Ah, books: the quieter part of my blogging adventures.  It seems that all this canning and baking and cooking has severely cut into my reading time, not to mention the loss in April of this year of my 1 hour on the bus to and from work.  (Not that I mind so much about losing my commute.)  I have to try a little harder to find time to read these days.  I still have some bus time, just once a week instead of five days, and I can sometimes read at the gym.  Sometimes.  I try to pick up a book every night just before going to sleep, but that’s not always ideal…  In 2011, I managed to read 42 books (with the possibility of one more wrapping up today); a respectable total, I suppose, but when I remember the years of 126 or 142 or even 97, 42 seems paltry.  A little bit of a failure, but more so, a big “what if?”  What could have been?

But enough of the negative, let’s Pollyanna this up a little and focus on the good side of reading 42 books in 2011, because there were some gems in that little stack of books!  I discovered and read through the Hunger Games trilogy, thanks to some persistent prodding from the ladies at book group and M’s willingness to loan me the second and third books so I didn’t have to wait in queue at the library.  You may have heard that these are good, and if you haven’t read them yet, even if you’re not a teen, you should really give them a try.  If you don’t want to go crazy waiting, I would suggest having them all available when you start reading: chances are good that if you like the first book, you will want to go right through the series.

I do read cookbooks, and there were some beautiful and informative new offerings this year.  I got a tagine for Christmas last year and Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking by Paula Wolfert opened my eyes to all the possible dishes I could create in that and other ceramic ovenware.  We had a Moroccan fish tagine; one with lamb, potatoes and peas; and a shrimp and fennel stovetop tagine that was wonderful.  I also liked Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson and The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden.  And here’s one more mention of Baked Explorations by Lewis and Poliafito, which was added to my shelves this fall.

I was surprised to see how little nonfiction I read in 2011, but the few books I picked up were really good.  My favorite of the year was Country Driving by Peter Hessler, about the author’s journey across China’s (terrifying) roads.  It was part history, part cultural study and part humor, an enjoyable read.  I also liked Farm City by Novella Carpenter, which proved to me that you can have bees in the city!  She also had chickens, rabbits, turkeys, a pig and a great array of vegetables at her home in downtown Oakland.

Now for the fiction.  Below I have listed my favorite five six books of the year, not necessarily in order because I keep changing my mind.

  1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.  It’s not just for guys!  It’s not just about baseball!  Sure, some of the plot twists make you stretch your imagination a bit, but isn’t that the mark of good fiction?  Schwartz was my favorite character but I did love me some Henry.  Please, please don’t dismiss this one because you aren’t a sports fan: it is a well-written, well-paced great read.
  2. We the Animals by Justin Torres.  The unexpected find of the year for me, I almost literally devoured this book.  It is short but absolutely full to the brim with breathtaking language and descriptions; you get the sense that there is not one extraneous word in the entire book.  I gasped at times and cried some and loved this little book.
  3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.  This got a whole post of it’s own, so I won’t repeat.
  4. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  I was so excited to read this for book group because it was described as Southern gothic (which I love), and her short stories are awesome.  I was ready for something quirky and weird and I am surprised at how often I still think of this novel, particularly the opening chapter and the vulture scene.  (Makes me shiver to this day.)  It also helps that my clearest memory of reading this one was in the sun on the dock at my parents’ house, with Maude the dog beside me.
  5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.  The first book I read in 2011 was good enough to make the list.  This one’s set up in a series of connected stories, a format I tend to enjoy anyway, but Egan’s ability to develop characters and pull the reader into each story sets this book apart.  I will also say that if you haven’t read her other books, here’s an author to add to your to-try list in 2012.
  6. The Astral by Kate Christensen.  I can’t stop thinking about this book!  The main character is washed-up, down on his luck and all the other sad cliches and I wanted to hear more about him.  I am waiting for a sequel, I swear.  Set in New York, the protagonist has lost a precious possession, is estranged from his wife and has a tentative relationship with his best friend and both his children.  Why should I read this, you say?  I don’t know.  But you should, because I loved it.

So there you have my books of 2011, the condensed version.  My reading goal for 2012 is 60 books, which averages to 5 a month.  I hope I can do it!  I can’t wait to see which treasures are in store for me in the year to come.  Happy reading!

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