vendredi 6 janvier 2012

A Review of 2011 in Reading

I always see other bloggers doing a review of their year in reading, and I thought that this year I should do the same. I kept track of which books I'd read this year using LibraryThing by using the tag "readin2011".

I might as well get used to the fact that I'll never read all the books that I want to read in my lifetime. And even if I tried, I would just be reading quickly, and I wouldn't get as muc out of them. So I'm going to reread more books this year. I loved the experience of rereading, as I've mentioned here before. I feel like I got so much more out of the books the second time around. And for books that I was reading 10 years later, it was different parts of the book that struck me more than the last time I had read the book. Makes sense; I've changed.


Fiction: 13 (EN) + 5 (FR) = 18
Non-fiction: 9 (EN) + 2 (FR) = 11
Picture & comic books: 2 + 1 = 3

English: 24
French: 8

1. Miller, Donald (2009): A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

I was disappointed by this book. It was really motivational in some parts, but had a biblical bent that really turned me off. On the one hand, it told me to take control of my life and make it into an interesting "Story." On the other hand, it told me that Jesus was in control. Ugh.

2. Adler, Laure (xxxx): Les femmes qui écrivent vivent dangereusement (unfinished)

This was a Christmas gift that I read parts of and browed through, but I haven't yet read the whole thing cover-to-cover. Since it's meant to be a coffee table book, I don't know that I will read it other than in bits and pieces here and there.

3. Marillier, Juliet (2002): Daughter of the Forest

My friend is a big fan of Marillier's and lent me this book. I thought it was a very enjoyable read, but it didn't give me the urge to read more by this same author, especially since most of her work is in the form of lengthy series. I usually don't like reading series because they keep you from reading anything else until the story is finally over. I suppose I enjoy variety in my reading (as in most other aspects of my life)! This book was a retelling of the classic fairytale "The Six Swans". It actually forms part of a trilogy but I didn't feel a pressing urge to seek out the second and third books in the series.

4. Thúy, Kim (2009): Ru (unfinished)

I really wanted to finish this one before the year ended but didn't get around to it. It's an autobiography written in short capsules which makes it easy to read in small bites. The writing is beautiful, soft, flowy. I love learning about an immigrant's experience. (A bit like I did in Ulysse from Bagdad.)

5. Holt, John (1995): How Children Learn*****

This was one of my favourite reads of 2011. I was nodding me head all the way through the book, agreeing with the author. His philosophy is "trust children." Don't try to cram their skull with "learning", let them discover on their own and it will be much more rewarding for them. I am definitely on the same wavelength when it comes to raising children.

6. Matthews, Brander (1883): The Home Library (ebook)

This was an interesting read, partly because it's the oldest book I've read in a long time. I happened upon it by chance while browsing Google Books. It describes how one should build up a personal home library. It even details what type of bookshelves are best. While it was quite prescriptive, I quite enjoyed it!

7. Harris, Sam (2008): Letter to a Christian Nation*****

This book was a short but worthwhile read. While Sam Harris' arguments are not new, and have been repeated elsewhere by other pro-atheist authors (Hitchens, Dawkins), I liked reading them in this format. And I will probably refer to this book when I need counter-arguments to religion. Of course, it would be better if I were able to come up with counter-arguments on my own, but Harris has obviously spent more time than I have debating the question. And this book sums everything up quite nicely.

8. Pantley, Elizabeth (2002): The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night (unfinished)

I read most of this book as soon as I got it. I figure I'll refer back to it when I actually have a baby... Pantley's main "trick" seems to be to not let your baby associate breastfeeding with sleeping. She also suggests keeping track of your baby's routine and noticing what seems to help your baby sleep better (a bath before bed, for example), and what seems to make it worse (certain foods, or activities, or sleeping conditions).

9. Auel, Jean M. (2003): Les enfants de la terre, tome 5 : Les Refuges de pierres, vol. 1
10. Auel, Jean M. (2003): Les enfants de la terre, tome 5 : Les Refuges de pierres, vol. 2

These were the last two books in the series and I drew them out as long as I could, only reading a few pages at a time. I didn't want Ayla's story to end! I've been recommending this series to a lot of people since I finished it. I find myself thinking about the story a lot too.

