Books of 2011

Firstly, a belated Happy New Year to you all! I have been a very bad blogger and it’s been a combination of no time (due to baby commitments), stress and also a slow laptop which needs to be replaced. But I am back on the blog at last and I wanted to chat briefly about the books I read (or started to read) in 2011.

Books read: 20
Fiction: 11
Non-fiction: 9

A woeful tally of books read (half of 2010) but since I had three major life events in 2011 (marriage, birth of Baby F and a new job) this is pretty understandable. Even getting to 20 was a struggle at one point since I found that my energy for reading disappeared. I would get into bed with a book (and not always a good book, which would definitely have helped) and be asleep within ten minutes.

Fiction
I’ve been trying to decide on my books of the year and it’s difficult since the novels I read in January have dimmed a bit in my memory by December. The year started with the The Hand that First Held Mine and ended with the Hunger Games Trilogy and also The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I really enjoyed all the novels I read this year (with one exception which I didn’t finish).

One of the highlights was definitely The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and I’m going to choose that one as my favourite novel of the year. I loved the sheer innocence, inventiveness and playfulness of Gaiman’s writing here.

Second place would be the Maggie O Farrell and third would be the Julian Barnes. It seems very reductionistic to list them like this but it helps clarify them in my head.

As for the Hunger Games, I was initially completely hooked by them and Suzanne Collins did an excellent job with character, concept and plot. But I found that, as hooked as I was, after a while I started to find them a little formulaic. I haven’t read any reviews apart from one by Litlove and the fact that they are so hugely popular (numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the Kindle bestseller list when I last checked) should be an indication of how good they are.

Suzanne Collins says she’s interested in the effects of war and violence on young adults and she does do a brilliant job of conveying the life-and-death drama of these young adults who must literally fight for their lives in a type of gladiatorial reality game show which takes place in a post-apocalyptic tyrannical state. Katniss Everdeen has echoes for me of Lisbeth Salander (The Girl who Played with Fire versus The Girl who was on Fire) and she’s an interesting combination of stength and vulnerability.

But, as I said, I had my reservations, one of which was that it was too convenient for the plot to be driven by the gamekeepers (which are really stand-ins for the author herself). I’ll be interested to read other reviews.

I thought Julian Barnes fully deserved his Booker. But then his books are always a treat, aren’t they? And I found this one a much more satisfying read than the last Booker-winner which I read which was The Finkler Question. L and I both found that a little odd. Of course I went into this book with huge sympathy for him after his wife died and I think I was looking for some signs of grieving. I’m sure they are there — the remembering of minutiae for example and the trawling through the past in order to make new meaning out of our most significant relationships. But I was soon caught up in the story of Tony, Adrian and Veronica and there was just enough intrigue to keep me guessing and not to baffle me entirely.

Non-fiction
Mostly psychology-related with some memoirs as well. The year started with Joyce McDougall’s Theatres of the Body which was fascinating and profound. She talks about how our bodily symptoms (and those of our patients) reflect our deepest issues. Very psychodynamic (which I loved) and also surprising. Jenny Diski’s memoir / travelogue Skating to Antartica was brilliant in parts. Then there are a number of books which I have started and intend to finish this year (time permitting). Paul Gilbert’s The Compassionate Mind. Lisa Appignanesi’s Mad, Bad and Sad. I’ve only read about 50 pages of this so far but I was very interested in the story of Mary Lamb and what it also says about our current models of treating ‘psychopathology’.

Thanks to Kindle, I can now dip into my TBR wishlist much more easily and two books which I have just started are What the Dog Saw (Malcolm Gladwell) and Sally Brampton’s Shoot the Damn Dog. I’d like to review that at some point (time, baby and work-permitting).

My non-fiction choice of the year would be Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand for the sheer brilliance with which she tells Louis Zamperini’s unforgettable story of resilience and perseverance during the Second World War.

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10 Responses to Books of 2011

  1. litlove says:

    Loved reading this – so many of your choices chime in with my own particular tastes. I’ve read that McDougall book and thought it was amazing. And I really enjoyed (if that’s the right word) Sally Brampton and Maggie O’Farrell. Julian Barnes is, of course, high on my list of must reads. I keep sort of postponing it in a delay-the-gratification way. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll crack soon! I really think it’s the quality of reading that counts, not the quantity, and this sounds like a very high quality of reading.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks, Litlove (and for the book recommendations!) I’ll be interested to read your thoughts on ‘The Sense of an Ending’ when you get there.

  2. doctordi says:

    Mmmm, also really thoroughly enjoyed the O’Farrell – so perfect for the period of our lives, don’t you think? And now Master J is taking my hand as he learns to walk, I find it coming back to me on a near daily basis.

    Pete, I am so impressed you managed twenty whole books last year, not to mention that you can REMEMBER them! It’s all a blur to me… aside from children’s stories, that is! I must get hold of the Barnes… it keeps cropping up.

    Happy New Year to your beautiful little family!

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Di. And I only remember them because I wrote them down in the back of my journal! You’re right, that novel is perfectly suitable for our baby-dominated lives. I also often think of that overwhelmed mom and reassure myself that being overwhelmed is normal for this stage of life.

      Happy New Year to you and Master J and Llew! I always loving hearing your news.

  3. Grad says:

    I bought my daughter The Hunger Games at the airport for something to read on the plane on her way back to Chicago. I didn’t know anything about it, but a friend of hers recommended it and she loved it. And I absolutely loved, loved, loved The Graveyard Book, which I read in 2010. It was one of my favorite books of the year. I actually sobbed at the end…but in a good way!

    • Pete says:

      I’m glad your daughter loved the Hunger Games. I hear the movie will be out in March and it will no doubt be huge.

      Oh and if you have any other Neil Gaiman recommendations then I’m definitely game.

  4. Corri says:

    Yes, I agree with you about Barnes and last year’s Booker Prize Winner: I did not much like the Finkler Question either and loved the Barnes book. I also agree on the O’Farrel books, I love her writing. I never got round to doing a summing up of 2011, so well done!

    • Pete says:

      Corri, I was thinking of you with your ereader though. So many books to download, no time to review them all. I’m glad you enjoyed the Barnes. I’m quite curious now to see where he’ll go from here. And Maggie O’ Farrell too.

  5. Hi Pete, I think your tally was pretty damn good considering! I quite agree with you about the Barnes compared to the Finkler Question, and in fact just posted about this myself. Thanks for the recommendation of the Graveyard Book – on my way to Amazon now!

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