1. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
This was actually a re-read. I think I’ve read all of her books of essays twice now. And none of her fiction. I’m not sure why.
2. The New Testament
This was on my bucket list.
3. I Thought It Was Just Me But It Isn’t
The Gifts of Imperfection
I read these books back to back, after seeing Brown's TED talk. You know when you find a writer or a blogger whose voice is just so real and honest and funny, you wish she wanted to be your friend? Brene Brown is one of those writers and one of my better discoveries in 2011. Check out her TED talk about The Power of Vulnerability for an introduction.
Perfection. Probably my favorite book of the year. I (should probably be embarrassed to say) I knew absolutely nothing about Patti Smith before I read this. But it's worth noting that this is a standalone work of art that requires no prior knowledge or familiarity to enjoy.
*Dreamy sigh.* *Hearts swirling around my head.*
I wish they’d re-release this book under a different title. I can’t think of Taft without conjuring up the bemustached president or the boarding school, and this book has nothing to do with either. The subject matter was vastly different from other Patchett novels, but it was nonetheless excellent.
The Long Goodbye
I think what makes the best memoirs is the feeling that the writing isessential. Like the words had to be written in order for the writer to fulfill her mission on earth. Sometimes the memoir is the mission (see Ann Patchett’s brilliant, brilliant Truth & Beauty) and sometimes, as I believe is the case in The Long Goodbye, the memoir is a gateway the author needed to pass through. Either way, both author and reader are better off.
Say Her Name
Another grief memoir. (What the hell, self?) I’m sorry to say I had a tough time feeling this one. Goldman’s writing was elegant in places, but in others his ego would swell up and tromp across the pages, resulting in an overall effect that was uneven and, in moments, just flat out weird. Descriptions of the author’s post-loss sexual escapades, for example (ostensibly crafted to illustrate the depth of his grief and confusion) felt crass and gratuitous.
If you have even a passing familiarity with Jesus Christ, you might find the author’s “revelation” that helping others gives life meaning a little hard to take, but it’s not enough to dismiss this story of personal growth—and the movement it started.
The Memory Palace
I liked it. But I wanted to love it, because the author’s experience made for rich material. Somehow Bartok managed to write an entire memoir without revealing very much of herself.
I read this one for work, and it served its purpose. The overall premise being “Use social media to be helpful, and the business will follow.” Easier said and done if your business is knowledge/service oriented.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Daarrrrrrrrrk. Dark. Dark. And deeply disturbing. But so perfectly written, I suspect this author is an off-the-charts genius. And I never, ever want to meet her in person.
The Post Birthday World
An expert execution of a marital “What if” scenario. What if you chose to cheat on your husband, and what if you chose to resist? Shriver runs two perfectly rendered plot lines side by side to brilliant effect.
Beatrice and Virgil
My exact words when finishing this book: What the ever-loving fuckwas that? Call me if you know something.
The Possibility of Everything
State of Wonder
While this wasn't my all-time favorite Patchett book (and I've read them all), I really enjoyed it. You know when Vanity Fair does that Hollywood issue every year, and they give a handful of actors titles like “The Classic”, “The Ingenue” and “The Activist”, etc, etc? Well if they did the same thing with authors, Ann Patchett would be The Professional. The woman just doesn’t write a bad book.
The Weight of Silence
This one reads more like a movie of the week. There’s nothing groundbreaking about the writing, but it’s a solid, suspenseful and well-crafted page turner.
The Art of Client Service
A must-read for account service people in advertising—I’m surprised it took me this long to discover it. I usually abhor the plastic trendy BS of business books, but this one was useful and entertainingly written.
The War of Art
When more than one blogger whose writing you admire falls all over herself to recommend a book about writing, it usually means one of two things. Either the book is exceptional, or the blogger really likes the guy who wrote it. People praised this book up and down for its genius, and while there are a few morsels of insight bobbing around in there, the (mercifully short) book reads like someone’s unedited bedside dream journal. (The one they were only half awake when writing). Maybe it’s just me. Some artists arrive in your life at a time when you’re not of a mind to receive them. Like Gwen Stefani, for example. Or Lady Gaga. I'm, uh, happy that you like them so much, but they remain a question mark for me.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Funny. An entertaining and worthwhile read, which I wrote about here.
Paying full price for books makes me panicky, but I couldn’t walk away from the grand opening of Ann Patchett’s Nashville bookstore empty handed. So I grabbed the paperback edition of Open off a high shelf, vaguely remembering an interesting interview with Agassi and Terri Gross when the book first came out in hard cover. Agassi has an amazing story—but I was afraid his writing would suck . I was blown away—by the writing and the story, in equal measure. There’s a point (around the time he hooks up with Brooke Shields) where the book gets a little Hollywood tell-all, but still, it’s entertaining, and it doesn’t stay that way for long. If I were a douchey book blurber I’d used words like FIERCE and TRIUMPHANT to describe this memoir, and you’d think I was full of shit. But I’m not. Open is fierce. And triumphant. And one of the best books I read all year. I happen to love tennis, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a prerequisite to enjoying this book.
Kaui Hart Hemmings
Every page of this novel was perfect. And you'll know within one page whether you agree.
Heart of the Matter
Oh, sue me. Sometimes I crave a small dose of chick lit, and Emily Giffin is always a safe bet. If you can believe it, I have criteria for this genre. (Standards, I tell you!) I don’t do funny fat girls with great taste in shoes. Or single women with horrible taste in men. Or just-shy-of-chic Manhattan <publicists/magazine editors/advertising execs> who save the day at work, show everyone how smart they really are, get the guy, and score themselves AND their plain-Jane sidekick the promotions and makeovers they both so readily deserve. Giffin does high-concept plots featuring flawed but sympathetic characters, and while it's not deep, she writes like a grownup. A grownup who found a formula that works.
The Hunger Games
With less than 48 hours left in 2011, I asked my Facebook friends for reading recommendations. Over the past year I’ve heard dozens of people rave about The Hunger Games, and I’ve always dismissed it, because it’s Young Adult fiction and dammit I want to read big-girl books. But when one friend, who has always told me that he hates to read, commented that The Hunger Games made him a reader, I figured I owed the book a chance. And it was worth the read. Fast paced and entertaining, good characters, a fun plot. It reads like YA fiction, which is to say the text is stripped down to the bare essentials (probably another reason why so many people enjoyed it), and the plot turns were predictable, but it doesn’t really matter. It was a lot like watching a Hollywood blockbuster, in your brain.
So that's it. Please, please hit me up with your favorite books of 2011--I never tire of this topic. And happy reading in 2012.