My Best Books of 2011

All over the book blogging world you will find book lists. For a reader, these are great fun to read and they are valuable sources of books to add to the ongoing TBR list. If you like reading book lists, check out Semicolon where Sherry has compiled lists from all over the blog world  along with her own recommendations for each blogger for what to read next.

First the numbers. This year I set myself the goal of reading a book a week or 52 books total. I fell short of the mark at 43 books but I’m ok with that. Unusually for me, I read more non-fiction (23 books) than fiction (20 books). Partly, that was because I read War and Peace and wouldn’t let myself read any other fiction until I completed it. Of the 20 fiction books I read, 9 were mysteries and 3 were classics. I knew I liked mysteries but I didn’t realize they were such a large percentage of what I read. For the full list and a brief thought on each book, you can look here.

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Best series I discovered. I think I actually read my first Louise Penny book in 2010 but I went back and read the rest of her wonderful Armand Gamache detective series this year so I’m counting it for this year. I love mysteries for the puzzles and suspense, but I also love them because the best series offer character development and storylines that have nothing to do with the mystery but have more in common with any good fiction. In many ways this series by Penny is cliched and somewhat unrealistic (the sensitive poetry loving detective, the small town where murder keeps happening over and over again, overly elaborate methods of killing people, etc). However, Penny does the cliches well. The books are well written and fun to read. If you enjoy a good cozy mystery, I’d recommend these. They don’t have to be read in order, but they will be more enjoyable if you begin at the beginning (with Still Life, pictured above).

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Best author I re-discovered. I’ve long been a fan of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers and I had these essays by her on education and theology on my to be read list for a long time. Reviewed here and here, I absolutely loved both of these books. If you like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, I think you’ll enjoy Sayers, who was a contemporary and friend of Lewis.

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Best book I hated. I disagreed with most of what Brian McLaren had to say in this book and I don’t think he’s a particularly great writer. But ultimately reading this gave me some insight into the emergent church movement and prompted me to do more study on apologetics and what I believe. Sometimes a book that you hate and find annoying can open your mind in ways that just reading books by people who you agree with cannot.

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Best book about books. This was a lovely surprise, picked up off the New Books shelf at the library on a whim. It’s a fabulous book about books and the writing life. And gave me much to add to my TBR list.

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Best Science Non-Fiction. As someone in the medical field, all three of these were absolutely fascinating. But I think they would be just as good reads for a non-medical person. Rebecca Skloot’s telling of the story of Henrietta Lacks is one of the best books about the intersection of culture and medicine that I’ve read.  Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus also looks at the relationship between culture and medicine with a look at the very timely topic of vaccines and the vaccine-autism controversy. Atul Gawande writes what is an ode to the lowly checklist in a way that is thought provoking and immensely readable.

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Best Non-Fiction (not science/medicine) It was definitely the year of great non-fiction for me. I’m sure Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken will be on many, many best books of 2011 lists. And deservedly so. It’s truly a story of amazing grace and I’m sure will stick with me for a long time. I suppose Moonwalking with Einstein could be classified as science non-fiction and Joshua Foer does do a great job of exploring what the brain is capable of through the lens of memory. However, I thought the issues he raises about educational philosophy and the human stories were just as interesting. However you classify it, it’s a great book.  I include The Lost Cyclist here although I don’t think it’s quite as good as any of the other non-fiction books I read. However, for me it was a nice window into a world I know nothing about.

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Best Fiction I finally finished War and Peace this year and it’s a classic for a reason. I actually preferred Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina but I was very glad I attempted and finished reading what I think is the more difficult book. I read very little modern fiction this year other than mysteries. Of what I read, Helen Simonson’s book about Major Pettigrew stands out as a little gem.

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Best Book I haven’t finished yet. I’m fairly confident I’ll finish this in 2011, so I’m including it here. This isn’t P.D. James’ best mystery. However, the combination of her writing and the beloved characters of Pride and Prejudice make for a delightful read. I’ll probably review it in full next week.

5 thoughts on “My Best Books of 2011

  1. I read The Checklist Manifesto this year and found it engaging and thought-provoking. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has been on my TBR list for a while now, but has finally made its way to my nightstand. And now I add a new book to my list: The Panic Virus. I’ve never really understood the anti-immunization stuff, but I think it’d be very interesting to read more about how the “panic” came about and how it has impacted the world. Thanks for your list!

    • I think you’ll like them both! The Panic Virus is written very much like a page-turner. There is a lot of good information but written in a way that is very easy and enjoyable to read.

      If you haven’t read other things by Gawande you might also like Complications or Better, both are essays about medicine that are wonderful and thought provoking.

  2. Ooh, one thing on my to-do list today is to get on a list for the PD James novel, if any of our local libraries have it. If not, it goes on my Amazon order when the Cybils shortlisted come out on Sunday!

    I love that you read things I wouldn’t normally pick up and make them very appealing!

    Congrats on War and Peace! That’s quite an accomplishment!

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