2011 Reading Recap

Not long ago, my friend, Nyla asked what my non-fiction to fiction ratio was. I really didn’t know, because I enjoy both, so she put me in the 50/50category.  Not this year:

24 non-fiction to 40 fiction

My favorite fiction reads were The Help and The Book Thief, followed by Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Favorite non-fiction was My Life in France and Mornings on Horseback.

The most important thing I read was Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which introduced me to many non-profits doing great work across the globe including Women for Women International. I am now an active sponsor.

New for me this year was diving into the audio books.  I am going through books much more quickly when I can sit and work on a Project Linus blanket at the same time.  I wonder if that isn’t why I read fewer non-fiction – there are definitely fewer non-fiction books on audio in the library.

I still buy books faster than I read them.  And I don’t do as much on the Kindle as many people.  Here was the final tally (the links are to the appropriate page on Librarything.  If you are interested in my “reviews” you might find the “50 Book Challenge 2011” tag down the right-hand side of the page and scroll through):


11 Days in December: Christmas at theBulge, 1944
Stanley Weintraub
Santa Clawed: A Novel (Mrs. MurphyMysteries)
Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
Autobiography of Santa Claus, The
Jeff Guinn

In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story
David McCullough
A Week in December
Sebastian Faulks
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor
Lisa Kleypas
The Christmas Train
David Baldacci
The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir
Ken Harmon
The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
Home for Christmas
Andrew M. Greeley
A Christmas Secret
Anne Perry
Philip Roth
Dr. Zhivago
Boris Pasternak
Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir
Christopher Buckley
The Lake of Dreams: A Novel
Kim Edwards
Travels with My Aunt (Penguin ClassicsDeluxe Edition)
Graham Greene
Homer & Langley
E.L. Doctorow
The Tortilla Curtain: A Novel (PenguinInk)
T.C. Boyle
The Castle in the Forest: A Novel
Norman Mailer
John Gregory Dunne
The Last Dickens: A Novel
Matthew Pearl
What If?: Short Stories to SparkDiversity Dialogue
Steve L. Robbins
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Jamie Ford
True Compass: A Memoir
Edward M. Kennedy
Working for Peanuts: The Project LinusStory
Karen Loucks Rinedollar
Changing the World on a Tuesday Night
Tammi DeVille
The Flanders Panel
Arturo Perez-Reverte
Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny:Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam
Zainab Salbi
Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders andHow They Changed America 1789-1989
Michael Beschloss
The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a LifeThrough the Pages of a Lost Journal (P.S.)
Lily Koppel
I Am Charlotte Simmons: A Novel
Tom Wolfe
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel PieSociety
Mary Ann Shaffer
Erik Larson
Neverwhere: A Novel
Neil Gaiman
Einstein: His Life and Universe
Walter Isaacson
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Seth Grahame-Smith
Exiles in the Garden
Ward Just
Ann Patchett
A Spot of Bother (Vintage)
Mark Haddon
Son of a Witch: Volume Two in the WickedYears
Gregory Maguire
Mornings on Horseback: The Story of anExtraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who BecameTheodore Roosevelt
David McCullough
The Shack (Special Hardcover Edition)
William P. Young
American Creation: Triumphs and Tragediesin the Founding of the Republic
Joseph J. Ellis
The Acts of King Arthur and His NobleKnights: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
John Steinbeck
White Jazz: A Novel
James Ellroy
Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy
Frances Mayes
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book byPatton Oswalt
Patton Oswalt
My Life in France
Julia Child
Unaccustomed Earth: Stories (VintageContemporaries)
Jhumpa Lahiri
Things I Overheard While Talking toMyself
Alan Alda
The Help
Kathryn Stockett
Boom!: Talking About the Sixties: WhatHappened, How It Shaped Today, Lessons for Tomorrow
Tom Brokaw
Suite Francaise
Irene Nemirovsky
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression intoOpportunity for Women Worldwide (Vintage)
Nicholas Kristof
The Poe Shadow: A Novel
Matthew Pearl
Agatha Christie
A Separate Country
Robert Hicks
The Child in Time
Ian McEwan
David McCullough
Bloody Crimes: The Chase for JeffersonDavis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse
James L. Swanson
The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession (P.S.)
Paul Coelho
THE EDIBLE WOMAN by Margaret Atwood(Paperback – Jan 1969)
Margaret Atwood
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science andSex
Mary Roach
The Witches of Eastwick
John Updike

