Back by popular demand, here's my reading list for the past year.
First, the statistics:
48 books total
- 15 by women, 32 by men, 1 anthology
- Format: 2 audiobooks, 7 e-books, the rest in paper
- Genre: 9 non-fiction or essays; 9 poetry books; 30 fiction, plays, sagas, misc.
The asterisks in the list indicate e-books. The links go to my reviews on Goodreads, most of which also appeared here on the blog.
Standouts? I very much liked this years Booker Prize winner, Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending, and particularly enjoyed listening to it as an audiobook. The seemingly simple story, told in first-person, eventually reveals an unreliable narrator whose version of events made me call into question my own memory, and think back hard about events in my own life. Barnes isn't someone I would read for his literary style, per se, but this is a masterful novel.
It's no secret that I love Teju Cole's Open City. Even though he's my close friend and the book is partially dedicated to me -- an honor that continues to stun and humble me -- I definitely think this was the best book I read this year, for its originality, the lyricism of its prose, and the risks it takes. Many illustrious reviewers have agreed with me, so my objectivity can't be entirely suspect!
As usual with me, there's a bit of a geographical focus, this time on Iceland. Somehow I had never read either the novels of Halldor Laxness or the Sagas of Icelanders, and I'm very glad that gap was closed this year before we went to Iceland; the trip was immeasurably enriched by their writing.
There were also a lot of British novels set in the early 20th century. It was odd to read A.S. Byatt at the same approximate time as Virginia Woolf, and two young-people's books by Frances Hodgson Burnett as well. I loved The Secret Garden, which turned 100 this year, just as much as when I was a girl. Byatt irritates me; I find the books overwritten, overly long, and self-indulgent, and that was especially apparent reading them next to Woolf's beautiful, spare, carefully-constructed prose. Byatt's stories kept pulling me along nevertheless; they won't endure as literature but she's a good storyteller. Woolf is in a class by herself, often painful to read, but in many ways a kindred soul. I'm glad I'm a happier and far less public person.
This year's shock quality award goes to César Aira's How I Became a Nun, with second place to Rawi Hage for De Niro's Game.
In keeping with the year's Nordic theme, I also really liked the uncategorizable Broken, by Karin Fossum.
Quirkiness and condensation are trademarks of Lydia Davis. I'd recommend her Collected Stories as inspiration for any writer.
For sheer lyricism, I loved experiencing The English Patient as an audio book - but I'm crazy about Ondaatje's writing anyway. I could hardly wait to get back to it during the time I was listening to this book, and was bereft when it ended. For similar reasons, I loved John Berger's To the Wedding.
The worst book on this list, hands down, was Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey. It had its moments, but...my God. I've never seen a book take such a disastrous turn and then fall apart the way that one does!
Particular poetry favorites were Seamus Heaney's Human Chain, The Throne of Psyche by Marly Youmans, The Book of Ystwyth -- works by six poets (including Dave Bonta and Marly Youmans) in response to the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, and Dale Favier's chapbook, Opening the World.
I liked all the non-fiction titles listed (if I don't enjoy a non-fiction book I generally don't finish it.) The last and the first look like they may be my favorites; John Hales' book about the Athenian navy was absolutely fascinating, and Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary, seems, after 90 pages, to be an emminently readable and timely look at, well, just what its title says.
I'll be looking forward to hearing what you have to say!
CASSANDRA'S 2011 BOOK LIST (click for lists from previous years) *=ebooks
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Tamim Ansary (current)
Middlemarch, George Eliot (current)*
Letters from Iceland, W.H.Auden and Louis MacNeice
Fight the Wild Island, Ted Edwards
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes (audio book read by Richard Morant)
The Wide, Wide World, Susan Bogert Warner
Vatnsdœla saga, from The Sagas of Icelanders
Egil's Saga, from The Sagas of Icelanders
Opening the World, Dale Favier (poetry chapbook)
The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje (audio book)
Open City, Teju Cole (rereading)
The Book of Ystwyth, six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Ice and Gaywings, Ken Pobo (poetry chapbook)
The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
Triplicity, Kristin McHenry (poetry chapbook)
Paper Covers Rock, Chella Courington (poetry chapbook)
The Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde*
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf*
I Stand Here Shredding Documents, Kristin Berkey Abbott (poetry chapbook)
Possession, A.S. Byatt
The Years, Virginia Woolf*
The Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett*
The Throne of Psyche, Marly Youmans
Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy. Adaptation for the stage by Mark Healy.
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett (reread on its centennial)*
The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt
Errata, George Steiner
Dark and Like a Web, Nic Sebastian* (poetry chapbook)
De Niro's Game, Rawi Hage
How I Became a Nun, César Aira
The Death of Tragedy, George Steiner
Phédre, Jean Baptiste Racine
Broken, Karin Fossum
The Redbreast, Jo Nesbo
The Sign of Jonas, Thomas Merton (rereading)
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Lydia Davis
To the Wedding, John Berger
The Jewel Box Garden, Thomas Hobb
Under the Glacier, Halldor Laxness
The Stone Raft, José Saramago
Home is Where We Meet, John Berger (rereading)
Human Chain, Seamus Heaney
Val/Orson, Marly Youmans
Independent People, Halldor Laxness
Open City, Teju Cole
Lords of the Sea: Athenian Naval Power in the 5th century, John Hales