This was an unusual reading year for me, what with the arrival of Owen at New Year’s and the subsequent months of not sleeping. Mid-January, as I continued to read four pages a day in the novel I started at Christmas, I set myself the goal of reading twelve books this year. At the time, I assumed I wouldn’t sleep the whole year, so the goal of one book a month seemed both ambitious enough to force me to prioritize reading, and realistic enough to be achievable. Of course, at the time I didn’t know that a couple of the books I’d read would push 1,000 pages in length.
Thankfully, we’re all sleeping these days and I’m back to my normal (not very fast) reading pace. Really, the thing that’s keeping my reading back is that I’ve been knitting and crocheting so much. Oh, the directions we’re pulled in.
Here’s what I read in 2011, with a bonus list of awesome kids’ books.
- A Novel Bookstore, by Laurence Cossé. I asked for this last year, and began reading it as soon as the gift was given. It’s a lovely novel about passionate readers and the bookstore they open. If you love reading books your local indie bookseller recommends to you, read this book.
- The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer, by Harvey Karp. The premise of this book is great. That it’s a book and not a pamphlet is a shocking waste of paper (or, in my case since I read the ebook, pixels). It’s cloyingly repetitive (even to my at-the-time fatigue-addled brain), and I hate the convention of having baby books filled with testimonials from parents. Oh god, I’m about to rant about baby books. Deep breath. This one doesn’t suck. If you have a newborn at home or expect to have one soon, this book gives great advice (over and over and over again). The gist: Some old wives’ tales are worth respecting – rock, shh, swing and swaddle your infant, and white noise is a godsend.
- The Passage, by Justin Cronin. This book was all the rage in 2010, and for good reason. It’s a vampire book, like OMG. But a good one. And a very, very long one. Which means you’ll enjoy it for a good stretch. After I hated The Strain so much last year and put it down, I was wary to start The Passage. But my worries were unfounded. I’m eagerly awaiting the second book in the trilogy.
- 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson. Maybe you follow young-adult author Maureen Johnson on Twitter. She writes one of my favourite feeds. She’s hilarious and she’s passionate about a lot of things I, too, feel are very important. So I finally read one of her books, and it was lovely. It’s the tale of a timid teenager led by her quirky aunt on an adventure as dictated by thirteen notes in blue envelopes. I was a timid teenager, and I’d like to think that I, too, would have dived in like Ginny did.
- Don’t Look Back, by Karin Fossum. After loving Smilla’s Sense of Snow last year, I had a conversation with my friend Elin who’d recommended it to me, and we thought it might be fun to go on a kick reading Scandinavian crime fiction. I’m not sure I can endure a proper kick, but I do think I’ll read more in the future (and you’ll see another title in this list).
- Drums of Autumn, by Diana Gabaldon. The fourth in Gabaldon’s epic time-travel-Scottish-fantasy-romance series, I read this in part out of excitement that the books are now available as ebooks (sans piracy). Though I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Outlander, I’m not a big fan of the series. Drums of Autumn was okay. Better than the third book by far, so maybe I’ll eventually read the fifth.
- Embassytown, by China Miéville. June must be when I started functioning in society again, because this is the first more challenging book I read. It’s one of the most inventive, refreshingly original sci-fi books I’ve ever read. That the plot centres on a feature of alien linguistics made my reading that much more satisfying. The ending fell flat, but I’m eager to read more books by him.
- Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell. Mankell is lauded as the most popular crime-fiction writer in Sweden, and it took me a while to find the first in his very long series of Kurt Wallander novels. I’ll read more Mankell, for sure. I’m also curious to see the British television series, featuring Kenneth Branagh playing Wallander.
- Jesus Land, by Julia Scheeres. I tweeted a lot as I read this memoir about a white teenager and her adopted black brother growing up in a brutally religious family in bigoted rural Indiana in the ’80s. It’s a heart-breaking, anger-inducing story. One that lead me to write to the author immediately after finishing it. I told her that as an adoptive parent, I smothered my child in kisses as I read her book, in which she describes her parents treating their adopted children differently than their biological ones. The story doesn’t focus on adoption, though. It focuses on the brutality people inflict upon one another, specifically in the name of God. It’s a must read.
- The Baby’s Table, by Lauren Bramley. If you skip the prose section at the beginning (insert rant about baby books here), this book is an invaluable guide to feeding your kid once they start on pureed food, and well beyond their first birthday. My friend Krista gave us a copy at my baby shower, and at this point it’s dog-eared, stained and a little bloated from getting wet. Especially for someone like me who doesn’t really cook but insists on making my kid’s food, Bramley’s instructions for how to prepare the simplest of foods has been an education. Now that Owen’s eating more sophisticated foods, I feel like I can actually cook. And my kid eats like it’s his mission in life (which may or may not be related to the food being appropriate and good).
- Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Hands down one of the best books I’ve read. Not Top 5, but possibly Top 10. In what seem to be six unrelated short stories, Mitchell tells a tale of religion, consumption, selfishness, generosity, humanity and society. It’s that big. And it’s enjoyable to read, even though I didn’t particularly like a couple of the short stories. Mitchell’s skill with language blew my mind. I usually don’t enjoy short stories, so if you, too, are not a fan, don’t let that keep you from this brilliant book.
- World Made by Hand, by James Howard Kunstler. This is not a book about crafts. It’s a book about how people must live once runaway climate change and geopolitical disaster render people pretty much on their own, sans conveniences like electricity and gasoline and government. I’m passionate about staving off climate change and I love love love me a good apocalypse novel, but I hated this one. Kunstler writes with a hand so heavy it’s a wonder he was able to type. He’s preachy and annoying. Which is unfortunate, because his protagonist is interesting and there’s a lot he could have done with the unexpected bit of supernatural wahoo he tossed in at the end of the book. But he didn’t. Don’t waste your time with this one.
- The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. The much-anticipated second novel in the Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy, this one was a delight to read. I loved The Name of the Wind, and bought The Wise Man’s Fear in hardcover – that’s how excited I was for it. I didn’t even buy the ebook, despite the challenge of reading a 900-page book in hardcover. Whether you’re a fan of fantasy novels or not (I’m not really), read this series. I have no idea when the conclusion is expected, but I’ll read it in hardcover, too, no doubt.
- How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff. My mother-in-law and I have fairly incompatible taste in books, and we’ve learned not to recommend them to each other. But she gave me a copy of this one with great enthusiasm, and I read it in a couple of days. One of my favourite genres is young-adult dystopian fiction, and this is one of the best I’ve read. It’s about an American teenager with very real personal issues (though issues some might be inclined to label first world), who finds herself in rural war-torn England with cousins she’s only just met. In a surprisingly short novel, Rosoff paints a vivid picture of a teenager’s experience of a confusing, terrifying time. It’s a very moving story. If you enjoyed The Hunger Games or The Book Thief, I highly recommend How I Live Now.
- How to Knit a Love Song, by Rachael Herron. I can’t remember what compelled me to read a knitting book, let alone a knitting romance novel. I’m not a big fan of either. Maybe it’s that I’ve read Rachael’s blog for eons. Regardless, I read it. And I loved it. It was a delightful escape. And, uh, hot.
- How to Knit a Heart Back Home, by Rachael Herron. Uh, yeah. So I finished the first and immediately bought the second. Probably should have waited a week or two, on account of the romance-novel formula, but I enjoyed it. Now that a few weeks have passed, I’m ready for her third instalment. And how.
- The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. This is my current read, and I’m sure I’ll finish it in the next week or two. It’s about, you guessed it, a circus that only performs at night. But more than that, it’s about the people who created such a thing, and about the fantastical things that go into it. And it’s about a man and a woman raised from childhood to compete in magic in a game with few rules. I’m enjoying it immensely.
Look at that! Seventeen books. Goal = surpassed.
I also started and put down several books that just didn’t match my mood. None of them was terrible, so I anticipate finishing them eventually.
And now, baby books. A note to those inclined to give books as presents when a baby is born (I do this, too): Books with few words are useless to babies until they’re old enough to interact with them in a more linguistically advanced manner (i.e., when they’re learning to talk, or at least to understand lots of words). Books with a good story and lots of words are great for babies, because adults can actually read them aloud. We’ve been reading to Owen since he was a week old, and he’s delighted us by developing a great interest in books.
Here are some I think are great, that my kid also loves. (He loves lots of others I’m not going to list; these are the ones I think everyone should know about.) We’re limited to board books right now, so I’m leaving out the lovely paper ones we just can’t read until Owen can handle paper with care.
- The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. We’ve been reading this to Owen since Day 1, and I can now recite it from memory. It’s delightful and clever.
- Indeed, anything by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. My other favourites are Room on the Broom and The Snail and the Whale, and The Smartest Giant in Town is also fabulous, and is Owen’s current favourite.
- Monkey and Me, by Emily Gravett. It’s a simple, beautifully illustrated book about a girl and her sock monkey and all the animals they went to see. You build up the suspense, then turn the page and it’s ELEPHANTS! they went to see. Owen giggles.
- The Odd Egg, also by Emily Gravett. “All the birds have laid an egg. All except for duck.” Duck finds an egg, and sits with it even as all the other birds’ eggs hatch. To tell you more would venture into spoilers.
- I Took the Moon for a Walk, by Carolyn Curtis and Allison Jay. The artwork in this book is absolutely beautiful, and the story is simple and sweet.
- The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch and Michael Marchenko. I loathe I’ll Love You Forever with the fire of a thousand suns, but Munsch is redeemed by this classic feminist tale of a prince and princess thwarted by a dragon.
- Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury. It’s diversity that’s not annoying, and Owen loves to look at all the babies.