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.
• 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 Scratch • The Weird Sisters • The Peach Keeper •
Other Words For Love • I Capture The Castle • The London Train •
Backseat Saints • The Bungalow
See past reading honors: 2010 • 2009 • 2008