Books I read in 2011:

  1. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. I try to read what my daughter is reading, partially to keep an eye on her, partially to share her life, and partially because she begs and begs me to read her books. I got through all six of the first Warriors series, and even a couple of the mangas. In this one, Percy Jackson finally finds out that the prophecy is indeed about him, and like all the previous prophecies in the series, turned out not to mean exactly what he thought it meant. I enjoy these young heroes and the refresher course on mythology.
  2. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Highly recommended! Bryson hits the high points of universe formation, atmospheres, subatomic particles, meteor impacts, the periodic table, poisonous gasses, undersea exploration, plant and moss and algae varieties, Darwin, Shoemaker, Curie, Mendel, atomic structure, deep sea diving, ice ages, plate tectonics, archaeological discovery, dinosaurs, the Dodo bird, early humans, extinction– ok, nevermind. Basically, he writes about “nearly everything” in a humorous, engaging manner that will help anyone gain a better sense of herself, the planet, and everything else scientific.
  3. (SS- short story) Ardour by Jonathon Keats (from My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. Forty new fairy tales.) The way I like fairy tales to be: dark, beautiful, mysterious, frightening and sad.
  4. (SS) Little Pot by Ilya Kaminsky (from My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. Forty new fairy tales.) Confusing, disjointed, and magical. It left me absolutely unsatisfied.
  5. (SS) Relic by Robert Olen Butler. Moving and introspective. A Vietnamese man who lives in the past, seeks his future through the use of John Lennon’s shoe.
  6. (SS) Flight Patterns by Sherman Alexie (from Ten Little Indians). Compelling, powerful story about a Spokane Indian traveling salesman who hates to leave his family. He gets into a conversation that he didn’t really want to have with his Ethiopian taxi driver, and gains unexpected insights.
  7. (SS) Safari by Jennifer Egan. Egan effectively got into the minds of all the key characters during their Safari in Africa, and so I followed with genuine interest to see exactly what happened to each one. I felt as though I understood the father, Lou, “one of those men whose restless charm has generated a contrail of personal upheaval that is practically visible behind him.” The shocking, tragic blow at the end still hangs with me.
  8. (SS) Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein. Several generations into a long journey in a self-sustaining spaceship, no one alive remembers the point of the trip anymore, and have created a religion likening “the trip” to a spiritual journey instead of a literal one. A young man befriends a group of societal outcasts and re-shapes his understanding of life’s meaning and vows to complete the trip as it was originally intended.
  9. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. The author has a love-hate relationship with writing. She gives many tips on how to make yourself write, and how to fight the multitudinous demons that give her constant grief. She tells dozens of her own stories to prove that writing doesn’t solve problems. The humor seemed forced, to me. Take out all the similes and metaphors from the first two-thirds of the book, and it would cut the word count dramatically. She gets real in the end. Emotional and heartfelt, the end of the book tells us why we write, and the humor gets funnier because it flows.
  10. The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke. I’m impressed; this one had me caught up from the beginning. Granted, I love detective novels. The setting is in New Orleans during Katrina and Rita, and gifted me with an intimate look at the city and its people that I wasn’t expecting. The characters have great depth and to my pleasure, nearly all of them have great inner strength. Even, and perhaps especially, shining an empathetic light on the characters you had been dissing up till then.
  11. (SS) Porte Cochere by Peter Taylor. Sad. A perfect portrayal of tortured silence of unspoken anger, love, betrayal, hopes, and cynicism in a family.
  12. (SS) Ever After by Kim Addonizio (from My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. Forty new fairy tales.) Unexpectedly hopeful. Seven small men we think we know wait for their princess to save them from their small lives. Despite too many people in an expensive NYC apartment, the cold cigarette butts in the ashtrays, the empty Doritos bags on the floor, their demeaning jobs as Munchkins at the local restaurant called Oz, and yearning for the simplicity of sleeping in the street in a drunken stupor… we are reminded why families are good.
  13. The Man Upstairs and Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse. An entertaining and predictably funny collection of stories from Wodehouse, who never fails to do the trick. Every story is a love story, and they all work out so nicely.
  14. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This is an incredible book. Creepy and compelling. I could barely put it down and then, even when I wasn’t clutching it inches from my face, I was thinking about the characters, their stories, and their possible futures. The Hunger Games is in a world that resonates with 2011 tops news stories and hits home on many personal levels. Recommend!
  15. (SS) Free Fruit For Young Widows by Nathan Englander. Perhaps uncomfortably violent subject matter, but told in a humane way as a man tries to explain to his son how to forgive a killer.
  16. (SS) The Writer’s Model by Molly Giles (from Creek Walk and Other Stories). Wickedly funny, satirical and validating (maybe moreso for women).
  17. Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. The second and third parts of The Hunger Games story. Not as riveting as book one, but still impossible for me to neglect. I read all three books in 10 days, which is remarkable in my busy schedule. The fantastic world Collins creates is uncomfortably plausible. I’ve spent every day since beginning this series asking questions of myself and my convictions.
  18. (Novella) In the Forests of the Night by Jay Lake (from METAtropolis: Cascadia) A world in the future Pacific Northwest, where a semblance of freedom can be found only by the nature-loving “Greenies” living off the grid under the canopies of Doug Firs.
  19. (Novella) Reaper by Rachel Vincent. Good for teens, this story is about a boy who chooses to have the Reaper take him instead of his brother. Then he chooses to become a Reaper himself.
