Monday, January 02, 2012

Favourite Books Read in 2011

I have long been a slow reader. Twice I have read books about speed-reading (including a pretty decent one I read in 2011 year called “Remember Everything You Read” (Stanley Frank) - while practicing the techniques has helped me speed up my reading a bit, I’ll admit that I haven’t spent enough time practicing the techniques to be more proficient at reading faster. I sink back down to my normal slower reading rate -- which has increased a bit in the past few years, but is still not where I’d like it to be. 

(Heck, I’d love to be able to polish off a 300 page book in half an hour so I can begin to consider getting caught up on the massive “to read” list that grows faster than compound interest on a gigantic loan)

But I did okay this past year, all things considered.

Here are a few of the simple “rules” I consider for my list.

a) The book has to be completed within the year. So, if I started it the previous year it only counts when I actually finish reading it.
b) This is a list of books I read in 2011 - so it doesn’t matter if the book wasn’t published in 2011 - this isn’t one of those “best of 2011” lists - it’s a personal list.
c) I don’t count the tons of children’s picture books that I read to my son. Not because I don’t think of them as books - they ARE books and they’re FANTASTIC books - but, because we consume so many of them I’d not likely be able to capture all the ones read, which would make for a pretty useless list. I DO, however, count mostly text based young reader and young adult books read - usually because they’re not books that can be read in a single short sitting -- ie, they take longer to consume and thus aren’t likely to be missed on my list.

Within a few days of finishing a book, I have begun to make a few quick notes about the book in a personal notebook -- that way I can remember a little something about them later. Yes, because I’ll often forget many intricate details about a book, even a book I adored!

Before I dig through the list, here are a few stats:

I read 47 books in 2011.
Of the books I read, 20 of them were audiobooks (43%)
Of the books I read, 10 of them were ebooks (21%)
Of the books I read, 14 of them were non-fiction (30%)

Bossypants - Tina Fey

Wonderfully self-effacing biographical sketch of Fey’s childhood and her move into the spotlight. I enjoyed the behind the scenes of writing for SNL sketch comedy and 30 Rock (a show I’ve never watched but plan on watching now that I’ve read a bit about how she developed the show).  I also love the  fact that she’s so wonderfully NOT full of herself. I listened to an audio version of this book read by Fey -- that was a great experience, but I also love the fact that she modified the audio book slightly in certain places to acknowledge this was indeed an audio book (spots where, in the printed text, she would be referring to the experience of reading printed matter) - I love that self-reflective manner.

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

I  absolutely adored this escape back into the 1980’s. In a nutshell, this  near-future science fiction novel involves the desire to solve a series  of riddles buried within “easter eggs” in a virtual social networking world to earn incredible riches. Much of the virtual world is inspired from countless 1980’s culture references - movies, video games, music, etc. Solving the riddles properly involves intricately knowing the 80’s.  In a review I posted on my blog a few months ago, I described this as a
 “bookgasm” for 80’s culture geeks like myself. I particularly enjoyed listening to the audio version of this book read by Wil Wheaton and was delighted to learn that the rock band Rush plays a prominent role in the  solving of the mystery within this book

Tuesdays With Morrie - Mitch Albom

Yes,  it took me 13 years to get to this much talked about book. What a wonderful introduction to this author’s writing. The book is about Albom  reconnecting with a mentor from his college years, Morrie Schwartz.  Schwartz is dying of ALS and the two meet on Tuesdays, just like they
did 20 years previously.  It’s interesting to see how the reconnection to his mentor helps shape and improve Albom’s own approach to life. The world could certainly use more of Morrie’s incredible perspective.

The Reversal - Michael Connelly

A fantastic novel certain to be enjoyed by anyone who likes the Law & Order format. I’m a huge fan of Harry Bosch but also a fan of his half-brother Mikey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer). This novel is a great cross-over between Connelly’s two main recurring characters and brings Mickey Haller back to the type of situation he faced in the first Lincoln Lawyer novel. This time, though, Haller crosses the aisle and sits with the prosecution. That alone offers some interesting fodder which Connelly works to the max. Simply, Connelly delivers a solid, tight and intriguing story.

