As a librarian-to-be, people are frequently interested in what I’ve read recently. It’s a stereotype that librarians are all avid readers, but a generally true one. For the past three years, I have set myself a yearly goal of new books to read: first 50, then 60. 2011 marks the fourth year of challenging myself to read 60 new books/fanfiction/poetry/plays. I enjoy this rule because it forces me to expand my tastes into reading things I might not otherwise have picked up.
This year, my list is particularly interesting because it makes it very easy to figure out where I was and what was happening when I read each book, a reflection on a year spent bouncing between four different cities in two countries. Therefore, I’ve decided to recap my 2010 booklist in narrative form in the hopes that it will be slightly more interesting this way.
I began the year by reading the latest in the Pink Carnation series, a set of historical fiction novels about spies named after flowers during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig, read in Delhi on a visit home from Bangalore. Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas was also read on that trip, but proved completely unmemorable.
Returning to Bangalore, I made good use of the excellent lending library down the street from my apartment. I thoroughly enjoyed I, Claudius by Robert Graves, the classic work of historical fiction about the Emperor Claudius, and found The Illuminator (set in pre-Reformation England with a dash of good old Catholic vs. Protestant conflict thrown in for good measure) by Brenda Rickman Vantrease to be quite enjoyable as well. Bluebeard’s Egg, a collection of unrelated short stories by Canadian author Margaret Atwood intrigued me, but also proved very confusing at times. I think this would be a fantastic book to discuss in a group setting.
IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black was borrowed from the well-stocked library of my former boss, a well-read and tremendously erudite man, and proved to be a horrifying, eye-opening read. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning how the Final Solution was implemented so efficiently.
February saw me return to Delhi to work from home, where I read The Art Thief by Noah Charney, an entertaining read for its details on the art world, but with a disappointing ending. Lustrum, by Robert Harris took me back to Ancient Rome to explore a period I knew surprisingly little about, the waning days of the Republic and the life of the great orator, Cicero. Another forgettable romance, this one a free e-book download, The Homespun Bride by Jillian Hart also made the list.
The end of March saw me in Bangalore celebrating the wedding of a close friend and the death of an online one, and while there, I finished two books: The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak and Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. I thoroughly enjoyed the plot of The Bastard of Istanbul even if I do find the whole “deep dark family secret” story-line overdone and trite, and really, what can you say about Pooh except to love it for its charming simplicity and evocations of childhood?
As the spring continued and I found myself increasingly enamored of the TV show Bones, I read ever more fanfiction and discovered some truly talented writers. However, I also managed to read more books, including The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto, which I found to be an interesting look at food but a tedious look at marriage and gender roles (seriously lady, relax. Just because you cook dinner a few nights more a week than you and your husband initially agreed to doesn’t mean you’re betraying the entire feminist movement). I also finally got around to reading Le Testament Français by Andrei Makine, a book I’d picked up in Paris at the famed Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in 2006. It proved to be a beautiful tale of history and memory.
Like many on my message board, I read the entire Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, which I enjoyed because I was a major mythology nerd back in the day, though I felt the plot to be a little lacking at times. Overall though, they were fun reads, and the series improved by the final book. Cairo Modern by Naguib Mahfouz offered a fascinating portrait of the lives of young Egyptian men, and Mistress of Rome returned me to Ancient Rome, this time around the time of Christ – a great, compelling story of betrayal, jealousy, infidelity and intrigue.
By June, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig (the next in the earlier mentioned series) took me to India at the time of the Maratha Wars, and marked the first book I ever read on a Kindle. The series has drifted even further from its original premise, to the point of being ridiculous, and I’m not certain I’ll read the next one. Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin takes place in medieval England and is a series centered around a medieval forensic scientist of sorts – funny, well-written, generally historically accurate and a good read. To Desire a Devil by Elizabeth Hoyt proved to be yet another forgettable romance novel, whereas Down Under by the inestimable Bill Bryson had me in stitches as he conveyed his sense of wonder at exploring the great continent of Australia.