11 Days in December: Christmas at the Bulge, 1944, by Stanley Weintraub

Book 64 of 50 Book Challenge and Book 9 of Holiday Reading Challenges

Closing out the year with a quick audio book.  Weintraub wrote another Christmas book that I read awhile ago, about George Washington.  So when I saw this at the library’s holiday display I picked it up.  

I thought I was done with the holiday thing.

The jacket description lays this out with the old story of General Patton trying to get off an air campaign, being held off by weather and asking God whose side he was on.  The book spends almost no time on that subject.

There was a lot of politicking among the generals in December 1944.  Normally, I like to read about the politicking.  But this was more about who was endorsing whom for more stars and who thought whom wasn’t agressive enough in the campaigns.  I didn’t need to hear about how Churchill didn’t like Ike.  I was really hoping for a book about the guys in the field that Christmas – like that part of Band of Brothers (who made an appearance in this book).

There were a couple of very worthy anecdotes.  American soldiers end up at a lady’s farmhouse on Christmas and she is sharing the little she has when the German soldiers show up and they all manage a peaceful holiday together.  The one where the mail had been held up, but Christmas arrives and Dick Byers receives two boxes of treats from his fiancee in the States.  I wish there had been more of those.

And that just about does it for the year.  I will work on a 2011 book recap soon.

The Autobiography of Santa Claus, as told to Jeff Guinn

Book 63 of 50 Book Challenge, Book 8 of the Holiday Reading Challenges

I am pretty sure I found this at the Library’s Used Book Store, and it received an enthusiastic thumbs up from one of the Holiday Challenge Readers.

Loved it.  In fact, I daresay this was the best of all the holiday books I read this year.

This book is Santa Claus explaining himself.  Laying out the historical truth and the evolution of the myth, beginning with his childhood in modern day Turkey.  Nicholas was an orphan with a trust fund who was uncomfortable with his wealth in the face of so many in need.  As an adult, he became a priest. His good works continued and he became a bishop.  As rumors of “miracles” spread, so did his fame and he felt the need to abandon his life to continue his mission of giving gifts to those in need.

The book goes on to explain the sainthood of St. Nicholas (which embarrasses him) and frequently returns to a theme of Magic vs. Illusion.  Travels begin (dude was on the damn Mayflower) and assistants are recruited – many historical figures – and they are all unnaturally long-lived.

My suspension of disbelief held pretty well.  Although Santa kinda skipped over the part wherein he broke his eternal vow of celibacy in order to marry Mrs. Claus.  (Even if you are a couple hundred years old, an eternal vow is an eternal vow.)  I even got a little misty hearing Santa describe his reading of the “Yes, Virginia” column – reprinted in its entirety.

I can’t say this is an Every Year classic.  But I am pretty certain it will be a repeater in my house.

Santa Clawed, by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Book 62 of 50 Book Challenge, Book 7 of Holiday Reading Challenges

“Sneaky Pie Brown” being the author’s cat.  My mother used to read these novels – small town Virginia farm lady solves mysteries with the help of her dog and two cats.  The animals can talk to each other but not to the humans, similar to Bunnicula.  So this was the holiday-themed one.

The novel did start with the heart-warming country Christmas stuff, but it didn’t last very long.  The ladies decorating the church for the Christmas social or whatever.  Gossiping about a guy with whom they attended high school who grew up to be convicted of securities fraud and joined the local monastery upon being released from prison.  Our heroine meets him again at the monks’ Christmas tree farm,  Later that night, when she brings her husband and the pets (really?!) to pick up the tree, the dog finds the monk with his throat slit.

