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!


Jennie Kunz said...

I LOVED this post! It gave me some books to add to my ever growing list of things to read! Thanks!

Lisa said... ideas added to my list! I'm going to really go out on a limb and attempt to read 1 book a month. I'm such an over-achiever! Thanks for sharing, you're my favorite reading source.

oddrex said...

great post! I suggest "Rena's Promise" if you haven't already read it. you can split it up between your biographies/memoirs/war atrocities categories?

:) PS: hope you're well.

Halsey said...

You have inspired me to read more. I just finished a non-fiction that was great, "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank" by Thad Carhart. You would probably like it, knowing your piano inclinations. Thanks for the inspiration to keep the gray matter working!

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