Time to flip through my bookish endeavors, adventures, and mischief of 2011. Let’s see…
The year seemed to blaze past, but while last January doesn’t seem like that long ago, I am curiously foggy on what I was reading. I had some wicked winter colds in January and watched a lot of television shows and movies, but surely I was reading too?
Poking through my lists should help – my book list, audio book list, and oh, what’s this? my “unfinished reading list”? Ah, that’s right. Soon after cheering myself on with the enthusiastic cry, “more international literature, more Bolano, more Perec, more female authors, more of the classics, maybe something really, really old…!” I resolved to finish fewer books in 2011.
I suppose I accomplished that – I read 45 books, which is 8 fewer than the year before. And I did not finish 8 books. At the moment I am finding it both snicker-worthy that I recorded this and annoying that I didn’t keep a better record, as I am sure I actually did not finish more than 8 books, but I can’t remember what they were… Humph.
Of the books I did not finish, there are a few I want to return to – Conversation in The Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa, and the second (and then of course the third) volume(s) of Javier Marias’ Your Face Tomorrow. Conversation was the March pick for The Wolves, and I just couldn’t find my way in it at the time. I want to try again – maybe even this year. I read the Fever and Spear bit of YFT in July as part of Richard’s readalong, and it left me “dizzy and delighted and disturbed“. The second volume promised to do the same and more, but I had to abandon it when the August work insanity struck. In a quieter moment I’ll pick it up again.
I see that The Fugitive by Marcel Proust was the first book I finished in 2011, and I even wrote about it (something that began happening less and less frequently as the year progressed…). I suppose Proust’s Finding Time Again – the final volume of In Search of Lost Time – sits soundly on my “unfinished reading list” although I didn’t record it there. My bookmark, lodged 20 pages in, was beginning to take root when I yanked it out a few weeks ago. I resolved to either begin the volume again in 2012 or just say, “Hell with it,” and start the entire thing over again. I wouldn’t mind revisiting Swann’s Way which I have (probably too) fond memories of…
February saw the completion of The Cairo Way readalong hosted by Richard. That was an experience, one that still makes me growl “Bah!” when I remember it. Ah, Mahfouz. I won’t be venturing into Egypt with you again any time soon.
February also saw the resurgence of an old reading love – fantasy/YA/YA fantasy, the South Pole to my literary fiction/works-in-translation/serious books North Pole (or is it the other way round?) I broke up with YA Fantasy in 2010, officially turning my back on a genre that was increasingly unfulfilling and uninteresting. I didn’t think the relationship could be resuscitated, but as the great funk of 2011 drew to a close, it was Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater that gave me back my reading groove.
The months of February and December offer the clearest picture of what my reading life will likely resemble for awhile – a brilliant mixture of classics, works in translation, YA fiction/fantasy, and literary fiction (whatever that last genre is). You guys, I finally feel complete!
In February in addition to the two bits of Stiefvater YA fantasy and the last volume of The Cairo Trilogy by Mahfouz, I read: Witch Grass by Raymond Queneau (a favorite of the year), Charles de Lint’s Moonheart and Virginia Woolf’s Flush (odds and ended here), and participated in the Persephone Reading Weekend with Someone At a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. As for December – heck, December needs its own post as the 7 books I read all deserve to be properly written about. Suffice it to say there were three YA novels, three books in translation, and one book by Farley Mowat, however you go about classifying him!
Reading this way – hitting all my favorite types of books in a month, and of course reading a lot of books – is infinitely satisfying to me. Although it seems mildly far-fetched to imagine that I will do this frequently in 2012, given my expected tumultuous lifestyle as I move across the country and embark on a new adventure in making a living, I do hope to get a lot of this type of reading done.
