Posted by: Sally Ingraham | January 5, 2012

What We Have Here Is…an appendix of sorts

Time to flip through my bookish endeavors, adventures, and mischief of 2011. Let’s see…

*thumbing back*

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.

conversationsOf 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…

ouatFebruary 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.

anything ubuLet’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

Fiction: 56
Non-Fic: 2
Plays: 3
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.)


  1. Ooh, I was thinking of reading War and Peace this year, too. A friend and I were supposed to read it last year, but we kind of failed. Perhaps 2012 will be the year, though. We read Anna Karenina together, so the precedent’s there.

    I’m kind of crazy and there’s a solid chance that this won’t happen, but I have plans to read four 1,000ish page books this year. We’ll see. That’s the sort of plan that’s easy to sidetrack.

    Also read The Hunger Games trilogy this year–at the urging of two friends, coincidentally on the same day–and completely loved them. Very addicting, very easy to read, very satisfying, and ultimately darker than I expected, which I appreciated. Also looking forward to the movies and hoping they don’t suck.

    I’ll probably put a year in reading review up on my own blog, though it may be a few days yet.

    • Do you have your four monster books picked out?

      Reading with someone else is the best – I make a habit of it. I’ve read quite a few books as part of a group that I didn’t even end up liking – but the experience was fun and memorable.

      I am also hoping the Hunger Games movie doesn’t blow. The casting looks all right, but we’ll see. I already feel pretty confident about recommending the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, although I’ve only read the first book – The Knife of Never Letting Go. It was nearly as addicting as The Hunger Games though, with a world as thoroughly realized and great characters. I am afraid I will abandon the Calvino book I started in favor of Chaos Walking 2…!

      I look forward to reading about your year in reading. 🙂

      • I do have my four picked out. War and Peace, of course, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, The Instructions by Adam Levin and A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles. I also started Infinite Jest this last year and stalled out about half way through. Would love to give that another go, but I’m not sure if it’ll happen. It’s a fantastic book, but it’s very dense and complex and a lot to get through–and I’m already trying to pile up a lot of projects on my plate, reading and non-reading alike.

        I loved Anna Karenina, but I doubt I would have finished it if not for reading it with a friend. I really needed that deadline to keep going back to it. Much like Infinite Jest, I liked the book quite a bit, but it was always so much easier to read something else not quite so challenging. So yes, I agree that reading with others is a great way to do it.

        I’ll have to look into the Chaos Walking books for when I need some lighter reading. Like you, I do love me some dystopian fiction.

      • You’ll need your strong farming muscles to heft those enormous books! I just read two laughably polar opposite reviews of The Instructions – sounds interesting. I might have to look into A Moment in the Sun, and I have intentions of at least starting Infinite Jest someday. Your reading plans are admirably immense. Good luck!

        Maybe if you set yourself some deadlines – broke the year into 4 bits and read 1 book a quarter? – even negotiating a deadline with just myself is often helpful…but being accountable to someone else is the best. Heck, I’ll even dive into War & Peace with you! (I am sleep deprived and over-caffeinated so I’m overflowing with enthusiasm at the moment…)

      • Careful now (he says a week later) I may just take you up on that War and Peace offer. I’ll let you know if I actually start reading it and you can feel free to ignore me.

        I do like a good deadline. It helps. We’ll see. I haven’t started any of the monster books yet. I’m reading about gardening right now in anticipation of that adventure, and I just started The Hobbit for something more light.

      • Tolkien is on my list to reread this year. High time, what with The Hobbit movie coming out at the end of the year. I do so enjoy tearing apart every little good, puzzling, or infuriating decision Jackson made while translated the book into a movie (well “enjoy” is maybe not the right word for that…!)

        Ah, the winters of garden planning…so fun. When I was a kid I systematically plotted out my tiny garden patch on graphing paper, dreaming of when I was an adult and would have boundless patches of dirt and money for all the “fun” seeds, like purple potatoes, etc. Now that I AM an adult I just kind of panic and have at it come spring, with suitably haphazard results.

        I hope your gardening endeavors are lovely and bountiful, come next summer. Enjoy the winter plotting. 🙂

  2. Yikes, it’s Papa Ubu!

    Joseph Epstein writes somewhere about the number of years his bookmark was stuck 30 pages from the end of Time Regained, so you are in good company. I need to get to that novel sometime, too. It is keeping me from saying I have read In Search of Lost Time twice.

    • I guess I’m in good company then! I think I have an actual subconscious reluctance to finish it – or not so subconscious I guess, since I wonder about WHY this is from time to time… I’ve been reading In Search of Lost Time for 3 years – now going on my 4th. I should probably finish it before the world ends and all that! Or not…

  3. Interesting mix.
    7 is a great number, I had 32 haha and only read a bit more that twice as much. Either I had a great reading year or- which is more likely – I’m bad at deciding.
    I suffered through the Dune readalong this summer… maybe it works besser as an audio book. Those dialogues killed me.
    I’ve started Miéville’s The City and the City. Not getting into it yet but I’m only on page 30.
    I do want to read The Hunger Games this year…
    I’ve read all of Ubu years ago. It’s really something.

  4. I can’t believe I wrote besser (German better) … I’m soo tired today.

    • I’m tired too – stayed up way too late last night…

      I’ve been meaning to go back and read everyone’s posts from the Dune readalong. Should be interesting. Have you seen the movie (the 80s version)? I want to – I imagine the story might work best as a movie of done right. I liked the dialogue but I imagine it would be an awfully dense book to read.

      I have that Mieville book on my Kindle but I haven’t started it. It’s about time for another one though. I hope you get into it – I find his stuff so absorbing.

      Yay, can’t wait to see what you think of The Hunger Games!

  5. Did you read Battle Royale? Novroz (Polychrome Interest) keeps on telling me The Hunger Games is a copy.

    • How extremely intriguing! I haven’t read it, but a glance at the description makes me think that may be true – at least it sounds very similar. Now I have another book (and a movie) to track down!

  6. in the midst of Un Lun Dun by China Meiville after N bought it yesterday and promptly inhaled it. Going to read more of his this year, most definitely.

    loved Peeta, too.

    going to follow up on Witch Grass, check that one out.

    going to p/u The Scorpio Races because of all the love for it. wasn’t sure from the jacket copy. I have to limit my dystopia because it all starts to blur–thematically anyhow.

    I didn’t complete 3 books that I readily recall, one of which I will pick up again soon (Plain Kate by Erin Bow) I think I was just in a mood (am hoping anyhow) noticed it made your sister’s list (which was fantastic, by the way, thanks for sharing.)

    • Plain Kate is near the top of my TBR list (as are most of the books on Kelia’s list). I’ll look for your review!

      Since you like Calvino I bet you would like Queneau. I want to read something else by him this year.

      I like how Stiefvater writes her faeries, and in The Scorpio Races she picked such an interesting and strange member of the fey to expound upon – it’s really just ridiculously good. I hope you enjoy it.

  7. I think Novroz mentioned there is a Japanese and a US movie of Battle Royale and you have to stay clear from the US one. Battle Royale seems more brutal than Hunger Games.

  8. What a coincidence. She just finished the book again.

    • Thanks for the link. I read her review and now feel compelled to read Battle Royale – her enthusiasm is infectious! I’ll be super curious to see how the two stories compare, although it seems like they are separate stores based on the same idea (and the idea of a TV show where the competitors kill each other is fairly old – Stephen King’s The Running Man is another).

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