Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 Year in Review: 2011 Reading List

For the past several years, I've created a list of books I plan to read in the coming year--and then at the end of the year, I've written a post to report on how I did. 

Will I do that for the coming year?  I'm not sure.  For the past year, I've felt this exercise wasn't as useful as I thought it would be.   And my list seems to be made up only of the books that have been published in the past year.  Maybe it's time to rethink or modify this process.  Stay tuned.

So, I'll post the list from my original post below, and I'll comment in purple to report how I did.

So, here's the list. Obviously, I'll be reading more than these books, but I'd like to have read (or attempted and abandoned) these by Dec. 31, 2011.


In a way, my first book feels like cheating, since my book club has already decided to discuss it in 2 weeks. Guess I'd better get cracking!

1. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

I read this one--clever concept, but wore thin after about half the book.
2. Generosity by Richard Powers

This book got a glowing review in The Washington Post. It sounds like a novel that's both readable and ambitious (a book that deals with big themes--who are we if we can medicate away our persistent personality traits? a book that does different things with narrative). In fact, it sounds like Mason's book and this one are experimental. Hmm. I haven't always liked experimental writing, even though I wrote my M.A. thesis on James Joyce. But let me maintain an open mind.

I read this one and enjoyed it immensely until the ending, which I vaguely remember as disappointing.

3. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

This book wound up on many a person's list. It sounds like an important contribution to Literature of the Vietnam War.

I still plan to read this one, but I haven't yet.
4. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Another addition that feels like a cheat, since I'm already partly done with it (although I didn't start it until Dec. 31). I thoroughly enjoyed The Corrections when I read it, so I looked forward to this one. And even with all the controversies that swirl around Franzen, I'm still open to his work. As I've been reading, there have been times when I had to set the book aside because the characters were so unlikable, and I could sense Franzen's disdain for them. How could he spend the amount of time with these characters that was necessary to write this book when he didn't even like the characters? Sheesh.

I found this book compelling, despite the repellent nature of the characters.

5. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

This book got raves from an NPR commentator, and it's linked short stories, a form which fascinates me.

I loved this book.

6. Room by Emma Donaghue

When I first heard the premise of this book, I shuddered. But after hearing Donaghue on the Diane Rehm show, and after hearing the praises that so many people heaped on the book, I decided to add it to the list.

Again, an interesting premise, with an interesting experiment in having a 5 year old child narrate.  But that experiment wore thin after 20 pages, and the last half of the book was very disappointing.


7. Just Kids by Patti Smith

I determined to read this book a year ago, when a Washington Post reviewer called it the best book about being an artist ever. Ever??!!! Well, sign me up!

What a wonderful, fabulous book.  It made me want to be part of the 1970's art scene in New York, even when I knew that Smith was describing a particularly gritty phase of the city's history.

This book may be my favorite book of 2011--maybe of the decade.  Maybe of all time.

8. Changing my Mind by Zadie Smith

I love the novels of Zadie Smith, so I'm interested to read her essays.

I didn't read this one--I'd still like to.

9. Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

A technology book needs to be on the list, and this will be the one.

I ended up reading a different technology book, Nicholas Carr's  The Shallows:  What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  I still may circle back to Hamlet's Blackberry, since I find myself often thinking about The Shallows.  I'd be interested to see how Powers handles this topic.

10. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

I love this title--and from what I've read of the reviews, the rest of the books should be a winner.

I didn't get to any of these history titles (#10, #11, #12); I hope to do so eventually.
11. History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism by Judith Bennett

A book I didn't get to last year--it sounded important, and challenging, and I need more of that in my life.

12. A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia by Lauren Winner

I've liked Winner's other works, which read more like memoir than anything else. I'm interested to see how she handles academic writing. History, theology, and insight about the daily life of colonists--let me give it a whirl.

Winner has a new memoir coming out in January--I can hardly wait to read it.  It sounds like a lot has happened (a divorce, a time of spiritual aridity) since she last wrote.  I am fascinated to see how the Girl Meets God writer deals with these issues.

13. One Life by Scot McNight

I haven't read Scot McNight yet, so let me start with his latest. It's getting harder and harder for me to find new theologians whom I like to read. Let's see about this one.

McNight is still on my list of books to read, but I haven't yet.

14. Curating Worship by Mark Pierson

I've been seeing the idea of curating things (a website, a career, an online presence) used as metaphor. Let's see how it's done with worship. My pastor is also reading this book, and he raves about it. Can we actually accomplish some of the ideas in the book, ideas that aren't exactly familiar to Lutherans? We shall see.

I read this one, and was both impressed (wow!  how on earth does he do this???), despairing (I could never do such things, like spreading a truckload of sand across the whole worship space), appreciative (especially about the worship stations done in public spaces as an art installation of sorts) and dismissive (great for non-liturgical churches held in warehouses but difficult for those of us in traditional spaces).

15. The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons From Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Erin Blakemore

I just heard about this book yesterday, and I like the premise, which is evident in the title.

Another book I didn't get to--it has yet to get to my local library, and I'm not interested enough in it to pay for it.

My other reading goals? To keep buying and reading complete volumes of poetry (and to remember to add those to my record keeping). I'd like to do more to mention what I'm reading in this blog. Some weeks I'm good at that, but other weeks I'm not.

I haven't been as good at record keeping, but I have continued to read complete volumes of poetry, more this year than any other year.

So, here's the summary:  I read about 40 books of non-poetry, as well as about 5 that I started, read more than 50 pages, and didn't finish for some reason.  I didn't read as many books this year as I did in 2010 that made me gasp with happiness, that made me want to slow down so that I could have the experience of reading the book for the first time for a bit longer, that I wanted to read again right away when I finished.  But I have had books that stayed with me, books that haunted my thoughts, most notably Patty Smith's Just Kids.  If I had had no other book to read this year, that one would have been enough.  But I'm glad that I have a wealth of books, not a paucity.  I'm also glad to have discovered Glen Duncan (I, Lucifer and The Last Werewolf) and Eleanor Henderson (Ten Thousand Saints) is an author to keep our eyes on.

I still feel like I'm not reading as much as I should, as much as I want to; and I know that I'm not reading as much as I once did, at least not traditional paper books.

I read a lot of blogs, which in some ways are memoirs/novels/autobiographies in process.  I learn as much from many blogs as I ever did from books.  But how to quantify that reading?

Reading is far from dead, but our delivery systems are quite different.  Will this be the year that I get an eReader?  Will I start reading on a smart phone?  Of course, I would have to buy a smart phone.  What will I read in the coming year?  I will try to remember to keep blog readers up to date.

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