My impression of 2011 is that it wasn’t as good a book year as 2010 was for me. Looking over my list of books read that year, there were some real standouts on my best-of section (yes, I keep a list of books I read, and yes, that list has sections and categories): Drood, Dan Simmons; The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly; The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins; Daniel Deronda, George Eliot; Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro; Portrait of a Lady, Henry James.The pleasures of 2011 were more subdued than those of 2010, with the notable exception of the two Ann Patchett books I read. Bel Canto and State of Wonder are the first, and currently the only, experiences I have with Patchett, but I adored them both. These were vivid,powerfully absorbing reads for me, the kind of read that puts one in an altered state of mind while reading. When I read a book that makes me feel this way, I not only enjoy the content of the book itself, but I also feel grateful for the quality of the time spent with it. One of the beauties of discovering an artist late is that you have multiple pieces of her work still to explore. I will certainly be reading more of Patchett’s work in 2012.
Other books in my “Favorites”category for 2011 include: Dombey &Son, Charles Dickens; Mildred Pierce, James M. Cain; The Magician King, Lev Grossman; and The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss. Dombey was a surprise, which is always welcome. I was expecting Dickens, yes, but somehow forgot that even Dickens’ middling work is better than most everyone else’s best stuff. Mildred Pierce I read in preparation for the HBO mini-series. The mini-series was disappointing, but the book was excellently, uncompromisingly dark. The Name of the Wind is the kind of book that comes along to remind me that I haven’t, in fact, read all the good books already. Roger Ebert, whose writing I love, always says that a movie isn’t about what it’s about. It’s about how it’s about what it’s about,and I wholeheartedly agree with this when it comes to books. There is no new material. There are only new ways to juxtapose familiar themes and tropes in such a way that the deviance from the expected creates a space for new meaning. The Name of the Wind does this so well, and the beauty of it is that there are two more books in the trilogy. The second, The Wise Man’s Fear, was also excellent, but its predecessor wins a spot on my best-of list for the sheer surprise of how wonderful it was. I have old reviews of these books from before I decided to blog, so I’ll post them over the next few days.
Here are my stats for 2011:
Total Books Read: 77
Re-reads: 8 (so 69 new books)
Best Books: Dombey & Son,Charles Dickens; Mildred Pierce,James M. Cain; The Magician King, Lev Grossman; The Name of the Wind,Patrick Rothfuss; Bel Canto and State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
Worst Book of the Year: The Mill River Recluse, Darcie Chan
Most Popular Genre: Straight-up Literary Fiction, with 26 titles.
Longest Book: George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, at 1040 pages. Though to be fair, at least 100 pages of that is probably the appendix. In that case, it’s possible that Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear,at 940 pages, comes in first.
Unfinished Books: I hate not finishing books. But I couldn’t drag myself past about 150 pages in either of these books: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (go ahead, mock my lack of intellectualism. I still will never read this book); Don DeLillo’s Libra.
Splendidly, on my coffee table there is a whole stack of books I received for Christmas, and I am already digging in! I’m looking forward to 2012’s reading experiences!