Home > Uncategorized > My Year in Reading: The Version with Lists

My Year in Reading: The Version with Lists

Because, really, we all love to hate those end-of-year lists that are EVERYWHERE this time of year. I mean, that means we love them too, right?

In 2011, I finished 54 titles. I don’t know how that ranks with the reading rates of most readers, but it feels a bit on the slow side. I’m guessing people who are not habitual readers would find that to be a staggeringly impossible number. Having seen the pace at which my wife can put away a book (She read the entire “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga in less than a month this summer, and that is at her new slower post-baby clip), I figure a good number of folk simply scoff at such a weak number.

What I do know is that I didn’t read nearly enough of 2011’s newly published works to have it make any sense to attempt a “best of” sort of list with aspirations of comprehensiveness. Hence, I’ve broken the 54 books into a few different categories, which were then organized into some fashion to indicate overall value to me in some way or other.

(Relatively) Recent Fiction

Turns out that 20 of the books I read were fictional novels published in either 2010 or 2011. I liked the roundness of 20, so I did a simple order of preference for those.  I’m sure the Franzen and Eugenides books would/should be in there, if only I had read them…

  1. Embassytown by China Mieville
  2. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
  4. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
  5. The Silent Land by Graham Joyce
  6. Low Town by Daniel Polansky
  7. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
  8. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
  9. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
  10. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
  11. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  12. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  13. The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
  14. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
  15. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
  16. Doc by Mary Doria Russell
  17. Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
  18. The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart
  19. Red on Red by Edward Conlon
  20. Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve no desire to defend my decisions to anyone, really. It’s just about personal preference. Besides, I have to admit, when I was asked earlier what my favorite novel of the year was, I replied with “The Art of Fielding” having forgotten entirely about “Embassytown.” But, really, I’m all about the Mieville. It’s AMAZING!

Yes, I had to ‘shout’ that bit.

And, then in what must seem like a preemptive bout of defensiveness, I should at least point out I do tend to prefer my fiction with fantastical and/or science-fiction elements. Despite knowing that about myself, I was a little surprised to see the Graham Joyce and Daniel Polansky books as high on that list as they are, but then remembered what a blast I had reading them; the same can simply not be said for the last five books on the list, each of which was a challenge to finish for me.

But, I DID finish them, unlike…

Simply could NOT do it!

  1. What We Do is Secret by Thorn Kief Hillsbury
  2. Last Man Through the Gate by Tim C. Taylor
  3. Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

One might argue that three books I did not finish shouldn’t be listed among “books I finished.” My counter-point would be that I am finished with them, whether I read them to completion or no.

I do feel a little dirty about having gotten only to the seventh page of the Hillsbury book and counting it, but I knew by then I was going to maybe set either it or myself on fire before I could ever get through it. It had a weird spoken-word vibe to it that simply doesn’t work for me. “Last Man Through the Gate” was a freebie e-book; anyone who has read many of those knows how entirely hit-or-(most likely) miss those can be.

The Kim Stanley Robinson book was a disappointment for me. The premise, wherein the same group of characters are reincarnated throughout an alternate history of world civilization, was a complete hit for me. Unfortunately, I just ran out of steam with it. It’s a long book and, without a strong central narrative, just lost me.

Graphic Novels

  1. Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraftby Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  2. Locke & Key, Volume 2: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  3. Locke & Key, Volume 3: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  4. The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone By by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore
  5. Priest: Genesis, Volumes 1-3 by Min-Woo Hyung

I generally don’t read graphic novels because, truly, the artwork is completely lost on me. I find myself rushing through them to get the story, but I know that, in order to really appreciate them, I should slow it down a bit and observe the work of the illustrator.

But I don’t and won’t.

Despite that, I was completely sucked in by the Locke & Key series and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a good haunted house tale.

The other two I could have done without reading.

Collections

  1. Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
  2. Granta 117: Horror by John Freman (editor)
  3. Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason by Mike Sacks

Simply put, Knockemstiff was one of the most-compelling things I’ve ever read. It probably could have been listed among the fiction novels, but it really is a collection of related short stories. Though, now that I think on it, it’s probably less disjointed than Egan’s “Goon Squad,” the format of which leaves me baffled as to how it garnered the crazy amounts of regard it did.

And, it’s definitely more cohesive than King’s “Full Dark, No Stars” which is a collection of novellas.

Oh well. What’s done is done. Pollock is so good, he deserves his own category anyhow.

The Sacks is meant to be funny. I didn’t think it was funny. Is there anything more subjective than comedy? Not sure there is.

Non-Fiction 

  1. WAR by Sebastian Junger
  2. Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann
  3. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan
  4. I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 2o Years Away by Bill Bryson
  5. The Egg & I by Betty MacDonald
  6. Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
  7. Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O’Conner
  8. No Touch Monkey: and Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late  by Ayun Halliday
  9. The Game From Where I Stand: A Ballplayer’s Inside View by Doug Glanville

Only now that I’ve typed this list am I aware of the consistent practice of spiking the title of non-fiction books with a colon and a clarification of the book’s subject matter, which I do find slightly odd.

At any rate, I’m fairly fond of saying that I don’t read much non-fiction, so I’m a little baffled when I realize non-fiction made up of nearly 17% of my total haul for the year. That percentage is actually higher if I were to flesh it out to account for magazine articles and news and what not, but I’d never have guessed it were even this high for just the books.

And it shouldn’t be, because this list is dominated by books I found sincerely lacking. Really, only the first two would I say were truly compelling. The Pollan book is great, but isn’t really much of a book, as it’s a bunch of short items on (re)defining food in an era where food products has become the norm of the American diet. I love it, but it is what it is.

The other six books I either just didn’t enjoy or actively hated. The Hamilton memoir was really a let-down as it was highly praised, but, to me, it quickly turned into a long lament/complaint piece. If a friend gets a little whiny on Facebook, I’ll hide them from my feed, but this? I got tricked into a few hundred pages of “Oh, it’s all so sad, really.” I actively hated it by the end, which should tell you something about the books I rate below it.

The Glanville book is remarkably boring when you consider the guy played major-league baseball for several years and that I really like baseball. I didn’t hate it, but can’t remember one thing I read in it that I could say was worth the effort. Tremendously boring, which is quite an accomplishment when writing about a subject I quite enjoy.

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