Favorite Books of 2011

I had two sad little moments as I mentally went back through the year to tally up the best books I’d read to list on my last post of 2011. The first sad moment? I hadn’t read that many. Ouch. Just typing that makes me wince. I read lots of pages for research in 2011. Thousands of pages, actually. But that’s “work” reading, and this traditional year-end Best Books Of is always about the books I’ve read for pleasure. (Note to self: In 2012, find more time to read for fun.)

The second sad moment? I was hard to please this year. I am sure it was me and not my favorite writers who had issues. I am usually dancing with joy while reading Geraldine Brooks and Kate Morton and Elizabeth Kostova. Cases in point: I loved Brooks’ People of the Book and Morton’s The Forgotten Garden and Kostova’s The Swan Thieves. But I – gasp -didn’t swoon over this year’s Caleb’s Crossing, or The Distant Hours, or The Historian. I languished. Fell asleep at the pages. Actually put The Historian down one-third the way in and picked up something else.

Sad, sad. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Something’s up, though, and I’m going to have to figure out what it is. In the meantime, here is the list of the books I really enjoyed in 2011, and that I highly recommend. 

For an intriguing example of how to grab a reader utilizing a unique point-of-view, I recommend Room by Emma Donoghue. It’s told from the vantage point of six-year-old Jack, a child born to a  young woman kept hidden in a vault-like room by the man who abducted her years before. “Room” is his world, it’s all he knows. He doesn’t know there is more outside the Room and that he is kept hidden from it. The story is, thankfully, not truly about what his mother has had to endure, but how she managed to love him, care for him and educate him in the prison that is her world, without him knowing it’s a prison. You have to suspend some believability when it comes to his language as a narrator. Overall, a fascinating read.
Catching Fire is Book Number Two in the Hunger Games Trilogy; a YA (that’s Young Adult) series that a whole bunch of people my age devoured for reasons I am not quite sure of. I guess intriguing lit is intriguing no matter your age or the age of the protagonist. Not for the squeamish, Catching Fire is set in a dystopic future where cultural mores have gone to Hades in a handbasket. The stakes are high and the appeal to our deepest held moral values is strong. I wish I could say the third book in this series was a fantastic finish. But Mockingjay was one of the books in 2011 that disappointed me. The ending was satisfying but all that stuff in the middle (as in, plot for the number 3 book) failed to impress me. 

For a much less graphic read than either Room or Catching Fire, I highly recommend Chris Fabry’s June Bug. It has the same headlines-kind-of-story about a missing child but without the CSI-SVU-pick-your-initials graphic material unsuitable for tender eyes and ears. From the book’s publisher-supplied description: “June Bug believed everything her daddy told her. That is, until she walked into Wal-Mart and saw her face on a list of missing children. The discovery begins a quest for the truth about her father, the mother he rarely speaks about, and ultimately herself. A modern interpretation of Les Miserables, the story follows a dilapidated RV rambling cross-country with June Bug and her father, a man running from a haunted past.” Great book. 

Crazy Love
by Francis Chan is one of two non-fiction reads that made my list this year – a new thing for me. I usually just list novels as the fave reads. I’ve known for a long time that the way God loves us is unconventional and intense and amazing and perplexing. And that we’re called to love him back the same way – and others, too.  Love is an action, a verb, a perspective, a responsibility, a privilege. We think we know what it is, because we feel it. But love is more than a feeling, right? From the book’s description: “Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts—it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis Chan describes it, you will never be the same. Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.” Cool book.

Perhaps my favorite book – out of all the books I read this year – is Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. It’s the most poetically packaged non-fiction book I think I’ve ever read. So lyrically written, I couldn’t race through the pages; I had to read them slowly, sipping them like a glass of fine sherry. And it wasn’t just the beauty of Ann’s prose that wooed me, but the audacious concept of training my heart and mind to be thankful for a thousand little things. Gratitude is an attitude, but it’s more than that. It’s a lifestyle that, like love, changes everything. When you start to list all the little things you are thankful for, like thumbs and red-throated hummingbirds and warm socks and orange marmalade and misty mornings, you start to rewire your brain to be content with everything you already have – and everything you don’t. A powerful, powerful read. Highly recommend. And do not read it in a hurry. Think glass of sherry, not cup of Tang.

