Friday, January 6, 2012

Favorite Books of 2011

As promised, a list of great books in arbitrary categories!

Favorite Biography of 2011: 'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson

This was such an excellent book, though the writing is cold and clinical. I was expecting a read revering the recently-deceased Apple genius, and was taken aback by what I found instead. This book changed my perspective on Steve Jobs dramatically, and brought to mind questions about links between genius and personality disorders.

Honorable Mentions:

  • 'Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln' by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • 'Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption' by Laura Hillenbrand

Favorite Memoir* of 2011: 'A Stolen Life: A Memoir' by Jaycee Dugard

Wow. This book was incredible, heart-wrenching, and upsetting. Jaycee was kidnapped at 11 and held for 18 years in a backyard as a captive. She has written the book herself after her rescue. She had no help from a ghostwriter, and it shows. The writing is crude and at times very bitter, but given her circumstances and her truncated education, forgivable. She discusses the horrors her captors put her through, but doesn't get too involved in the details. That being said, this book is not for the faint of heart, but has a surprisingly positive message.

Honorable Mention: 'Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef' by Gabrielle Hamilton

*I know what you're thinking. A biography category and a memoir category? I warned you about the arbitrary categories.

Favorite Science Fiction of 2011: 'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline

In a dystopian not-so-distant future, a billionaire programmer and game-developer dies without an heir and leaves his large fortune to the first gamer to find his egg embedded in a treasure hunt within his most popular virtual reality game. Corporations and gamers alike get wrapped up in the search, until an unlikely teenager solves the first puzzle. This is an excellent book that gamers would love, but I am not a gamer and also very much enjoyed it.

Honorable Mentions:

  • 'Reamde' by Neal Stephenson 
  • 'Matched' by Ally Condie 
  • 'Robopocalypse' by Daniel H. Wilson

Favorite Non-Fiction of 2011: 'The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography* of Cancer' by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This book was a fascinating dive into cancer through the ages. Ancient references to the disease to current treatment options to understanding the core of cancer and why it acts the way it does. The scientific descriptions are simplistic enough for the layperson to understand, but not simplified enough to bore those already familiar with the biochemical mechanics. An interesting read for the scientist and the non-scientist alike.

Honorable Mentions:

  • 'Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion' by Janet Reitman 
  • 'All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis' by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera 
  • 'Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think' by Bryan Caplan
  • 'Food Rules: An Eater's Manual' by Michael Pollan

*Perhaps this should be in the biography category... Nah.

Favorite Fiction/Literature of 2011: 'Major Pettigrew's Last Stand' by Helen Simonson

I'll be honest, I read a lot of crappy literature/fiction books this year. This book was not in that category, but at the same time, it's not as good as I think it could be. I kept waiting for the literature book of the year that I couldn't stop reading, that caught me in its clutches and refused to release me. Alas, I never found it. Don't let this diversion dissuade you from Major Pettigrew, however. This is probably the most beautiful book I read all year, the writing evoked such descriptive emotion. A book about love and second chances and prejudice.

Honorable(ish - see about rant) Mentions:

  • 'The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake' by Aimee Bender
  • 'The Tiger's Wife' by Tea Obreht
  • 'The Marriage Plot' by Jeffrey Eugenides
And just for fun...

Absolutely the Worst Book I Read All Year: 'The Shack' by Wm. Paul Young

Interestingly, I finished this book on January 1, 2011. What a disjointed pile of garbage this book was. All the worse because I had hoped for an inkling of inspiration or something resembling it. Don't even waste your time thinking about reading this book.

This is a good list I think, though as I look back over my reading diary, books keep leaping out at me begging to be included. (I have thrown in several of them, but have to draw a line somewhere.)  Here's to a great 2012 with many more excellent books in store!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 Book Report

For me, 2011 was a year filled with babies, new challenges in life, and thankfully a lot of reading. To recap, in 2010 I read 99 books, and goaled (this should be a verb, so I will use it as such here) to increase my book consumption 10% to hit 109 books in 2011.

Well, I missed my goal, but I increased from last year to 100 books (a 1% increase, can you handle this math?!). Most notably, my reading habits altered in genre this year. Last year, my ratio of Fiction to Non-fiction was 71/28 and this year it was 60/40. In retrospect, I did enjoy reading non-fiction more this year than last year. I'm not sure if this is because I'm smarter this year, have been reading better non-fiction, or if I'm just getting boring and my imagination is deteriorating. Either way, it's an interesting factoid.

Average Books Read Per Month: 8.25

  • High month: December (13) - I was trying desperately to catch up and Bob traveled a bunch
  • Low month: April (6) - Month immediately following the birth of Henry
Book Type: (A new category in 2011!):

  • Kindle books: 61 (Read on Kindle/iPhone/iPad)
  • Audio books: 18 (via Audible - Bob & I love this!)
  • Paperback books: 12
  • Hardcover books: 9
Last time I looked, Bob and I have 136 books in our Kindle library that we have accrued since Christmas 2009. That is 136 books that we can enjoy any time, from any where, simultaneously on many devices, and without having to worry about book storage. Before, Bob and I were accumulating books at a frightening rate and at several points (usually around moving time) we would be challenged with parting with 100 books EACH. Now, we don't have to worry about the shelf clutter, or the struggle of parting. Plus, we're so eco-friendly! If you haven't switched to digital books and you're a reader, do it. It has literally changed my life. We still have a library of physical books that I return to, and I plan on replacing some of my favorites with beautiful hardcover copies.

2010 was the year of the mystery, and I read some great ones, but in 2011 I only read 4. Genres with largest representation this year are as follows: History (13), Fantasy (13), Classic (12), and Comedy (10).

I'm going to post later this week with a list of my favorite books in several arbitrary categories, but for now I'm going to end my annual book update post with a bit of proselytizing.

  1. Read: Reading is one of the best things you can do in your spare time. It increases your vocabulary, enhances your memory, provides you with fodder for discussion, not to mention the entertainment value. Also, reading improves your writing, and with this information age of Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, Emails, Texts, etc, we could all use a boost in our writing skills; 4 reelzies. If you haven't read in a while, pick up popular books from the zeitgeist (e.g. Harry Potter, The Help, The Hunger Games). These books are popular because they are engaging, you will mostly likely like them too. Ask a reader for advice if you need it.
  2. Goal: Make a goal for yourself for 2012. One book per month? Per week? My goal for 2012 is 120, 10 books a month. We'll see how it goes...
  3. Record: I used to use a journal to record my reads, but now I use a simple excel spreadsheet. It only takes a moment to record each book once I'm finished with it, but at the end of the year I have so much data and can enjoy yummy data crunching. Also, this is an invaluable tool when recommending books to friends and family.
You can do it! 10 minutes a day will make a difference and get you into reading again. Think about times/places you can incorporate reading into your life. I have a friend who reads on the elliptical at the gym and finds herself lengthening her workout for good books. Audio books are a great way to slip reading into commuting time, and can be quite fun! (Look for a free trial of Audible on the interwebs if you're interested.) I read to my babies as they go to sleep (we're currently reading Harry Potter 5). Or maybe it's as simple as turning off the television 15 minutes earlier at night.

Open your mind, expand your world: read a book.