Best of 2011: Books

I don’t know what happened to me in the last couple weeks of 2011.  I had a few more best of 2011 posts all ready to write, and then…nothing.  Oh well.  At least I’m off work all this week so I can finish them up.

In 2011, I quietly set out to read 30 books.  I had made 25 by the skin of my teeth in 2010, so I thought a modest raising of the bar was in order.  Well, last January I read 8 books and based on that pace, I was on track to read 96 books  in 2011, but I knew damn well there was no way I could maintain that!  By the time we hit the end of the year, I’d read 55 books, which is an average of 1.05 books per week.  For someone that could barely get 25 read the year before, this was a significant improvement and an achievement of which I am pretty proud.

A friend of mine asked me to pick the five best books I read this year – and I did read some pretty good ones.  I also read some real dogs, and sadly, some of those dogs were books I was really looking forward to reading.  But there were some that really stood out.

1 – Little Girl Blue / Randy L. Schmidt

The tale of Karen Carpenter’s rise to fame, followed by her gradual and tragic disintegration was told with the perfect balance of sympathy and objectivity.  I learned more than I ever though I would about the Carpenters and also listened to more Carpenters music while I was reading this book.  It even led me to buy Karen’s only solo album from eMusic.  Probably the best book I read all year.

2 – A Walk In The Woods / Bill Bryson

I wasn’t sure I’d like this book as I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews of Bryson’s work, but his story of hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail was an engaging and quick read.  He very skillfully wove in historical information without ever making it feel like it was time for a history lesson.  I’m not sure how much else of his I’ll want to read, but this one was a keeper.

3 – In The Heart of the Sea / Nathaniel Philbrick

One thing I’ve found out since I’ve been reading more is how much I love stories of man vs. ocean.  In The Heart of the Sea was my favorite of those types of books I read this year.  The whaleship Essex is rammed by a gigantic whale and the story of survival and death on the open ocean was a great read.  Way better than trying to read Moby Dick but then pretty much ANYTHING is better than trying to read Moby Dick.

4 – Borrowed Time / Paul Monette

I always say that I don’t know why I keep subjecting myself to books written about the height of the AIDS epidemic, but I just can’t stop seeking them out.  Borrowed Time is a good companion piece to And The Band Played On, providing a more personal look at one couple’s struggle with the disease from diagnosis to death.  It was occasionally uplifting, frequently heartbreaking, but always very human.  Highly recommended.

5 – Yellow Dirt / Judy Pasternak

When I read this book last January, I was completely ignorant of the events chronicled in this book.  The discovery of uranium in Navajo nation turned the worthless land into a nuclear gold mine and the story of how the U.S. government tricked the Navajo out of their land and then exposed them to deadly radioactive material both during the mining of the uranium and by not cleaning up the mess left behind proved to me that we have one hell of a karmic payback coming to us.

Honorable mention goes to Admit One by Jenna Hillary Sinclair, the best m/m book (apart from Heidi’s) that I’ve read in a long time and Winds of Change by Jason Brannon, a freebie from Permuted Press that was a really cool mix of post-apocalyptic fare mixed in with Biblical references in a much better way than those ridiculous Left Behind books.  I’ll definitely be looking for more of his books.

Disappointments this year were Moby Duck, which squandered a great premise and turned into mostly navel gazing by the author.  This book sucked doubly because I was so looking forward to it Also disappointing was Lucifer’s Lottery, a book I bought based on the sample only to have that be the best part of the book.  Relying too much on gross-out moments as opposed to actual storytelling, they really screwed up the can’t-miss premise of a tour of Hell.

I’m upping the ante to 75 this year.  We’ll see how I do.

Oh, and if you’re on Goodreads, come be my friend.  It’s the best book site out there.

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5 Responses to Best of 2011: Books

  1. Thanks, Dan. I am the author of LITTLE GIRL BLUE and I’m honored to hear it was a favorite of yours!

    Randy

  2. Dan says:

    Randy – it was a great book, as I said in the post it was probably the best book I read all year. I didn’t know terrible much about the Carpenters’ story (other than Karen’s death) and it was an eye opening book. It’s not often that you get a book like yours which was objective but clearly a labor of love. Kudos!

  3. Mary35 says:

    I really really enjoyed reading Little Girl Blue as well. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. My full-time job really got in the way of that. 🙂 I remember watching the Karen Carpenter movie when I was a girl, and it haunted me. I enjoyed learning more about her from the book. It was fascinating.

    I am definitely going to have to read more biographies this year. It’s strange how I only read fiction as a teen and young adult, and now I’m much more into non-fiction.

  4. And thanks from the author of Yellow Dirt, too! Glad to hear that the book struck a chord. As you can see, writers treasure their readers. Best, Judy Pasternak

    • Dan says:

      Wow, I’m honored that you read my post. I really was completely in the dark about the story you told in your book. I’m SO glad I read it.

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