Let’s see, other highlights from my reading year: the Once Upon a Time Challenge V hosted by Carl V. was comfort-food fun, while the Anything Ubu Readalong hosted by Amatuer Reader was another thing entirely. Carl V.’s R.I.P. VI was fiendish once again (dang, no wrap-up post. *sigh* Book reviews are here, here, here, and here…)
And of course, The Wolves. Last year was our year to be ‘non-structured’ but we were pretty spot-on in comparison. This year we were all over the place. I broke my running record and didn’t finish Conversations in the Cathedral, as I mentioned, which led to all kinds of haphazard behavior in regards to posting long after discussions were scheduled, and not even bothering to read several of the group’s selections. Oops. The future of The Wolves is in question, but I feel confident that the various members will continue to read together now and then, and will certainly continue to challenge each other to read hard, weird, fabulous books that at least one of us will love and one of us will hate at any given time. Cheers, you guys! (Wolfish reading plus other nonsense can be found here.)
Thinking back over the year several books/book-related-experiences leap out at me which kind of constitute a “best of” or “favorite books of” list for 2011. Here goes:
(1) I already mentioned Witch Grass by Raymond Queneau (translated by Barbara Wright) – so much fun! Makes me gleeful just to think of how inventive and bizarre this book is.
(2) Rosalind Belben’s Our Horses in Egypt keeps coming back to me – the incredibly well done “voice” of Philomena the horse will be a reference I return to anytime I encounter a talking animal.
(3) Kraken by China Mieville as well as Embassytown (never reviewed but thoroughly enjoyed) proved once and for all that Mieville can write copiously, fantastically well. I can’t wait to read everything else he’s written or will write.
(4) Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian (translated by Grace Frick) surprised me most wonderfully with its rich historical details and immensely engaging story. The search for the author’s gravestone which followed my reading of it is one of my favorite things I did in 2011. Incidentally, her book A Coin in Nine Hands (translated by Dori Katz – the 1959 rewrite not the 1934 original) was also quite good.
(5) I listened to the audio book version of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins during my commute to work this fall and haven’t been able to get off the dystopian stories fast-track since then (currently working through Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy – eep!). I was spell-bound by the volatile premise of The Hunger Games and pretty much fell in love with the character Peeta Mellark, so that was fun. The thing that made the experience great though, was sharing it. I raved about the books to some friends and was rewarded by watching them fall under the spell too. Squealing over something with someone else is twice the fun! I can’t wait for the movie, which is coming out in March. EEP!
(6) Another great audio book I listened to was Dune by Frank Herbert. Whoa. That book is intense and intensely beautiful. I am such a sucker for stories set in the desert, and desert warriors. Dune has so many layers and ideas and such a rich plot. I definitely feel the need to physically read it sometime, and it reminded me that there is a whole world (and worlds upon worlds) of sci-fi out there that I’ve barely tapped…
(7) Maggie Stiefvater’s newest book, The Scorpio Races is gorgeous and funny and perfect. My adorable and wonderful little sister gave me an autographed copy of it for my birthday (squee!), and I read it in an afternoon and then immediately started it again. I’ll write a proper review of it soon (theoretically…). It’s easily the best thing she’s written. I kind of want to go read it again right now!
Eh, I’ll leave that bit at 7, even though it’s a weird number. I guess the only thing I have left to babble about are those stats I so love. Here they are, or at least here are the interesting ones:
All Books and Audio Books: 58
Short Story Collections: 6
Graphic Novels/Comic Books: 4
Male Authors: 28
Female Authors: 19
Translated Works: 12
Once again mostly fiction. No poetry to speak of this year, but a few plays and more short stories than last year. Less graphic novels, slightly less books in translation, and just about the same male/female author ratio. Hmm. Interesting. I’ll make no promises or resolutions, but I would like to read some poetry this year and perhaps a bit more non-fic. It’s probably time to knock another tome off the pile, something like War & Peace or Middlemarch, but again, my life in upcoming months is going to be unstable and not very conducive to big reading projects. We’ll see. I also have a rather insistent desire to reread all of the Little House on the Prairie books. WE’LL SEE!
Anyway, there’s 2011 in bookish review.
And here we go, on the road again. Do your literary worst, 2012! (Or don’t. Depending.)