write meg!’s 2011 reading honors

Reflections are a necessary part of my annual end-of-the-year musings. Twelve months is a long time, it turns out; long enough for me to read 82 books, about on par from previous years, and I felt like I really did read what I wanted this year.

A big part of that was probably allowing myself to read on a whim, unconcerned with deadlines and advance reading copies; I vowed to stop obsessing over timeframes and just choose what I wanted from my never-ending stacks. I accepted fewer review copies and made sure the ones I accepted were novels I would be swiftly moving to the top of my “to be read” stack upon arrival (a tip from Raych). Did this make me a much happier reader? Yes, it did. I read with reckless abandon. And when I discovered audiobooks this fall, an entirely new — and very exciting — world blossomed for me.

Last year was my Year of Young Adult. Having recently rediscovered the genre, I was eager to pick up anything and everything YA. While I continued to read YA this year, I made it a personal mission to get acquainted with memoirs in 2011. I read 10 works of non-fiction this year, up significantly from my handful in previous years, and found that I have a real penchant for humorous memoirs. Who doesn’t like to laugh? And there are so many funny ladies in the world, all of whom I now consider personal heroes. I hope I can keep chuckling in 2012.

Overall, I’m finding a read a lot of vanilla books this year. While I have a few stand-outs, all of which I’ll be discussing below, most of the reads I finished in 2011 blend seamlessly into my literary landscape. They weren’t terrible but they weren’t incredible, you know? I spent a few pleasant-enough days with these books, but most haven’t made an indelible impression on my life.

Several did, though. And that’s what it’s all about.

What will 2012 bring? Hopefully a continuance of all the things I hold dear: excellent literature; prose that stops me dead in my well-worn tracks; journeys to new places, continents and cultures. I hope to read more non-fiction in the coming months, especially about American history, and to get excited about women’s fiction again. On the personal writing front, I hope to finish another novel by the spring and to continue making creative writing a priority in my own life.

Here’s to hoping. And now on to the good stuff . . .


Meg’s Top Five Reads of 2011

1. How To Love An American Man by Kristine Gasbarre

Gasbarre’s memoir detailing her grandparents’ loving marriage and her own struggles with romance struck a serious chord with me. Her closeness to her family, her frustrating are-we-or-aren’t-we relationship, her feeling of in-between-ness — all nuggets that profoundly moved and spoke to me. How To Love An American Man was wickedly refreshing, life-affirming and hopeful. I absolutely loved it — and that’s why it’s my Top Read of 2011.


2. Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye

“In this stunning debut from author Peter Geye, a father and son are reconciled — and laid open, bare, along the frozen shores of Lake Superior in Minnesota,” I wrote in January. From the unique setting to the unforgettable family dynamics at play here, Safe From The Sea was an absolute stunner. I picked up the book as a panelist for the Indie Lit Awards — and what a way to begin my 2011 reading year. Needless to say, it was our winner — and time hasn’t dulled its effect on me. It remains one of the most profoundly moving books I’ve ever read. If it’s not in your bookcase, do something about that. Like, yesterday.


3. Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

Sweeping in scope and heavy on family drama, Wildflower Hill was a novel that completely knocked me over. Though long, I tore through the story and couldn’t get enough of this cross-generational saga. One of the most absorbing books I’ve read in a long time, and easily one of my favorite reads of 2011.



4. Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Hilarious writing, memorable characters and a ne’er-do-well of a narrator you can’t help but love made wormed Domestic Violets to the top of my favorite reads this year. Norman’s quirky cast and laugh-out-loud moments dovetailed perfectly with the book’s weightier, poignant issues — and that’s exactly what I’m seeking in a great read. Awesome.


5. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

No romantic male lead quite captivated me like Etienne St. Clair, but it was the Parisian setting and blossoming young love that really won me over. Anna has garnered lots of praise within the young adult community — and for good reason. This was a sweet, solid and delightful story.


