Saturday, December 31, 2011

#68 part two - 231 books in 2011

Of all the goals on my list, this is the one that I can achieve without making too much of a special effort.  I have always loved to read, but I never had kept track of how many new titles I read until just a few years ago.  Even in graduate school, when I needed to abstract popular reading for the materials courses, it didn't really sink in that I go through more than a book every other day.  Naturally, with so much practice, I'm a fast reader too ... otherwise I'd be spending all my time with my nose in a book!

So, in looking through my list from this year, here's the titles that were standouts for one reason or another in the order that I read them (a bit disappointed that there were no knockout children's titles this year):

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier - When I was in college, I took several classes in Russian history - all pre-Soviet Union.  This book is set firmly in the post-Soviet Union; however, it's all about the landscape, the weather, how the people interact, and I could see many echoes of that earlier time period that I had studied.  My favorite bit - the description of traveling the "ice road".

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen - I liked this author's depiction of the Gilded Age in her Luxe series.  This title (along with the second in the series - Beautiful Days - which I read just a couple of nights ago) turns to the society of flappers, speakeasies, and bootleggers in 1929.  Expect lots of description of glamorous society, gorgeous dresses, and the "it" places of New York.  These titles would make excellent gifts for older teens interested in intrigue and spunky heroines.

The Girl in the Song by Michael Heatley - What inspires writers or songwriters?  Sometimes the answer to that question is so obscure that they probably can't verbalize it themselves.  But other stories are more straightforward ... and included in this book.  What I found interesting is how connected the different facets of the entertainment industry are - there were not just connections between individual songwriters and actresses, but, in places, those ties seemed to be clustered.

Soulless by Gail Carriger - This title is the first of a series that became my brain popcorn choice of the year (thanks to a gift from my sister Diana).  I'm not usually a huge fan of steampunk but when you mix in vampires, werewolves, and (in the later books) a truly fantastic parasol, it becomes sublime.  Or perhaps that's just the influence of Alexia Tarabotti who is appalled by rudeness and the lack of decent cakes at teatime.

The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head by Gary Small - There is an specific emotion - not really schadenfreude - combined of relief that someone else has problems harder than yours and fascination with the weirdness that individuals can exhibit.  This book will definitely satisfies that emotion.

Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress - So many times I put down a book and think "wow, what a great concept but I wish they would have stuck to it".  This was not one of those times - the concept of a small town woman living with her mother who manages to finance her life through providing sexual services to six prominent men in town, has kept everyone in the dark about all six affairs, and suddenly finds it all crashing down through circumstances both in and out of her control follows through to the end. 

Complete Without Kids by Ellen Walker - I don't have children ... that's just not where life's path has taken me.  I am completely okay with this.  I like kids and have a philosophy that sometimes young people need an encouraging adult in their life who isn't a parent and enjoy opportunities to put that philosophy into action.  However, there have been many uncomfortable moments in my life where a parent (including people that are close to me) has said something that left me feeling like a second-class citizen because I haven't reproduced, and I've found as I get older that it's sometimes easier to maintain friendships with people who don't have children at home.  I don't think this book totally covers the spectrum of childless adults - most examples seem to be taken from people who have (and want) no interaction with kids, but it was helpful as a reminder that there are lifestyles that do not involve teacher conferences, diapers, or playdates.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure - One of the first sets of books that I owned was the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; I've lost count of how many times I've read them, and I've read a couple of biographies about Laura as well.  I had never contemplated actually visiting the sites where she lived though - and now I don't need to.  Wendy McClure took a year to immerse herself in the present day pilgrimage that Little House fans sometimes take.  A funny side note to this book ... I recommended it to a library patron who I knew would be visiting Little House sites this summer, and she said that it became her guidebook for the trip ... even down to the speed limits in some of the small towns.

Hiking the North Shore by Andrew  Slade -  A more traditional guidebook than the last title, this is the book you want along on a vacation to Minnesota's North Shore region if you think you will be doing any hiking.  The trails are nicely detailed - even down to whether you need to bring a sunhat and extra water due to a lack of shade - I agreed with the difficulty ratings on all of the trails that I've personally been on, there are suggestions for places to eat and other things to do near each location, and there are even lists of which trails are more interesting for kids, dog-friendly, less likely to be full of other hikers, etc.

Divergent by Veronica Roth - I generally enjoy dystopian novels (though living in those worlds sounds much less appealing).  This one reminded me of The Host by Stephenie Meyer, the Harry Potter books, and the Hunger Games trilogy.  I've been recommending it to the teens who are looking for something after they finish Mockingjay.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray - Another young adult novel, this one has the interesting premise of teen pageant contestants that end up surviving a plane crash on a deserted island.  Sort of Miss American meets Lord of the Flies - it was total fluff but very amusing.

The Way I See It by Temple Grandin - A first hand look at autism along with some interesting advice to parents of autistic children that I think might apply to all kids in general.  After I had finished reading it, I watched the movie Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - Although I don't think that it was the best written novel I read this year, I think it may have been my favorite.  A total nostalgia fest for those of us who grew up in the '80s that included arcade games, music, movies, and roleplaying games.

Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich - My family is very into collecting rocks, so this true story of a man who worked his way into the NASA community and managed to actually steal rocks from the Apollo missions was interesting.  His motivation - as you may guess from the title - was not money but to impress a potential romance.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh - Basically everyone can tell you that a rose is a symbol of love, but did you know that an iris means message?  I've always thought that the (now mostly unused) language of flowers is fascinating, but I haven't ever tried to use it in real life.  The heroine in this book, however, uses flowers as her main form of communication - especially regarding her emotions.  Give it a read and then make a bouquet from the brief dictionary in the back of the book ...