In this blog I will be posting regular reviews of books I have read recently. This being a new year, I thought I would start with a traditional “top ten” list. This run-down of the ten best books of 2011 should help you decide whether you share my taste in books and will want to follow my blog.
- All Clear by Connie Willis (Random House, 2011). I was so anxious to find out how this sequel to Blackout (2010) ended, that I bought it in hardcover. It was completely worth the money, although it is now available in paperback. The complex, funny, and heart-wrenching story of time traveling historians visiting World War II England began with To Say Nothing of the Dog.
- The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards (Thorndike Press, 2011). This was a discovery in the library Audio Books section, which I browse to find books to pass the time during my long commute. There was no time traveling, but the narrator uncovered some intriguing secrets hidden in the attic about her female ancestors in New York state a century ago. These revelations ended up having considerable impact on her present-day life.
- Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel by Susan Vreeland (Random House, 2011). I read this as an audio book also, after seeing its review in BookPage (available monthly at most public libraries). Like Vreeland’s other novels, it dealt with a subject I would normally not care much about, art. It was actually very interesting to learn about the process of making stained glass artwork. This book coincidentally shared several themes with The Lake of Dreams – working women at the turn of the 20th century, and stained glass artists.
- Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University by Gaye Tuchman (University of Chicago Press, 2011). When I read this book, I was almost convinced it had been written by someone who worked at my university, it so closely mirrored my experiences of the past few years. Basically it is about how American colleges are constantly “aspiring” to be bigger (have you noticed how former colleges keep becoming universities?). It also delves into the new corporate mentality that has permeated higher education and the problems it can cause.
- Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India by Miranda Kennedy (Random House, 2011). This book reads like a novel but is actually the memoir of a real woman journalist who moved to India to report independently. It offers a lot of detail about everyday life in India, such as what it is like to feel obligated to have servants when you have never had them before. It was a fascinating look at another country for someone like me who has never traveled abroad.
- The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith (Cengage GALE, 2011). I’m a big fan of all Alexander McCall Smith’s books, and I’m hooked on the tales of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in laid-back modern Botswana. This is the one where the assistant with the 97% from secretarial school finally marries her man, and of course, various mysteries are solved.
- Brilliant: the Evolution of Artificial Light by Jane Brox (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011). We all know Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but it was fun to be reminded that one of my own ancestors was involved in the story too. It was fascinating to learn about the many ways that people produced light before modern electricity existed.
- Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy (Thorndike Press, 2011). I always like to read the latest Maeve Binchy novel, because she describes life in Ireland so entertainingly. This book is no exception. The main characters in this book are new, but Binchy also thoughtfully includes several characters from previous books to allow us to catch up with their lives.
- The Land of Painted Caves by Jean Auel (Crown Publishing Group, 2011). This is the sixth book in the Earth’s Children series, and just as long as previous ones. The focus on cave paintings (in what is now France) was new though. Auel obviously does a lot of research, and writes a good story. I was interested to learn (elsewhere) that her fictional speculation that humans and Neanderthals interbred has recently been confirmed by scientists.
- A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Random House, 2011). The only reason this is no. 10 instead of no. 1, is that I haven’t actually read it yet. My daughter tells me that I have to read the four previous novels in A Song of Ice and Fire first; I have only read A Game of Thrones so far. But I am assured that it deserves to be on the list. For those of you who get HBO on cable, I understand that the series is now syndicated there.
The year 2011 was an unexpectedly good year for major motion pictures made from books. That means I saw 3 movies in theaters this year, which is a lot for me. First was The King’s Speech, one of the best dramatic films I’ve ever seen. Second was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, a fitting farewell to a wonderful fantasy series, and third was The Help, a very powerful drama about prejudice in the American South.
In closing I would like to pay tribute to one of my long-time favorite fantasy authors, Anne McCaffrey, who died in 2011. She gave me and my family many hours of pleasure with her books about the planet Pern and its dragon-riders.
Happy New Year, and happy reading in 2012!