So there you have it. My list of the best of 2011. Here’s to a fine 2012, with many hours of pleasurable reading at its threshold. See you there…

Author: Susan

This post has 12 Comments

  1. Joanne Bischof on December 30, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I keep meaning to pick up a copy of One Thousand Gifts. I've heard it's amazing. Thanks for another reminder 🙂

  2. Marty Belle on December 30, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I love your review of 1000 Gifts. Perfect. I am crazy in love with Crazy Love. I think the trilogy of the Hunger Games is an exciting example of holding a readers fascination. Being a 60's kind've girl, I see it as a protest against war. The craziness of sending young people to die for political and financial gain, then to show it on TV and make movies about it for entertainment is not far away from the games these children are forced to play. To base it as the hungry people versus the fat overfed rings so pure. Young men join the armed forces sometimes because they are undereducated and have no other way to feed their families so they go valiantly to fight wars they do not understand. Sorry it just fell right out of my brain 🙂

  3. Caroline on December 30, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Crazy Love and One Thousand Gifts are on my to-be-read list, too! I appreciated your reviews here. Happy New Year!

  4. Marge Moulton on December 30, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    I highly enjoyed reading “June Bug” by Chris Fabry. It's a look into a different kind of lifestyle. I must get “One Thousand Gifts” now and also “Room.” Thanks for your recommendations, Susan!

  5. Clair on December 30, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    I liked June Bug and Crazy Love, too, though I read them both a couple of years ago. A couple of my favorites for this year are Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.

  6. carla stewart on December 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    I always look forward to your list, Susan! The only one I've read is June Bug and loved it. I, too, lamented the sad number of titles I actually read this. I think you'd like The Violets of March and The Language of Flowers (which I just finished this morning). Happy reading in 2012!

  7. carla stewart on December 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    . . . actually read this YEAR.

  8. Susan Meissner on December 30, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    Joanne: You won't regret it. Get it!
    Martysweets: You are an insightful soul. Let the thoughts fall!
    Caroline: Read them!
    Marge: You are welcome!
    Clair: You are the second person to recommend to me Prayers for Sale. Gonna have to get that one. I LOVED Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It was on my fave list of 2010~
    Carla: I enjoyed Violets of March very much and I've heard good things about The Language of Flowers. Thanks for the rec!

  9. Anonymous on December 31, 2011 at 8:23 am

    Hooray! I've been waiting for y our list, Susan! You've guided me to so many good books. I've read One Thousand Gifts and agree totally. Breathtaking, and one I return to for sips over and over. Also read June Bug (before I read Les Miserables) and sobbed at the end. Told Ed it was a terrible book because it was so powerful in its pain–but insisted he read it. Crazy Love is in my TBR stack, and it sounds like I'll have to get Rooms. A Sound Among the Trees is also in my TBR list!
    Thanks for guiding us to great books besides writing great ones!

    I, like you, have read less while researching more. But life goes in seasons, and perhaps a reading season will dawn soon.

    Wishing you many blessings in the new year, and Pastor Bob home soon.

    Mary Kay

  10. Joanne Bischof on December 31, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I finished The Language of Flowers also and got so into the story, I could hardly put it down. Glad to hear you like it too, Carla. I double the recommendation, Susan!

  11. April on January 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    I usually have a hard time trusting “best of” lists, but you started with two of my favorites for the year (I loved Room and the Hunger Game series). So I'm eager to read your other picks as well. Thanks.

  12. Susan Meissner on January 7, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Thanks for the rec for Language of Flowers, Joanne. I am going to have kindle that thing. April, nice to know we have the same literary taste!

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