July brought me back to America. I began by reading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, rescued from a friend’s discard pile, an emotional memoir about growing up with a disfigured face due to jaw cancer at a young age. My return stateside also brought with it glorious, glorious access to public libraries once again.
This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson helped get me pumped for beginning library school, and is a good overview of what it is that librarians do (another question I get asked frequently – though I personally know nobody on Second Life). Gwenhyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey was a great twist on the traditional Arthurian legend, made even better by her finding inspiration in an original text that referenced three Guineveres of Arthur. Middlemarch by George Eliot took awhile to get into, proved to be absolutely charming and delightful. It is now firmly on my all-time favorites list, and if I find the time, I would gladly re-read it.
Confessions of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado (sister to Sandra) told a life’s journey through food, complete with some delicious recipes I want to try soon. The Founding told the story of a fictitious medieval English family, and I thought it was a well-researched, believable story, and I’d like to check out the others in the series (by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles). I followed these two good books with Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (read for class), and I found myself shocked at how sanitized the Disney version is – Tinker Bell is a nasty, spiteful little thing, and there’s definitely some even odder gender/sexual dynamics at play in the book. Creepy. Next up, What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown. It seemed like it would be a fun read but it actually turned out to be one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Ghosts, time travel, and treasures hidden in the wall made for a completely ridiculous plot, not to mention Ms. Austen making barely a moment’s appearance in the book.
From here on out, most of my reading came from assignments for my children’s literature course, although I did manage to get some pleasure reading done as well. These included The Taming of the Duke by Eloisa James (who writes fantastic, witty, and unconventional heroines in the guise of Regency Romances), Midwives, by Chris Bohjalian which was a compelling read about a fictitious midwife who finds herself accused of manslaughter when a birth goes wrong, and Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, which was absolutely fantastic. A short, graphic novel about Iranian women discussing their sex lives, it was funny, poignant, and tremendously well-done. I have not yet read her more famous Persepolis series, but I fully intend to this year.
As my children’s literature course continued and we progressed to books geared towards older children, I read a variety of different books in different genres. Amber Brown is Not a Crayon by Paula Danziger is a sweet, poignant look at the perils of friendship in fourth grade, and Nina Jaffe’s The Mysterious Visitor: Stories of the Prophet Elijah recounted Jewish folktales about the prophet from around the world, accompanied by some beautiful illustrations. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse told the story of a young girl growing up during the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression in verse form, and I found myself pleasantly surprised by how absorbing I found the story. The Mzungu Boyi by Meja Mwangi captured the unlikely friendship between a white plantation owner’s grandson and the cook’s son in colonial Kenya, and did a great job of balancing the innocence of childhood with the brutal treatment endured by the Kenyans. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson was a touching story about a foster child with lots of spirit, determined to best the system, and Coraline by Neil Gaiman proved impossible to put down – creepy, well-told, and a brilliant twist on the age-old longing for different parents. Princess Academy by Sharon Hale came from my class reading list, but I read it on the recommendation of a classmate and thoroughly enjoyed it in an afternoon. The combination of Miri, the spunky yet disheartened heroine finding her path in life, the surprise sweet twist at the end, and the subtle Marxist commentary on the exploitation of the workers all made this a highly enjoyable read. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander bored me to tears, and to round out my class reading for the year, so too did Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry, which I found whiny and annoying.
My last two pleasure reads for the year were absolutely stellar. First off was the fantasy work Sabriel by Garth Nix, a wonderful tale of a young necromancer, and part of a trilogy I’m now in the middle of finishing up. And last, but not least, was Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, which did an excellent job of dealing with the sticky issues the French have with historical memory regarding the Holocaust. The marriage issues faced by the protagonist seemed irrelevant and a distraction, but the historical parts of the novel were extremely well done.
And there you have it. My year in books.