11. McCrum, Robert (1986): The Story of English (unfinished)

I read large parts of this in order to give a brief history lesson during some of my workshops. I had owned the book for a while -- it was an All Books purchase -- and I'm glad that I've finally found a use for it! I knew I would get around to it someday...

12. Davis, Steph (2007): High Infatuation: A Climber's Guide to Love and Gravity***

Although I enjoyed reading about Steph's nomadic lifestyle, and her book did make me want to explore climbing more, I also found myself thinking that she was a bit extremist. She abandoned EVERYTHING to climb. I'll all for pursuing your passion, but I also think it's important to have a balance in life. If your friends and family feel that they're always playing second fiddle to climbing, you'll eventually lose them.

13. Brodsky-Chenfeld, Dan (2011): Above All Else: A World Champion Skydiver's Story of Survival and What It Taught Him About Fear, Adversity, and Success*****

I loved reading about Dan B-C's story. What an amazing man. And to think that he's so down-to-earth, too... when I met him last year at a training camp he always had encouraging words for me, the youngest, least-experienced skydiver there.

14. Soucy, Gaëtan (1998) : La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes (reread)

I understood many parts of this book SO much better the second time around. Now, this was THE first French book I read as an adult. I really hadn't done much reading in French before then -- maybe one or two young adult novels, and that's it. So I suppose it was normal that many expressions (and even terms) went right over my head the first time I read it. I'm not one to stop reading and look up a word I don't understand in the dictionary, unless I really can't make head nor tail of a sentence. It happened so infrquently that I would come across a word or expression that I really couldn't understand in English that I just didn't have the reflex in French. But I realize now that, while I got the gist of the story the first time I read it, there were a lot of subtleties that I missed. SO glad I reread it. (And the perk was that it was somewhat less traumatizing the second time too, since I already knew the horrible ending and even caught all the hints about it earlier on in the book.)

15. Pullman, Philip (2000): The Amber Spyglass (reread)
16. Pullman, Philip (2000): The Subtle Knife (reread)
17. Pullman, Philip (1996): The Golden Compass (reread)

A series that was written in response to C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series, apparently. Pullman praises the loss of innocence and the acquiring of experience, whereas Lewis thought the opposite. I love Lyra, tha main character, and loved rereading the series. I will probably come back to it again.

18. Doctorow, Cory (2010): Little Brother

A science fiction tale about government conspiracies that made me feel like looking over my shoulder every other minute.

19. Irving, John (1978): The World According To Garp

Some of the scenes in this book -- well one in particular -- will stay with me for a long time. The story spans Garp's whole life, beginning with how his mother inseminates herself to have a child and going through his childhood, marriage and life as a father.

20. Rothfuss, Patrick (2009): The Name of the Wind *****

Another one of my favourite reads of 2011. A VERY intriguing science fiction story that kept me up all night turning pages. I will definitely be reading the second and third books in this series. Kvothe, the main character, is "a notorious magician, an accomplished thief, a masterful musician, and an infamous assassin."

21. Rachman, Tom (2011): The Imperfectionists (unfinished)

This book was passed along by my father-in-law, who told my husband he thought I would enjoy it. Unfortunately, I didn't even finish it. I was engrossed at the beginning, with the story of a foreign newspaper correspondent who is having trouble making ends meet. But the next chapter was about the life of another employee of the same newspaper. And the next chapter... you get the idea. Not all characters were as interesting as the first one. So I abandoned the book. Maybe I'll pick it up again this year just to see if we ever find out what happened to the character in the first chapter.

It reminded me of another "bestseller" that was really good at the beginning and turned into a real let-down about half-way through: Restless, by William Boyd. (I forced myself to finish that one, though.)

22. Atwood, Margaret (1998): The Robber Bride

This was an extremely masterfully told tale, but I really didn't enjoy it. I appreciated the fact that it was great writing and it made me think about the topic, but it was the topic that I had trouble with. I didn't like how just reading about the characters made me feel. I suppose that's a mark of a good storyteller, when the characters are so realistic that they make the reader feel for them. It's the story of three women whose lives are intertwined because of this fourth woman, who has taken advantage of them, cheated them or betrayed them all at one point or another. I read it all the way to the end because I was engrossed in the story, but I was looking forward to being done and not having to think about them anymore!

