Sunday, January 8, 2012

2011 Reads

I love year end lists. They were always especially great in China where it was easy to miss all the best new books, movies, and music. For the past few years I've been keeping a list of books read for the year.

Here are all the books I finished in 2011 (in order of completion) with brief commentary. Top five are in green.

Howards End by E.M. Forster  Two British sisters lives are dramatically changed by their romantic entanglements and their romantic philosophies. Read the Norton edition.

Choosing to See by Mary Beth Chapman  Biography of marriage, motherhood, tragedy & faith. A genuine voice and a heartbreaking story.
The Imperfectionists by Mark Rachman (great cover by the wayAn English magazine in Italy is the intersection point for a variety of characters over several decades. Fast and compelling read that was just slightly contrived but worth a read. Each character's story was unique.

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan  Friendship and betrayal by the master of the sad ending. Well written but like tying a lead weight to your leg and jumping in the ocean. Read Atonement instead.
Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson  Great book on consuming the Bible by a thoughtful Christian author. Full of wisdom. Made me excited to glean new things from the Word!
Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang  A true look at the lives of female migrant workers in one of China's factory hubs. Started out well but Chang lost her edge and went on a tangent part way through.
Next by James Hynes  Discontented Midwestern businessman goes on a job interview in the midst of terrorist activity. Took a gamble on this book and didn't love it.
Nothing to Envy By Barbara Demick  L.A. journalist explores life in North Korea by interviewing defectors from the same area. Great book and a rare look into the horrific situation north of the DMZ.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen College boy runs away to the circus and falls in love with the star of the show. I DO NOT understand why anyone liked this book. Writing was horrible--like reading the directions on a script) and the story was contrived. I'm sure the movie's better.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides Haunting and nostalgic tale of the Lisbon girls and their inexplicable suicide. Great descriptions and sentences, leaves you wanting answers that you know from page one you're not going to get. Good read.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen You've read this already right? My favorite line is still from the movie version - "Surely you and I are beyond speaking when words are clearly not enough.
The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham Self-centered woman marries a research doctor who lives in Hong Kong and faces mortality and morality during a plague. Completely different from the movie. Good read but I liked the redemptive story of the movie better. Eek.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave Nigerian refugee moves in with a British editor after her husband's suicide. Not sure how to describe this story but it had honest voices. Ending was fairly implausible.
The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne  The journey to creating a radical Christian community amongst the least of these. Very challenging read on living the Gospel and being a peacemaker. Too deep to summarize.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith  A girl from an eccentric (make that cooky) family living in a dilapidated castle documents her coming of age. Book and movie are equally beautiful and breathtaking. Must read/see.
Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson  If you're a beginning photographer, read this. If you've been taking pictures for a year or two, you should probably still read this. I should probably read it again.
Oliver Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout  Pulitzer prize winning book of short stories that feature one curmudgeony woman. Interesting read but many of the stories featured romantic betrayals.
The Psycopath Test by Jon Ronson Investigative journalist of unusual topics, Ronson explores the word of psychology and psychopaths. A little disjointed but still fascinating look at the cult of psycology.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett  You've already read this right? If not, ask yourself this...why not?
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan  Super popular book (at least among the NPR crowd) about the mostly separate lives of a music producer and his secretary. Told with some unusual devices (one chapter is a ppt). Eh, seemed more about experimenting with form than creating a memorable story. I like straightforward plot better so judge this one for yourself.
The Paris Wife by Paula McClain  Fictional (but well researched) tale of Hemingway's first wife over the course of their marriage. Didn't love it at the beginning, but I got more engrossed in Hadley Hemingway's story as it progressed.
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom  The autobiography of a Christian woman who worked to save Jews during the Holocaust and was put in a concentration camp as a result. Amazing story of God's faithfulness and miracles. Must read.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides  Does the famous marriage plot work in real life? Boy loves girl who loves another boy and being that they're Brown students, they analyze everything. Oh I was hoping I'd like this better. Story didn't grab me like Virgin Suicides.

What were your favorite reads of 2011?

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