5 Books I’ve Read plus 5 Books I’m gonna Read.

Hold on a second.  I absolutely cannot relax in unnatural fibres.  Hold on.

long pauseeeeeeeeeeeeee

O.K.  I just changed my sweater.  Holy crap, I haven’t worn acrylic since 1982.  I think it’s quite possible the sun is made entirely out of acrylic.  If I’m hot I can’t relax, and if I can’t relax I can’t write.  Writing’s not unlike pooping.  Any little thing can throw you right off.   And today, I’m writing about reading, so if I were hot I might get irritated and confused and read about writing which would leave you folks with a blank post.  Although after rereading my first few sentences here, reading a couple of chapters on how to write might not do me any harm.

My mother tells me I could read by the age of 4.   I’ve been reading everything that’s got in my way ever since.  (except chicken banning by-laws)  There are very few things in life that give me as much pleasure as a night table filled with a stack of books waiting to be read.  Conversely, nothing gets me more anxious and agitated than nearing the end of a book with no remaining stack in sight.  (except maybe an acrylic sweater)

The way some of you are always in a fit over what to have for dinner, I’m always in a fit over what to read.  So … I figured you too might be in need of some book inspiration.  So I have for you today a list of my 5 favourite books from the past year and 5 books I’m looking forward to reading this year.

I’ve included synopses from either the Chapters or Amazon online site so you get a basic idea of what the book is about.  Plagiarism in a post about reading and writing, is my gift to you.

 
Last Year
 

Blood, Bones and Butter  (non-fiction)

The Inadvertant Education of a Reluctant Chef

 

Blood, Bones & butter book with red cover and an upside down chickens head on it.

 

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.
synopsis from chapters.ca

The Help

 

by Kathryn Stockett

Cover of The Help written by Kathryn Stockett with a yellow background and illustration of small birds on a twig.

Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who”s always taken orders quietly, but lately she”s unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She”s full of ambition, but without a husband, she”s considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town…

synopsis from chapters.ca

Boy’s Life

by Robert McCammon

 

Robert McCammon delivers “a tour de force of storytelling” (BookPage) in his award-winning masterpiece, a novel of Southern boyhood, growing up in the 1960s, that reaches far beyond that evocative landscape to touch readers universally.

Boy’s Life is a richly imagined, spellbinding portrait of the magical worldview of the young — and of innocence lost.

Zephyr, Alabama, is an idyllic hometown for eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson — a place where monsters swim the river deep and friends are forever. Then, one cold spring morning, Cory and his father witness a car plunge into a lake — and a desperate rescue attempt brings his father face-to-face with a terrible, haunting vision of death. As Cory struggles to understand his father’s pain, his eyes are slowly opened to the forces of good and evil that surround him. From an ancient mystic who can hear the dead and bewitch the living, to a violent clan of moonshiners, Cory must confront the secrets that hide in the shadows of his hometown — for his father’s sanity and his own life hang in the balance….

synopsis from amazon.com

The Lacuna

by Barbra Kingsolver

In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.

Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico—from a coastal island jungle to 1930s Mexico City—Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence.

Meanwhile, to the north, the United States will soon be caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. There in the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself in America’s hopeful image and claim a voice of his own. He finds support from an unlikely kindred soul, his stenographer, Mrs. Brown, who will be far more valuable to her employer than he could ever know. Through darkening years, political winds continue to toss him between north and south in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach—the lacuna—between truth and public presumption.

With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place, and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver has created an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself. The Lacuna is a rich and daring work of literature, establishing its author as one of the most provocative and important of her time.

 

New York

 

by Edward Rutherfurd

 

Edward Rutherfurd celebrates America’s greatest city in a rich, engrossing saga, weaving together tales of families rich and poor, native-born and immigrant—a cast of fictional and true characters whose fates rise and fall and rise again with the city’s fortunes. From this intimate perspective we see New York’s humble beginnings as a tiny Indian fishing village, the arrival of Dutch and British merchants, the Revolutionary War, the emergence of the city as a great trading and financial center, the convulsions of the Civil War, the excesses of the Gilded Age, the explosion of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the trials of World War II, the near demise of New York in the 1970s and its roaring rebirth in the 1990s, and the attack on the World Trade Center. A stirring mix of battle, romance, family struggles, and personal triumphs, New York: The Novel gloriously captures the search for freedom and opportunity at the heart of our nation’s history.

Synopsis from amazon.com

This Year

 Steve Jobs Bio

by Walter Isaacson

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.

Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.

Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.

synopsis by amazon.com

The Book Thief

 

by Marcus Zusak

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

synopsis from amazon.com

Little House on the Prairie collection

 by … seriously?  Well O.k.  … if you really don’t know … Laura Ingalls Wilder

Set during the pioneer days of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books chronicle her life growing up on the Western frontier. For the first time in the history of the Little House books, these new editions feature Garth Williams’ interior art in vibrant, full color. Come along for the adventure with this collector’s set of the first fiveLittle House books.

synopsis from amazon.com

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

synopsis from amazon.com

The Night Circus

 by Erin Morgenstern

Cover of the night circus.

In this mesmerizing debut, a competition between two magicians becomes a star-crossed love story.

The circus arrives at night, without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within nocturnal black and white striped tents awaits a unique experience, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stand awestruck as a tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and gaze in wonderment at an illusionist performing impossible feats of magic.

Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is underway – a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in “a game,” in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.

synopsis from chapters.ca

 

 

If I’m being totally honest with you, 2011 wasn’t a good year for me and books.  I started a few I couldn’t finish.  Books I thought I’d love, but clearly didn’t.  Books by Ian McEwan, Jonathan Franzen, and old favourites like John Irving.  I’ll try them again later.  Except maybe the Jonathan Franzen.  I always give a book a second chance.   Except maybe Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.  Years ago, I tried to read Lonesome Dove.  A few times.   I hated that book.  I hated it the first 5 or 6 times I picked it up.  I always got to the same point in Chapter 1 and gave up.  This went on for years.  Then one day … I was in the right mood.  The right frame of mind for that particular book.  That book, that struggle of a book, became my favourite book of all time.

O.K. folks. Your turn. What’s your favourite book from last year?  You can lie to me if you want and just say  your favourite book in general ’cause there’s no way I’ll ever know that you didn’t read it last year.   If I ever find out though, I’ll forever think of you as a liar and banish you to the depths of hell.  Wrapped in acrylic. While reading Freedom by  Jonathan Franzen.

 

187 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    I fully realize that this thread is over 2(!) years old, but I saw this today and thought of you (see link–I promise it’s not spam or something that I’m trying to sell).

    http://kottke.org/14/09/pioneer-girl-by-laura-ingalls-wilder

    I know how much you adore Laura Ingalls Wilder. Hope you’re having a wonderful Friday!

  2. Emily says:

    Favorite book I read last year- Under the Dome by Stephen King

    Favorite book of all time- The Road by Cormac McCarthy

    Current Book I’m working on- The Complete Collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales

  3. Tricia says:

    Has no one mentioned the Book of Negroes? Great book! Also loved the Book Thief, A Fine Balance, the Shipping News, “The Girl Who Did Something” (what my kids call the series), the Cellist of Sarjevo, the Red Tent, People of the Book….the Night Circus was recently recommended to me as well as one about Madame Tussaud. The cheap side of me has been enjoying the free versions of everything Jane Austen that is offered on my ipad.

    • Karen says:

      Tricia – I think it was mentioned. I actually read The Book of Negroes (Someone Knows My Name) several years ago when it first came out. Then last year I ended up going to see Lawrence Hill speak at a synagogue, LOL. (he lives about 5 minutes from me) Definitely one of my top 10, possibly top 5 books of all time. LOVED it. ~ karen!

  4. Jesse says:

    I hope you get this but there are several more little house books. that one is not the complete set! :)

    • Karen says:

      Jesse – I know! Thanks. I got the set for Christmas and have just read the first 2. I read them all when I was young and I’m happy to report I don’t remember them at ALL. It’s like reading them for the first time all over again. :) I’ll get the other ones too. ~ karen

  5. Diane says:

    I just finished The Help. Awesome book…but again I was so very saddened by the lack of effort put into the movie.
    I’m about halfway through Steve Jobs biography and I have The Hunger Games waiting patiently on my Kindle.
    Do you guys read several books at once? Cause if you do, that is super talented if you ask me! I can’t do it. I’ve tried. I end up forgetting what happened in Book 1 while I was reading Book 2 and have to read the previous chapter of Book 1 before I can happily move on. :P And so on and so forth…lol

  6. Kimmie says:

    My favorite book of 2011, hands down, was THE CHRONOLOGY OF WATER by Lidia Yuknavitch.

