7-yr average of 58/174 (33.3%). It occurred to me at some point this year that I don't select books on the basis of the gender of the author at all, but, I do fall in love with certain authors and try to read whatever I can get my hands on that they've written. When I realized this, I wondered if I had a bias, in terms of gender, and it appears that I do, although I'm not aware of the actual statistics in terms of number of books with female authors vs. male and in particular, how those numbers play out in areas where I'm interested in reading, so it may be that my bias is not my own and rather is caused by availability.

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