Most Confusing But Ultimately Worthwhile Read

Great House by Nicole Krauss

Oh, the headache Great House caused me — but that didn’t mean I ever wanted to quit. Krauss’ strange, surreal but ultimately fascinating book was nominated for Indie Lit Awards in January, so I had to see it through. I’ve never Googled a book so much before and after reading, dying to know what others had to say. So many puzzle pieces were flung about, scattered like memories. Parsing it all together was a serious literary challenge — but one I’m glad to have taken.


Best Use of Nostalgia

The Future Of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Oh, to be a web-unaware teen in 1996 again! The Future Of Us succeeded in dragging me straight back to middle school — and enjoying it. I loved this YA novel centered around two teens’ ability to magically hack into their Facebook profiles from the future — long before Facebook had even been invented. Those AOL CDs were being bandied about everywhere and email and AIM were still to come. This book was fun from start to finish, and I found it surprisingly easy to suspend my disbelief.


Most Provocative

Hothouse Flower by Margot Berwin

Whew, this sultry book! Set in the tropics and centering around the Nine Plants of Desire, Hothouse Flower made for an awkward plane ride home from England. I mean, who can peruse such tawdry stuff while seated next to their mother? (For the record: I didn’t realize how provocative this book would be, and I skimmed some of the naughty parts. Pinky promise, Mom.)


Best Rootin’ Tootin’ Time on Horseback

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Caldwell’s Civil War-era take on Pride and Prejudice took me by surprise in the best way possible. I couldn’t get enough of the land drama, romantic tension and manners from a bygone era, and I was shocked at how well Jane Austen’s classic tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy translated to another time — and another continent. If you’re a fan of Austen retellings, Pemberley Ranch isn’t one to miss.


Most Likely To Send Me
On A Shopping Spree

Summer At Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

Hart’s memoir of the summer she worked as the first female page at Tiffany & Co. in New York City had me salivating over those little blue boxes and wishing I could magically transport to a more innocent, beguiling era. In 1945, everything about glittery Tiffany sparkled and shone. And who can’t use a little more silver and gold in their wardrobe?


Book That Made Me Absurdly Glad
For My Own Family

Drinking Closer To Home

What a screwed up, crazy bunch. Blau’s Stein family is about as jacked up as can be, and it was hard to read about their selfish antics and free-wheeling parenting. But Drinking Closer to Home was like a car crash, of course — you just can’t look away. Still, I felt emotionally spent by the end and eager to leave these miscreants to their own devices.


Other Books I Loved in 2011

Life From ScratchThe Weird SistersThe Peach Keeper
Other Words For LoveI Capture The CastleThe London Train
Backseat SaintsThe Bungalow


See past reading honors: 201020092008


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27 Comments

Filed under book reviews, book talk

27 responses to “write meg!’s 2011 reading honors

  1. A great list, Meg! I’ll have to put these on my TBR list – Pemberley Ranch is already on it, but my library doesn’t have it! I’ll have to figure out another way to read it.

    I’m so thrilled that you loved “Anna and the French Kiss” as much as I did. Now we have to get you to read “Lola and the Boy Next Door.”

  2. I’ve seen Wildflower Hill on a lot of lists! I need to read that one!!
    Ugh, Great House. That is one I never figured out. I did not like that book which disappointed me because I loved The History of Love by her.

  3. I have Wildflower Hill ordered from the library, so I will have to drop what I am doing and read it when it arrives. I definitely see a trend in people’s desire to do what they want, and save more room for impulsive reads. Getting ride of nearly all challenges and ARCs for me this year has been invigorating.

  4. I just gave The Future of Us to my niece for Christmas- glad to hear that it made your list. Pemberley Ranch looks intriguing as well.

  5. I’ve only read two of those books, but I have quite a few of them in my TBR pile. I feel like I missed so many great books this year!

