Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Books of 2011

At one point, when I had a lot of time (seriously, when was that?), when I read a book, I would instantly write a review of it. It allowed me to reflect on my thoughts about the book and share them with others.

It has been over a year since I have shared any book reviews. I kept thinking that I would catch up. But I found that months after reading a book, the details, both of the story and of my thoughts, have faded. There as no way to make an single post for each book. So, instead, I will review the books I remember reading in 2011 (and maybe 2010 as well).

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Set in 1960 Jackson County, Mississippi, this amazing book follows a young white woman who decides to tell the stories of black maids. These amazing women are at first hesitant to share their stories. Stories that have to do with the shame of having to use separate bathrooms, of leaving their own families to work for wealthy white women, of the abuse and death of their loved ones. Slowly, Skeeter, the free-thinking, spirited white girl, gains their trust and their stories. As she does so, she comes to realize that these women see every thing, they know every thing about the families they serve, but they are not granted any respect. How can they raise white children, only to have those children grow up and treat them the same way their parents did?

This book was absolutely amazing, the best book I read all year. I always feel proud of myself for reading books before they were made into movies. This book, I just felt proud to have read.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

Ready to start a successful career, Jacob Jankowski suddenly finds himself struck by tragedy. In his desperation to escape, he jumps aboard a train. Chance would have it that is a circus train. Jacob slowly become a member of the circus as the keeper of the animals. However, he also becomes involved in the lives of the circus members themselves. There is brutality, selfishness, and greed, anything necessary to put on a good show. Jacob, the only character who tries to remain good, is often the victim in this story that is so much more than just a circus novel. This book was full of beautiful details about post-Depression circuses, alive with color and sound and activity. Although at times it was a little overly explicit, it was still a fun read.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
What does it mean to be wicked? Is good and evil just like history, dependent on who writes the story? That theme is at the heart of this amazing novel, set in the land of Oz, well before Dorothy ever arrived. Told from the view point of Elphaba, a green skinned girl, who, because of her obvious differences, is an outsider from the very beginning. Through her eyes and through her life, we are given a very different Oz, one where the Wizard of Oz is politically corrupt and attempting to create inequalities for talking animals and Munchinlanders. Elphaba does her best to combat the inequalities. And we cheer her on, because she is not the Wicked Witch of the West, but a brave, independent woman. However, she finds herself on the wrong side of history and is destroyed by a little girl with red shoes. Dark and serious, full of commentary on religion, politics, and concepts of fate and free will, this book is worth the read.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Just before the Earth is destroyed, Arthur Dent is saved by his friend Ford Prefect, someone he assumed was human, but is actually a researcher from another planet. Faced with being planetless, Arthur travels along since Ford throughout the galaxy, from one strange adventure to the next, along side characters such as Zaphod Beeblebrox, the eccentric President of the Galaxy, Trillian, a human like Arthur, and Marvin, a depressed robot. I adored this book, full of wry humor and commentary on the search for the meaning of life. After all, how many books will give you the answer to the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything?

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Set in World War II Germany, The Book Thief is the story of Liesel, a young foster daughter of poor parents. With no money and little happiness, Liesel attempts to improve her life by stealing, not money or food, but books. Reading these books, along with listening to her father's accordion's music, Liesel is able create some joy, a sense of normalcy. But the narrator of the book belies any joy that might be found in the story. For the narrator of the story is Death. When Hilter is taking over the world, and there is a Jew hidden in the basement, and a girl is stealing books, Death is an appropriate narrator. This book is heart-wrenching, beautiful, and worth reading.

Those were my top five books this year. I know I read more great books, but I just can't remember.

Other books I read but didn't enjoy that much:

The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell: This book attempted to be what Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons were, but fell well short. Based on an interesting premise of an ancient writing holding valuable secrets, this book made several mistakes. First, the ancient writing was obscure and not one that any casual reader would have heard of or be interested in. Second, the book failed to make any point as to how the hidden secrets might have any relevance to modern life.

The Maze Runner Trilogy by James Daschner: I read this in an attempt to fill the void left by finishing The Hunger Games. And I think the author also desperately wanted to do this. While the first book starts out just fine, the entire series based in a futuristic world plagued by a horrible virus falls flats. It attempts to examine themes of human experimentation, the concept of the greater good, and effects of biological warfare, but comes off disconnected. Many parts of the story never come together, are never explained, and the greatest mysteries remain just that.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan: A post-zombie apocalyptic novel, literally, this story follows Mary, a girl growing up in an isolated village surrounded by a zombie filled forest. This book, and the other two in the series, are everything a zombie novel should be. A little scary, a little gory, and a little romantic. But they never jumped from being those little things to being big anything.

Trying to remember all the books, let alone the details of the books, was difficult. Next year, I'm going to do a better job. Or just read fewer books.

What did you read this year? What books did you love and what books did you hate? What should I read next year?


  1. For some reason I love reading books before watching movies on it. I even pledged to do so on

  2. I LOVED The Help and The Book Thief. Two of the best books I've read in a long time. I remember liking Hitchhiker's Job years ago, but I need to read those again. Water for Elephants is on my shelf and I plan to read it soon. As for Wicked...I liked the overall idea of the story, but I got bogged down in a lot of unnecessary exposition, which made it hard to read.

  3. In addition to trying to pick at least a few off the shelf I read, Ender's Game (at last!) And picked up some old favorites; Freckles (read aloud with all the voices- we had such fun!) and Pilgrims'Progress

  4. With your schedule, when do you find time to read?

    I've read most of your top books of 2011 and I agree, all good, except I haven't read Wicked. I did the Broadway show (which I was so-so about). Maybe I'll pick up the book.