I found it very interesting that such a cutsie concept could be wrapped around what came to be a rather sordid tale.  I’m not sure it was necessary.  The mystery was doing just fine without the dog and cat quibbling over…whatever.  When I asked my mother about it, she said that she liked when the horses got to talking, but that didn’t happen very often.

Having said that, this was a lot of fun.  I liked the main character and I liked the small town cops.  I’m not planning to seek out more of these books, but it is nice to know they are readable in a pinch.

A Week in December, by Sebastian Faulks

Book 62 of 50 Book Challenge, Book 6 of the Holiday Reading Challenges

I found this at the library in a display of holiday-themed audio books.  It sounded really good, so I picked it up.

It is not a holiday book.

It is one of those books about various different strangers with nothing in common whose lives intersect over a big event.  As I read through the book..and it is a very slow burn..I came to understand the event was going to be a terrorist bombing.  And I hung around trying to figure out who would live and who would die.

The other thing this novel has is the point of view of one of the big shot hedge fund guys right before the financial collapse.  The setting is London, but the feel of the super-wealthy getting super-wealthier and the impending doom for everyone else is there.

There is also some commentary of what I think of as evidence that we are descending into the next Dark Age.  In fact, one of the characters lays it out that there was a “Golden Age” of education from about 1925 to 1975 when education was relatively universal and teachers would teach.  After that, we as a society decided that we didn’t want to leave anyone behind so we taught less to everyone.   The theory posited is that the coming generation (I couldn’t quite pinpoint which that was) would know less than the one before it and that is when society is officially backsliding.

(Side Note to my 8th grade civ teacher, Mr Pielin:  It is absolutely your fault that I obsess over this concept.)

Faulks also takes a shot at Reality TV by having a character rant that it is the product of bad people taking advantage of stupid people.  So true.

So.  There was no warm and fuzzy holiday anything, and I think I will have to have a talk with the librarian.

The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir, by Ken Harmon

Book 61 of 50 Book Challenge, Book 5 of the Holiday Book Challenges

I found piles of this one at Half Price Books, all with remainder marks as thought it was the title that didn’t fly last season.

It was awesome.

Gumdrop the Elf leads the Coal Brigade until Santa fires him.  Then a guy is murdered using Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB gun and Gumdrop is the prime suspect.

You don’t get to be the leader of the Coal Brigade by being the shiny happy elf, so you can guess how this goes.

Pretty much every pop-culture Christmas reference is made at some point in this one, and it is kinda dark for awhile.  For example, Kringle Town has a shadow land called Pottersville.  Tiny Tim drives the ferry between the two.  The Misfit Toys live on their island and there are rumors that a Misfit Mafia is stealing the “good” toys.

Not to go all SPOILER but the end is rather warm and fuzzy and true-meaning-of-Christmas-y.

This book is the most fun I have had in this challenge.

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, by Lisa Kleypas

Book 60 of 50 Book Challenge, Book 4 of the Holiday Book Challenges

I accidentally read a romance novel.  I don’t know how it happened.  I thought it was about a little girl that lost her mother and found her voice and her joy again at Christmas.  It was really about an uncle/guardian and the new lady in town who happens to be a young widow that has opened a new toy shop on one of those islands off the coast of Seattle.  Next time, I must really read more  than two lines of the jacket summary.

It wasn’t a bodice ripper by any stretch, and for most of the novel it was pristine near to Jane Austen.  And then it wasn’t.  And I found myself thinking, “Really?  You knew that dude was a player and didn’t even consider the birth control?”

It has been a really long time since I read a romance novel.

All of the characters were perfectly pleasant – even the girlfriend that was ditched.  There wasn’t very much conflict, which was fine, too.  The “Christmas” connection was pretty weak, but that was ok.  But I think I gotta go back to the Christmas murder mysteries now.