Sunday, January 22, 2012

2011: The Year of Books About Books

When I sat down to look over 2011 reading, I realized I had been better about reading books than cataloging them. My list-making was punctuated by “oh, I forgot to write that one down!”

It was, in fact, a really good reading year. Like most years, I dove in and read as my learning trails led me. And while that can provide an odd shape to some reading years, in 2011 a sort of theme emerged without my realizing it was doing so. 2011 turned out to be my year to read books about books.

Strange but true. A lot of my non-fiction reads were about the pleasures of reading. I even read one thoughtful book with that very title ~ Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Other non-fiction engaged the topic of reading through engaging one beloved author. My fiction list was clogged with books where other books featured heavily, from a mid-grade fiction series about a girls’ book club, to books in more than one mystery series where the fictional “detective” was based on an historical author. I even read one novel, David C. Downing’s Looking for the King, whose minor characters included my favorite group of English authors, the Inklings. I also read a collection of short stories, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, based on another book I’ve loved for the past twenty-plus years.

I liked almost everything I read this year, some of it enormously, some of it mildly. A few books made my “love” list and are ones I’ll go back to again and again (and in some cases, already have).

Without further ado, here’s my 2011 list of favorites. Unless otherwise noted, links are to my reviews on Epinions.

Favorite Biography: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Despite the controversy surrounding this book (see my post here ) I still found this an inspiring read. Metaxas has a gift for writing readable biographies that pull you into the person’s life. The book also inspired a lot of other learning and reading trails the rest of the year. I’m still returning to Bonhoeffer – both to read other’s work about him and to read work by him. And I mostly have this book to thank for it.

Favorite Picture Book: Ted Kooser’s Bag in the Wind. Who would have thought that a book about a plastic grocery bag could be so beautiful and inspiring? I love Ted Kooser’s poetry, and this book proves how well it works in a picture book setting. Lovely illustrations by Barry Root also make this book a delight.

Best Devotional Book: God is in the Manger, a collection of advent and Christmas readings by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Best Novel I Read This Year: Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt. I laughed, cried, and read it again almost as soon as I’d closed its pages. Yes, it’s a mid-grade novel (and I usually set up a separate mid-grade category, see below). It’s still the best novel I read this year. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that it wins the Newbery Medal tomorrow.

Best Novel I Re-Read This Year: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This may become an annual re-read. And it may also go down as one of the best novels ever written about the power of reading books.

Favorite Book of Literary Analysis/Criticism: A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz. I posted about it here and did a longer review which can be found at the link above.

Best “pop culture” book: The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure. This is really a hybrid because it engages Laura Ingalls Wilder from a literary perspective, but it does so much more by engaging “the Wilder life” as a wider cultural phenomenon. I posted about it in the same post as the Deresiewicz book.

Favorite “new to me” children’s book, mid-grade reader (8-12 year olds): Besides Okay for Now, probably The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall. What a delightful third book in the series. This was a major Penderwicks year for us as the sweet girl got hooked on the audio books in the summer and we listened to all three (some chapters more than once). We’re all eagerly awaiting the fourth installment.

Favorite “new to me” young adult book (12-15 year olds): When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park. This book might be classified as mid-grade, but it had more of a YA feel to me. Brilliant and insightful historical fiction.

Best Children’s Book I Re-Read This Year: How to choose? Every year that goes by, we read more of my favorites as a family. This year I especially loved reading aloud Anne of Green Gables and The Hobbit. Doing Gollum’s voice is fun, and so is reading Anne’s breathless, almost non-stop narrative when she first arrives at Green Gables.

Classic Book I Can’t Believe I’d Never Read Before Now: “Can’t Believe I’ve Never Read” is probably too strong a designation this year, but I was really surprised that I somehow missed Jean Webster’s Daddy Long-Legs during my childhood. I would likely have read it many times over if I’d found it at around the age of eleven.

Book I Should Have Finished (and still plan to): I’d still especially like to finish One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual.

The Book That Surprised Me The Most: Okay for Now. Runner-Up: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.

The Book That Made Me Laugh the Most: Okay For Now. Runner-Up: The Wilder Life.

Book That Challenged Me the Most: Bonhoeffer

Favorite “new to me” mystery writer: Susan Wittig Albert

Favorite “new to me” fantasy writer: Hardly read any fantasy this year (though Albert’s mysteries have elements of gentle fantasy)

Favorite “new to me” Spiritual Resource or Bible for Children: Was Bob Hartman’s Angels, Angels All Around new to us this past year? I’m not sure. But oh, we love it.

Favorite Book of Theological Reflections: King's Cross by Tim Keller. Beautiful and insightful reflections on the Gospel of Mark.


Erin said...

Another wonderful list! Rooting for Gary Schmidt right along with you. Okay for Now was just brilliant.

My list highlights would also have to include, among others, Wednesday Wars, Sign of the Beaver, The Bronze Bow and, most significantly I suppose, the Trixie Belden series. It was high time!

Beth said...

Great list, Erin! I really need to read both Bronze Bow and Sign of the Beaver. And of course, yay for Trixie. A series of my heart. ;-)

I was saddened that Gary Schmidt wasn't honored yesterday, but it doesn't take one bit away from the brilliance of Okay for Now. That one's a keeper.