23. Joyce, James (xxxx): Dubliners

I didn't actually read all of Dubliners, only two short stories. The friend who lent me the book recommended the last story, "The Dead," and I read one other one, "Counterparts", about an alcoholic who works a clerical job, has a terrible relationship with his boss, and spends the evening going from pub to pub, pawning his watch at some point just so he can have money to drink. Both stories were interesting in that they gave me a glimpse into what life in Dublin in the early 20th century was like. But I just couldn't get into any of the other stories, so I suppose I'll have to come back to this book at a later time. When Whim strikes, I suppose. (See book # 29)

24. MacLachlan, Patricia (xxxx): The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt

This is a "young adult" book, a very short Scholastic-type book like those that I use to devour at my primary school library. I decided to read it because of the genre, not because of the content. The book is about an eleven-year old girl who plays the cello, learns about Mozart, and beomces friends with the new boy in her music lessons, who has, in her eyes, "the peferect family" (compared to her own very eccentric family. Obviously, at the end, she realizes that his family isn't so great after all and appreciates her own family. (Awww.) I did enjoy the book, but probably would have enjoyed it more when I was younger!

25. Atwood, Margaret (xxxx): Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood is such a fantastic storyteller that I had to give her another chance even if I detested The Robber Bride.

26. Spiegelman, Art (xxxx): Maus I
27. Spiegelman, Art (xxxx): Maus II

I hadn't read many graphic novels before, but found I really liked the format. Hey, it combines my love of reading with my love of drawing! These books tell the very sad story of the author's father's life, his experience as a Polish Jew during the Second World War. They also give a glimpse of the author's present-day relationship with his father, which is strained.

28. Schmitt, Eric-Emmanuel (xxxx) : L'enfant de Noé (reread)

Another novel set during the Second World War. The story of a young Belgian Jew who is sent away by his parents to hide, and who is taken in by a priest who hides many Jewish children.

29. Jacobs, Alan (xxxx) The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The main message of this book is to Read at Whim. Which means that when you're reading for pleasure, you should read what you feel like reading, not what someone else tells you you should read. Jacobs says that that's how reading is made meaningful. We learn over time what we want from books. Reading at Whim is a journey of self-discovery. I loved this book and will definitely reread it.

30. Follett, Ken (xxxx): A Dangerous Fortune

This was an engrossing read, definitely a real "page-turner" in that I read all 600 pages in one night. It's the story of a banking family in the late 1800's in England. There is love, murder, deceit, and enough suspense to keep you absorbed in the story for hours. I detested the villain in the story, but I suppose that was the point. Then again, I thought her actions were becoming somewhat predictable by the end: oh, this happy thing happened for the main character? How is Augusta going to ruin it this time?

31. Poulin, Jacques (xxxx): La tournée d'automne

This was also one of my favourite reads of 2011. A beautifully written book about an old man who drives a bookmobile across Quebec's north shore. An old man who doesn't want to grow old. Who loves books (he always reads every book he adds to the bookmobile before lending it to anyone else) and loves readers (he can always recommend just the right book for just the right person). And falls in love with someone who is just like him, who loves not only the same books, but the same passages in thos books. I told MB I felt like the author was telling me this story in a soothing, hushed voice.

32. Bérubé, Jean-Sébastien (xxxx): Radisson, fils d'Iroquois

This was a BD that I read at a friend's house. There are two more books in the series, that I'd like to read, as they are based on a true story of a French explorer (Pierre-Esprit Radisson) who got captured by the Iroquois and became adopted by them. I believe the BD is based on account by Radisson himself of his travels.

33. Culleton, Beatrice (xxxx): In Search of April Raintree

The book I was reading as the clock struck 12 on New Year's Eve. MB's cousin lent me this book (and two others), which she had read in high school, telling me that what had struck her was the main character's feeling of not being stuck between two identities. Of belonging to two groups and not belonging to either of them all at once. The character's inner turmoil obviously struck a chord with me.

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