2011 Books in Review

All the books I read in 2011 in the order that I read them.

The year 2011 marks the re-ignition of my love for reading. At some point earlier in the year Lisa Barnes took me on a tour of the Richmond, brought me to Green Apple Books, and highly recommended that I buy The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. With Lisa’s shining recommendation, and that the book only cost $4, I quickly bought it and, to my surprise, was delighted to read it. Lisa, Tina, and I had intended on forming an Odopod book club. Also recommended by Lisa, our first book was to be Tinkers. Even though book club never panned out, I kept reading and I think I may attempt to start one again in 2012!

Without further adieu, here are my 2011 books in review:

– – – Book 1 – – –

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 288
Purchased: Green Apple Books

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

My Notes: I loved this book. When I was younger, I never read non-fiction because I always found it super boring – this book totally changed my opinion. The things that have happened to Ms. Walls are so insane at points you’d think they were fiction. You fall in love with her and it’s amazing how true she stays to her world exactly as she saw it during different stages in her life. For example: when she was younger she didn’t understand that her father was a drunk, so as your reading the first couple chapters, her early life, you don’t understand that either. As she gets older and starts making connections, so do you. Her writing style is super easy to read and uses one of my favorite techniques – super short chapters. I can get through any length book if it has compelling short chapters.

– – – Book 2 – – –

Tinkers by Paul Harding

Genre: Fiction
Pages: 191
Purchased: Amazon

An old man lies dying. Propped up in his living room and surrounded by his children and grandchildren, George Washington Crosby drifts in and out of consciousness, back to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in Maine. As the clock repairer’s time winds down, his memories intertwine with those of his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler and his grandfather, a Methodist preacher beset by madness. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, illness, faith, and the fierce beauty of nature.

My Notes: I forced myself to plow through this book on my flight to Rochester for Industry Day. The only thing I really liked about it was that he mentioned the Topsfield Fair. I realized a lot about my likes and dislikes in books by reading this one. I found that reading about normal men doing normal things is really boring to me. I also really disliked that within a chapter the narrator would change with absolutely no indication. It was really easy to get confused. Mr. Harding did a beautiful job of describing nature and had some brillant insights into life, but I would not recommend this book to people who have my reading taste.

– – – Book 3 – – –

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Genre: Fiction
Pages: 266
Purchased: SFO Airport: *-)- Boulder, CO

All you should know going in to Little Bee is that what happens on the beach is brutal, and that it braids the fates of a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan (who calls herself Little Bee) and a well-off British couple–journalists trying to repair their strained marriage with a free holiday–who should have stayed behind their resort’s walls. The tide of that event carries Little Bee back to their world, which she claims she couldn’t explain to the girls from her village because they’d have no context for its abundance and calm. But she shows us the infinite rifts in a globalized world, where any distance can be crossed in a day–with the right papers–and “no one likes each other, but everyone likes U2.” Where you have to give up the safety you’d assumed as your birthright if you decide to save the girl gazing at you through razor wire, left to the wolves of a failing state.

My Notes: This book is a-mazing. I highly recommend it to everyone. Similar to Tinkers, different parts of the story are told by different narrators, but thankfully in Little Bee the different narrators are broken up by chapters and they are very distinguishable. I couldn’t put this book down. You fall in love with the characters immediately and, like the summary said, there are some really brutal scenes that make you gasp out loud.

– – – Book 4 – – –

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Genre: Fiction
Pages: 522
Purchased: SFO Airport: *-)- San Diego, CA

Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone. Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken. Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

My Notes: I bought this book because I wanted to see the movie, but I was in an airport not a movie theater. It’s written similar to Little Bee, with different chapters being narrated by different women. Minny and Celia Foote were my instant favorites – especially the scene with the creeper man in the backyard. I’m really glad I read the book first. I watched the movie recently and it was like watching the book on fast forward with some key components missing or altered. Many people said, after just watching the movie, that they saw it as “all white people are awful.” Even though I could kind of get that jist from the movie, I didn’t get it from the book at all. The characters in the book were more well-rounded than the movie and therefore didn’t come off so black and white – lol.

– – – Book 5 – – –

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 275
Purchased: Booksmith

Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.

My Notes: Super fun, quick read. I’m a huge 30 Rock fan and Tina’s character Liz Lemon is pretty much herself. Being a huge nerd and a bit bossy myself, I really enjoyed this book.

– – – Book 6 – – –

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Genre: Non-Fiction, Self-Help
Pages: 289
Purchased: SFO Airport: *-)- Hawai’i

Bretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

My Notes: This book has literally changed my life. I read the book the first time in Hawai’i and am now reading it again, month by month chapter by chapter. I started my happiness project in October and I can already tell the difference. The thing that I really love about her method is her to-do list style. Really small, accomplishable goals that you feel great about completing. I think Ms. Rubin and I have very similar personalities and therefore her methods work great for me. She talks about her insatiable desire for ‘gold-stars’, that I also have, and how to adjust your perspective for a much happier life. I would have given this book 5 stars, but there were parts that dragged and were too personal.

– – – Book 7 – – –

Candide by Voltaire

Genre: Fiction, Philosophy
Pages: 120
Purchased: Borrowed from Sam Lind

My Notes: For the cynic in all of us, reading Candide was like watching a mythological Coen Brother’s film. If something good happened to the characters, something a million times worse immediately followed. The three main characters, as I saw it, were: Candide (the naïve), Pangloss (the optimist), and Martin (the pessimist). Pangloss and Martin have very defined ways of thinking about life and Candide is trying to figure it all out. One of my favorite parts of the book, on page 81, is as follows: “He gave [his sheep] to the Bordeaux Academy of Science, whose annual prize was awarded that year to the author of the best essay on why this sheep’s wool was red. The winner was a scholar from the North who demonstrated by A plus B minus C divided by Z that the sheep had to be red and would die of sheep pox.” When I first opened the book I thought I was never going to get through it because the epilogue was written in some kind of old english. I had picked it up and put it down many times, but once I got to the actual story it was short, easily digestible, and hilarious.

– – –– – –

After reading 1,951 pages this year, I can’t wait to start my 2012 set of books. I read a total of 7 books this year, which is 7 more than last year! Next year I hope to read 8 or more. If you’ve read any of the above books and want to chat about them, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’re in the SF area and you’d like to borrow any of the above books (with the exception of Candide) I would love to lend them to you.

Happy New Year!