  20. Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela S. Choi. One of my favourite book titles ever, but don’t judge a book by its cover. I guess I could have tolerated the tedious subject matter of the spoiled, self-absorbed main character’s obsession with taking her own virginity and then putting it back, just so she can take it. But together with poor writing, I couldn’t finish the book. Billed as a story of a Chinese-American finding her own identity despite her strict traditional upbringing, I truly expected something else.
  21. Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. Yes, my daughter has begged me to read her books again. Funke thrilled us with the Inkheart series, so I was eager to try another. I think this one is more geared for younger readers and wasn’t nearly the same experience as Inkheart.
  22. Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross. This is my favourite kind of story: about real events, but set in a fictional tale. Though the Catholic Church denies it vehemently, Cross convinced me that there was a female pope for a short time. I love stories of powerful women and I hate stories of religions oppressing people, so why not believe it? Researched impeccably and written well. I recommend this one.
  23. (Novella) Ghosts of Ragged-Ass Gulch by Bill Pronzini. The most enjoyable thing about this one for me is that it was set in a country that I know, and when the author said “Coopersville/Ragged-Ass Gulch” I pictured Helena, California off Hwy 299. I enjoy detective stories and this one was ok.
  24. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I am so jealous that someone wrote this book. If I could only ever write one book, I wish it would be as good as this. It’s not just a compelling story, but jammed full of life lessons and tidbits that can see you through the BS that life dishes out for no good reason. A white, fourteen year old girl breaks her stand-in-mother out of jail and the two of them run away to Tiburon, South Carolina and end up living with black, bee-keeping sisters. Beautiful.
  25. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 published by the Mark Twain Project. I recommend this fatty only to fans of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain the man, not merely fans of his work. It is a huge, rambling book of delicious anecdotes of whatever struck the man’s fancy on the day he was writing. Frequently that was politics, family, business, and society.
  26. (SS) The Swan Troika by Richard Parks (out of Realms of Fantasy February 2011). Lovely Russian fairytale. Similar to how I described Ardour, at 3. above. Icy and beautiful killer temptress must follow her nature despite a twist in the story.
  27. (SS) Thirteen Incantations by Desirina Boskovich (also from RoF Feb 2011). Boskovich captures the awkwardness of teen attractions and uses the magic of scents and witchcraft to illustrate how simple daily life is absolutely magical through love-tinted glasses.
  28. The Odyssey by Homer. I read the dramatic poem The Illiad last summer. It is time to follow up. The Odyssey is a much easier read, and I did love hearing about his epic journey and all the fantastic creatures and people Odysseus encountered.
  29. (SS) Passport to London by Rose Tremain (from The Road Home: A Novel ) Olev is an immigrant having a hard time of it in London. Touching character development of Lev and the kind Arab kebab vendor.
  30. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Great story and totally my kind of book. Gaiman has a gift for making fantastic worlds seem real, through his intimate look at characters. Or maybe it is real, and he’s just telling us about the place…
  31. The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol V 1947-1955 by Anais Nin. I have never read any of her books, and found the 5th volume of her diaries in a box of books my grandmother sent me. I love her perspective. She is sad and feeling unappreciated, and yet can’t help herself but find beauty in all directions: in people, in vistas, in sound, in theatre, in the way conversations flow, etc.
  32. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I relished the mystery, though I had it figured out right away and only waited for confirmation. The characters are delicious, and make me wistful that at one point in time, upstanding citizens were expected to also be decent human beings. Was delighted and surprised by the marriage at the end.
  33. (SS) Breaking and Entering by Sherman Alexie. One of my favourite authors. The audio recording by B.D. Wong is IN–TENSE. It had me clutching at my breast nearly in tears several times. The multitudinous levels of pain of an ordinary life of misunderstood minority race main character, are only blurred and exacerbated by the misunderstood minority race lives of the characters that intersect his path. Life is hard. This story is beautiful.
  34. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Enjoyed A Short History (#2 above) so much that a friend recommend this one. I found it mildly amusing, and realized I like him much better as a nonfiction writer who unexpectedly makes me laugh, then as a humor author. Bryson’s research is appreciated and his experience on the Appalachian Trail was very interesting to me.
  35. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Great story and I empathized with the protagonist’s slow awakening into a partial understanding of the lives of the maids in her life. I, too, was raised with tunnel vision, and embarrassed myself repeatedly in my path to greater awareness (still do, of course!). Well written story of some damned powerful women.
  36. (SS) Ziggurat by Stephen O’Connor. Strange. It started off fun, funny, easy to follow: a modern girl accidentally charms the Minotaur, when sent down to him in the labyrinth as a sacrifice, and he falls in love with her and lets her live. She escapes and he tries to find her. Only, it gets very weird two-thirds through, and lost me. Minotaur tries to improve himself and his world and doesn’t ever get it. Or her.
  37. Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age by Arthur Herman. A splendidly researched dual biography of two commanding personalities and how their work intersected.
  38. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Always a fun read, with the words “Don’t Panic” written in large, friendly letters. It’s was my daughter’s suggestion for road trip entertainment recently. Adams’ bizarre imagination and spot-on humor appeals to us both. Can’t get enough of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s computers and robots with Genuine People Personalities.
  39. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams. We finished the first book and moved onto the second before the trip ended. I guess I had forgotten that the restaurant isn’t at the far reaches of the universe, but at the conclusion of the universe. Oh. “If you’ve done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with breakfast at Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe?”

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