  6. I love your categories! Fun list!

  7. Great list! I added several to my wishlist. I’m in an audiobook phase myself, but I can’t do fiction that way. Have you listened to any of the Bill Bryson ones? They are all beyond awesome.

  8. Love your list and categories! I completely agree with you about Anna and the French Kiss- definitely one of my YA favorites and I thought the Future of Us was great as well. It took me back to the ’90s, too. You have me interested in Wildflower and Pemberley Ranch….I will be adding both to my TBR list. Thanks for sharing this and I hope you have a great New Year!

  9. great list meg! i have safe from the sea sitting on my bookshelf i just need to find the time to read it. i remember going out and purchasing this after reading your review and then getting bombarded by my tbr pile and quickly pushing it aside. i’m glad to see domestic violets made it to your best of list! it’s definitely one of my favorite reads this year too. hope of you have a great new year!

  10. Great list. The only one I’ve read is Domestic Violets, which is also one of my favorites, and now I have a few more to add to my list.

  11. Patty

    I find your list very interesting…very much so.

    Happy New Year!!!

  12. This is a great list. Thanks for sharing.

    I love seeing these reflections on the year past. It is amazing how much has happened this year. My reading life hasn’t been as exciting as I would have liked and seeing all of these lists makes me feel a little bummed on all that I have missed out on.

  13. I’m adding Summer at Tiffany to my WishList…I have increased my WishList exponentially from everyone’s “best of 2011″ lists…2012 is going to be a busy reading year for me!

  14. I’ve only read Anna and the French Kiss, and I agree! The setting is what drew me into the book. I’d never heard of French revival theaters.

    I’ve got Pemberley Ranch on my wishlist. I’m curious to read a P&P retelling written by a man. Is that weird that I’m curious? It may be.

  15. Lu

    Happy New Year, Meg! I love your list and while I didn’t end up liking Great House as much, it was still an interesting read. As for everything else on this list, it’s all new to me! Maybe I’ll pick up a few of them when the TBR Dare is all over :)

  16. I SO need to read the Future of Us.

    I remember your awesome review of How to Love an American Man.

    Great categories btw!

  17. Pemberley Ranch sounds good. I like your list. Safe From the Sea made my Best of 2011 list too.

  18. A great list of books for sure!

    Happy 2012 to you!

  19. Great choices (and categories!) here, Meg. I see lots I’d like to tackle in 2012.

  20. love your wrap up–clever! i, too, loved anna but haven’t gotten around to lola. :) hope 2012 is magical for you. xo

  21. This is an awesome list! I also read quite a few memoirs in 2011 and I must say that I loved them. Definitely adding “Domestic Violets” and “How to Love an American Man” to my reading list now.

    I would also highly recommend “Paris to the Moon” by Adam Gopnik if you haven’t read it — the writing is phenomenal and also quite hilarious. “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers” is funny too, although I haven’t read much of it yet.

    Halie

  22. Great House confusing? Ha! That’s how I felt about The History of Love. Though I enjoyed it in the end. You had a great list of books for 2011–hope that 2012 is just as wonderful.

  23. What a great list, Meg! I love the idea of reading with reckless abandon. That’s what I’m going to do this year. And I’ve added a few books from your list to my TBR list. Happy new year!

  24. I loved reading through your honors this year! I’m sorry you had a lot of vanilla reads but it looks like you had some real winners too! I love memoirs as well and I always love stopping by your blog to compare notes as I think we have a lot of the same reading ‘genes’ :)

  25. Really nice to see one Austenesque book on your list. Thanks for sharing Meg.

  26. Pemberley Ranch has been on my wish-list ever since i read your wonderful review.

    I won Summer At Tiffany in a give-away and I’m very much looking forward to reading it this year.

    Happy reading, Meg!

  27. While I’ve heard that Great House is wonderful, I haven’t heard it spoken about the way you have described it. I’m going to make sure I get to it this year. Happy New Year!