Okay, it’s not the official end of the year just yet, but here’s my list so far. It was a bit easier to compile than last year’s list, because I now keep a book journal, which allows me to report the following statistics:
Number of books read so far this year: Fifty-seven (not including the two novels I disliked so much that I couldn’t finish them)
Number of books read that I’d previously read: Seven (actually, there were more than seven, but I stopped noting them down in my journal, so most of them aren’t included in this book tally)
Number of Young Adult books read: Fifteen
Number of children’s books read: Eight
Number of memoirs read: Three
Number of other non-fiction books read: Nineteen
Number of graphic novels read: Three
Number of anthologies read: Two
Number of books by Australian writers: Fourteen
Number of books by British writers: Twenty-seven
Number of books by North American writers: Fourteen
Number of books by Scandinavian writers, translated into English: Two
Number of journals subscribed to this year: Two (Viewpoint on Books for Young Adults and Australian Author)
And now, here are the books I read this year that I loved the most. Note that none of them were actually published in 2011 (I’m still trying to catch up with reading from the nineteenth century).
Favourite Novel About Terrifying Creatures with Supernatural Powers
I don’t read many horror novels – if I want horror, I can just read the newspapers. However, Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist received a lot of favourable publicity when the two film versions were released, so I decided to give it a try and it was amazing. It’s incredibly gruesome, but the author does such a terrific job of narrating events though each character (even a squirrel, at one point – truly) that I could not put the book down. I must say, it doesn’t paint a very pretty portrait of late twentieth-century Sweden. Practically every character is desperately lonely, an alcoholic, a drug addict, mentally ill and/or a violent criminal, and yet all the modern-day villains (and there are many of them) have plausible reasons for their vile actions. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful story about two outsiders helping one another. I should also note that this is one of the few translated novels I’ve ever read where the prose was completely seamless, as though it was originally written in English – the translator of the edition I read (whose name I forgot to write down) did a wonderful job.
Favourite Novel About Victorian Clergymen
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope is a clever and very entertaining satire of church politics and middle-class English society – think Jane Austen with added snarkiness, or Charles Dickens without the sentimentality. I’m not sure who is my favourite villain – Mrs Proudie, self-appointed Bishop of Barchester, or the oleaginous Reverend Mr Slope, the chaplain who rapidly falls from grace after he gets tangled up in a few too many love affairs. There’s also a good BBC television series based on this book and its prequel, The Warden, with Alan Rickman as Mr Slope.
Favourite Short Story
‘Different for Boys’ by Patrick Ness (in Keith Gray’s YA anthology, Losing It) is one of the best short stories I’ve read in years. Vibrant teenage characters, a school that felt completely authentic, real sex and real heartbreak, lots of jokes, all in forty-four pages.
Favourite Graphic Novel
Admittedly, I only read three graphic novels this year, but Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds would probably have been my favourite even if I’d read fifty of them. It’s a loose modern adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd, set mostly in a writers’ retreat in rural England. There’s lots of biting satire about self-indulgent writers, academics, celebrities, middle-aged philanderers and ‘liberated’ young women, but the story is engrossing and includes a sad but realistic portrayal of disenfranchised rural teenagers. The art is great too, expressive without being too fussy (and is it just me, or does Glen, the American writer who’s moved to England, look exactly like Bill Bryson?).
Favourite Book About Punctuation
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, which I have previously discussed here.
Favourite Children’s Book
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce is the very best sort of children’s story – funny, exciting and moving. A bag containing thousands of pounds lands in young Damian’s lap, and he and his brother Anthony have only a couple of weeks to spend it before it loses all its value. They trigger hyper-inflation in the school yard, realise that material goods don’t buy happiness, and discover that trying to do good in the world is harder than it seems (for example, when they give a large donation to the Mormon missionaries down the street, the men spend it on a dishwasher and foot spa). Damian’s family are beautifully portrayed, but so are all the secondary characters – Damian’s long-suffering teacher, the local policeman, a lady who visits their school to explain about the introduction of the Euro dollar, the various saints who appear as visions to Damian, even the robber trying to retrieve his stolen money. Highly recommended!
I must also mention two other children’s books I enjoyed: The Secret Language of Girls by Frances O’Roark Dowell, about two best friends gradually growing apart during sixth grade, and Cicada Summer by Kate Constable, an intriguing time-slip story set in a drought-stricken Australian country town. (I also re-read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, which is still awesome.)
Favourite Book About Germs
I read quite a few ‘popular science’ books this year, some written by journalists, others by scientists, and I decided I much preferred the ones written by people who actually understood the science they were writing about. Anyway. Killer Germs: Microbes And Diseases That Threaten Humanity by Barry E. Zimmerman and David J. Zimmerman was a very clear, interesting account of the history of microbiology, with technical but accessible descriptions of how germs cause diseases. It did have an overwrought ‘We’re all doomed!’ chapter about bioterrorism and antibiotic-resistant bacteria and so on, and the edition I read was out of date (published in 2003), but overall, it’s very good. Also, it was written by science teachers who are identical twins (I’m not sure why the book pointed that out, but I couldn’t help imagining them as looking like the Winkelvoss twins).
An honourable mention in the ‘popular science’ category (although this book is not specifically about germs) goes to Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools Of Us All by Rose Shapiro, which examines a variety of ‘alternative medicines’ popular in the UK, ranging from chiropractic to homeopathy. The author points out that there is no scientific evidence to support most of these treatments, and she laments the money and time that the UK government devotes to ‘quack remedies’ that can be very dangerous (for example, chiropractic neck manipulations can cause strokes, and some herbal medicines contain toxic levels of lead and mercury).
Favourite Novel About Teenagers
I really enjoyed Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, a book about friendships between teenage boys – some gay, some straight, but all of them interesting, realistic characters. There was lots of humour and the story moved along at a perfect pace, but most importantly, it was emotionally resonant. I cried at the end, but I didn’t feel manipulated into it by some sentimental epiphany on the part of the characters, because their emotional journeys seemed real. I also liked that while being gay wasn’t ‘normal’ in this book, it wasn’t the cause of unending angst, either. Maybe the girl characters could have been nicer or had more depth, but overall, I thought this was a great YA novel.
So . . . I don’t seem to have read many new books this year – perhaps because I was so busy writing. I was reading online newspapers, magazines and blogs, but not that many books made out of paper (even though I don’t own an e-reader, iPad or laptop, and my only internet connection is extremely slow dial-up). I do have a list of To Read books for 2012, but it’s too long to type out, and I still haven’t read a couple of books from my 2011 To Read list.
I hope that you’ve all had a great reading year, and that 2012 brings you many entertaining and intriguing books!
More Favourite Books of the Year: