I’ve kept a journal of the books I read since I graduated college. This year, I started blogging my book reviews and actively using goodreads to track my reading choices. While I’ve never officially done a best of the year list before, I have thought about my favorite books of the year. In 2011, I’m making it official.
I’m calling it my favorite reads because I’m including books I read in 2011, rather than books published in 2011. Here they are, in the order that I read them.
Traister covers the gender and politics of the remarkable 2008 Presidential campaign from the young women bloggers of John Edwards’ campaign to :::shudder::: the Palins. I followed the 2008 campaigns closely, but it was still remarkable to me what hadn’t registered, or how my perspective changed now that I wasn’t in the midst of the events described. As I said when I finished, “For those interested in gender and politics, current events, modern history, political campaigns, gender and culture, women’s studies, or damned good nonfiction, I highly recommend this book.”
I knew as soon as I finished that this would be one of my favorite reads of the year. It also brought me to the Unabridged Chick’s blog, and after writing to author Michael David Lukas, I received a lovely reply from him thanking me for my note and my review on my blog. A triple gift from our protagonist, Eleanora Cohen. If you haven’t read it yet, I really don’t know what you are waiting for. It’s magical and enchanting, and if I were ranking, it would by far be my favorite read of 2011.
Maybe you’ve noticed: Disney Princesses are taking over. The Disney Princessification of America is the primary topic of Orenstein’s “Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture,” but she also addresses Carol Gilligan’s theories of sex and gender, American Girls, and pre-school cross-gender play.
Perhaps I’m more attuned to it now, but it seems there’s a lot more talk about gender and toys, like young Riley’s explanation of marketing (aka, tricking the girls into not liking superheroes) and the quest to #LiberateLegos. Three cheers for that.
Somehow, I missed Sarah Addison Allen. Problem solved. I read three of her novels this year (The Peach Keeper and Garden Spells as well), though The Girl Who Chased the Moon, like a first love, is my favorite.
The setting is the small town of Mullaby, North Carolina. It’s home to lovable eccentrics and misfits, like the gentle giant and the woman who bakes feelings into food. It reminded me of a softer, more relaxed Stars Hollow, which is always a good thing. Our titular character is Emily Benedict, who has moved to Mullaby hoping to learn why her mother fled the town so many years before. She eventually finds answers, and more questions, as mysteries are a way of life in Mullaby. It’s a lovely novel and like all the best things in life, it’s sweet, simple, and magical.
Our story begins several thousand miles above the Atlantic Ocean as 11 sedated South African elephants are transported from the wilds of South Africa (where they would almost certainly be killed) to America to begin new lives in zoos. Half the elephants are headed for Lowry Park, the Tampa, Florida, zoo journalist Thomas French chronicles in this remarkable story of animals, both human and nonhuman.
I love zoos; it is rare that I make a trip to D.C. without returning to the National Zoo, and I’m adding Lowry Park to my to-visit list.
You think you know about Cleopatra, but most of what you think you know is wrong. We don’t know what the most beautiful
woman in the world looked like, and the asp thing? No actual evidence. She was the victim of a smear campaign by Roman men. Fortunately, Stacey Schiff has set the record straight.
When I think of Cleopatra and Schiff’s biography of her, the most apt word is masterful. When I finished reading, I began writing all the traits and attributes of Cleopatra I either admire, or believe to be strong components of her personality. Here’s my list: Strategic first, diplomatic second. Charming. Intelligent. Educated. A linguist. “Faced with the inevitable, she will counter with the improbable.” Decadent *and* intellectual. A self-assured leader. Formidable. “Spirited, disciplined, resourceful.” Opportunistic and canny. Masterful. Incomparable.
At one of my book club meetings this summer, we were discussing some of our favorite books and authors. After I raved about Amelia Peabody and her adventures, one of the other members suggested I check out Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series. Track of the Cat is Anna’s first adventure, and I’m so glad I’ve found this series. Pigeon is a park ranger and each book takes place in a different National Park. Track of the Cat is set in the West Texas park of Gudaloup Mountains, a beautiful and wonderful setting for a New Englander like me to visit. I did a Teaser Tuesday post for Track of the Cat, and if you like mysteries, I highly recommend it.
I still miss the Atwater family. I read a chunk of The Little Women Letters while weathering Hurricane Irene; it’s a perfect rainy afternoon read. Curl up with a cup of tea and the Atwater sisters, Emma, Lulu and Sophie. The highest praise I can give is that when I finished, I wasn’t ready to leave the mood of the novel, so I began rereading from the beginning.
Her style is different from Michael David Lukas’ (whose prose I loved), but I also adored Waldman’s prose. Her writing is brilliant, yet subtle, and The Submission is a work of greatness. I’ve been disappointed not to see it on more Best of 2011 lists, and wonder if some are avoiding it because it addresses 9/11. The Submission is more about what comes next. One of my favorite novels is The Good German. The tagline for the mediocre film was “If war is hell, what comes after?” The Submission is what comes after: what kind of culture are we? What kind of people are we? What kind of memorial will we build? It’s not haunting or melodramatic, though it is meaty. It’s not a beach read. It’s a novel meant to be savored and pondered long after one has read the last page.
A plane of teenage beauty pageant contestants crash-lands on a desert (though not quite deserted) island. It sounds like the set up for a joke, and Beauty Queens is laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s also a brilliant novel. It’s biting satire, and wickedly funny, but it also has heart and is uplifting. It’s a hugely entertaining novel that also happens to address transgender issues, feminism, sexual orientation, sexuality, race, gender, empowerment and consumerism. Too many people will dismiss this as a teen novel, which is a shame, because these issues aren’t confined to the teenage years, nor should teens be the only ones enjoying the wicked wit of Libba Bray.