    On another note, I have a problem. I run a bookstore and always have more unread books than I do read books. It’s the opposite of your problem, Karen. Someone should take all these books off my hands…

  7. Nicki says:

    Faves Of All Time:

    These Is My Words – Nancy Turner (At first it’s depressing, but push on through til December. You’ll know what I mean if you read it. You will NOT regret it. It’s wonderful. Easily one of my all-time faves EVER.) You will love it – especially if books like Lonesome Dove and the Little House books interest you. There are also 2 more in the series.)

    The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd (literary music.)

    The Blue Castle – LM Montgomery (written for an older “girl” and just plain fun.)

    The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield (wierd but a great book to get lost in)

    The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (I can’t say enough about the prose. SO incredible. SO worth reading just for the beautifully written words that create images that make up the simple story.)

    Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins (The last book is a bit disappointing, but the first 2 are pretty cool!)

    Happy 2012!

    I love your blog (btw) – and I love YOUR writing! You always make me laugh! I hope you wouldn’t mind if I mentioned your blog (with a link) on mine sometime? I love your dollar store genius crafts and the way you write! Keep it up!

  8. Chancy says:

    I just finished The Night Circus and really, really enjoyed it. It’s just magical. Blood, Bones and Butter is on my to read list.

    My fave books this year were:
    The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet – Reif Larsen
    The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson
    The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
    The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

    I have a goal of reading 4 books a month every year. I’ve never made it but most of the time I come close. And I’m seriously thinking about buying The Little House on the Prairie series to reread it and have it for my collection thanks to you. I loved those books in my youth.

  9. Shannen says:

    You should read “The Third Eye” by Lobsang Rampa – This book is an “eye”-opener (pun may, or my not be intended) and is controversal…both make for the perfect read!

  10. deb says:

    Karen, thanks for starting this conversation! What a resource for readers!
    I have read many of the suggestions- but so much more out there I’ve missed. “Freedom” by Franzen? Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m not a book burner!

    Currently reading ” Catherine the Great” by Massie. Rich and reads like a novel. Thanks to all for the suggestions- Happy reading in 2012

  11. Stacy says:

    Lots of good reads on here!

    My two personal two favorites:

    The Glass Castle
    The Peaceful Warrior

  12. Liz says:

    I read The Night Circus and The Hunger Games both last week. They were EXCELLENT! Read The Book Thief last year. You’ve got great picks for this year so far! If you haven’t already read them, Pillars of the Earth and the follow up, whose name escapes me at the moment are favorites of both my husband and myself. My husband was not a reader but after introducing him to Pillars of the Earth, he has devoured everything Ken Follett has written.

  13. Tracy says:

    The Book Thief is a GREAT read; I’ll bet you’ll love it! I also read The Help and rushed out to see the movie almost before the last page was turned. I had kind of a dry year, though, otherwise; not too many other books I read would be high on my ‘to recommend’ list. I’m adding Night Circus to my nightstand, too.

  14. judy says:

    UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit) Soo good what an inspriation!

  15. Trinity says:

    Nobody mentioned “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery!! Or I didn’t see it listed. It’s a WonderfuL book.

  16. Susie says:

    A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

  17. Charity says:

    Last year I stumbled upon “Beginners Greek” by James Collins and I LOVED it!

  18. Louise says:

    My favourites of 2011:

    The Help
    Island beneath the sea by Isabel Allende
    Last night in Twisted River by John Irving

    And I also hate wearing acrylic sweaters ;) I wear natural fibers as much as I can

  19. Paulina J! says:

    I’m definitely being out-read!! I need to catch up with you guys! Last year I was on a classical kick and read:
    Jane Eyre (my favorite)by Charlotte Bronte
    Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
    Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
    Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
    Emma by Jane Austen
    Persuasion by Jane Austen

    Maybe this year I’ll read something from thsi decade :)

  20. Pam says:

    Past, just Finished “An Hour Before Daylight” by President Jimmy Carter. It’s about his life growing up on a farm. Makes you believe you CAN become President!

    Present, am in the midst of “My Life in France” by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme. Makes me want to cook, cook, cook.

    Future, have on order “Catherine the Great” by Robert K. Massie and “Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone” by Johnny Ramone. Not sure what will happen after these two!

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