Looking at my Goodreads page reminded me that I read some great books in January! After a lackluster (for me) reading tally in 2011, I set a goal of 60 books for this year and publicized my ambition online– man, what a motivator THAT is! I mean, it’s right out there for everyone to see, so I better come through. In addition to that, this time of year is traditionally my peak reading season, if you will– when it’s dark and cold by 6, it’s not hard to go to bed a little earlier and snuggle under my down comforter with a cat or two and a good book. Let me share some of what I read last month.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. When I ask folks if they’ve read this marvelous little book, I get the most interesting responses, because no one seems to know what it’s about! I think it may be due to Toibin’s previous work, or stature as a literary… ahem… author, but many people think it’s about gangs or war or hardship and struggle. Well, I hate to disappoint, but it’s not. Maybe the tiniest little bit of hardship, but this is the sweetest novel I have read in years, no lie, and I can’t push a copy into your hands fast enough. A coming of age, coming to America story that will make you wish for 300 more pages to turn!

Bi-Rite Market ‘s Eat Good Food. I spent a good amount of time on this earlier this week, so I won’t say a lot here– I am thrilled by the responses I got to that post and can’t wait to hear more from you all about good food decisions! If you have read Eat Good Food, please comment and tell me what you thought and whether you got use from it as a shopping guide.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson.  My theory is that you either like Johnson or you don’t, and I am firmly in the former camp. This man is pure genius, and I read everything he writes.  If you missed Tree of Smoke, you should give that a try, and I will defend the literary merits of Already Dead to anyone who cares to argue. Train Dreams is right in line with those: dark, gritty fiction with characters whose motives and emotions are carefully revealed until you can’t help but relate, or at least sympathize. My primary complaint is that this was too damn short.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This was for book group and I was so nervous; it’s nonfiction, about the woman who donated the cells (without her knowledge) which became the first “immortal” human cells grown in culture (HeLa cells). The line exists to this day and is used in countless medical tests and trials. I shouldn’t have worried, because this is so much more than a dry science history. Skloot weaves in the story of Lacks and her family growing up poor in Baltimore, their anger and frustration born from a lack of information about what happened to Henrietta. The narrative balanced a mix of scientific research, social commentary and family drama and was fascinating.

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje. I saved my favorite for last. This is the most recent novel from the author of The English Patient, and while reading, I couldn’t help thinking that he may be the best novelist alive. Sure, there are arguments for a hundred others, but Ondaatje is so smooth— I was mesmerized by this story. At one point, I was reading at the gym and realized that I had stopped biking (for who knows how long) because I was so caught up in the book. How often does that happen? A young boy named Michael is travelling from Ceylon to England, alone, on a large ship: the cat’s table is the dining room table to which he is assigned for the duration of the voyage (full of undesirables, the farthest from the captain’s table). The reader is introduced to the people he meets and interacts with on the trip; through the eyes of an 11-year old, you wonder about the billionaire, the prisoner, the botanist, etc. Compared to what I have come to expect from Ondaatje, this felt lighter and somewhat whimsical, but was not without the drama and tragic characters of his other fiction. I loved it and hope you will, too.

I would love to hear what you have read so far this year! And please tell me what you think about any of these. Happy reading!