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

I’m trying to make a point of going back and reading more classic works. What a wonderful treat. I read Grapes of Wrath back in university and loved it. I also loved this incredible story about Lennie and George. I most most bemused to learn that the Abominable Snowman character on the old Bugs Bunny cartoons was inspired by Lennie -- fascinating how many reference are out that that we don’t get until we consume classic literature. I will certainly be reading more Steinbeck in my classic novel reads.

The Guardians - Andrew Pyper

Amazing novel that reminded me a bit of Stephen King’s IT - at least in terms of structure. The novel is as much about a supposed haunted house in a small town as it is about the life-long texture of male relationships. It is as much about the secrets and strangeness of a small northern town as it is about the old “haunted house” that virtually everybody remembers from their childhood. This novel not only addresses universal truths but it keeps the reader on the edge of their seat in suspenseful anticipation. Pyper, in many ways, is a wonderful “gateway drug” for those who normally only read literary contemporary fiction to escape into thrillers and suspense novels.

Far and Away - Neil Peart

I have already reviewed, in detail, what I loved about Peart’s biographical coffee table book. Of course, I first read the book as a digital ARC, and a version of which simply did NOT do it justice. Apart from the great travelogue style essays written by Peart are some wonderful photographs that accompany the stories. When the book was released I purchased the hardcover immediately because I wanted to see the book the way it was meant to be seen (ironically, the book is a collection of blog posts, so it’s not like I couldn’t go read it online - but, compiled into a book, it’s something fresh and new). I’ve since checked the book out on Kobo Vox (the new colour reader from Kobo - and it renders quite beautifully in that digital format - it looks pretty good on the regular Kobo Touch reader (black and white e-ink screen) - so I realize that the challenges I had with the ARC were related to the limited non-ePub format I had to download it and read it in

The Book of (Even More) Awesome - Neil Pasricha

I met Neil Pasricha at a CBA event this past summer and was blown away by the young man’s infectious enthusiasm and down to earth style. It’s no wonder his blog 1000 Awesome Things exploded into the stratosphere and landed him a book deal. Neil is an easy to like guy who is filled with graciousness and warmth. His small shots of positivity, his observations, which are Seinfeld-like in their manner, have a way of making the reader pause and say: “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I love that too.” Neil’s books are perfect gifts because of the manner by which almost anyone could and should appreciate all those great little things that make like so much better.

The Accident - Linwood Barclay

Barclay has mastered the “average Joe finds self in situation well beyond normal” in this thriller. When Glen Garber’s wife doesn’t return home from a night course she was taking, Garber finds himself thrust into an underworld of intrigue, lies and deceptions. When I read one of Barclay’s books I find myself compelled to keep reading for just one more chapter to see what happens next. His latest is, as his previous books, unputdownable.

Moonwalking with Einstein - Joshua Foer

I have come to enjoy non-fiction more and more over the past few years, particularly in audio books I’ve been listening to.  Foer’s book was not only a fascinating story of a journalist who finds himself compelled into a world he knew nothing about previously (the World Memory Championships), but a look at the “cultural” history of memory, the mind and the various scientific learnings and practices involved in sharpening one’s ability to remember. It is a fascinating read - I much prefer the personal journey approach to learning something about a new topic. For me this made it much more enjoyable to read than simply reading a book about learning Mnemonic techniques.

Worth Mention:
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami

I listened to most of this while running on a treadmill. Fascinating to listen to an author talk about writing and running and how the two things intermingle in his life. As a writer who is attempting to run as a method to stay in shape and help focus the mind, I found this fascinating and inspiring. Murakami also inspired me to continue on my quest to read more classic literature (as well as want to read a few of his novels, which I now have on my “to read” list.

Also Worth Mention:
Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer

I originally read this novel a few years back - but because I was asked to lead a local book club discussion about the book, I gave it another read. This time I listened to an audio version of the novel. I was reminded of the joys of re-reading a book I quite enjoyed. I have long recommended this book to people who think they wouldn’t like science fiction, and that worked wonders when the book club took that suggestion - they quite enjoyed the experience, and many of them have now opened their minds to science fiction and what it can be for the average reader. Sawyer is a wonderfully storyteller and I was glad I took the time to go back and re-experience one of his novels - this is a reminder that re-reading a book you loved is a worthwhile experience.

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