Here it is, the 6th Annual Year in Books!
(If you are interested in past years, you can conveniently find them all in Best Books Of The Year category)...
Also a tradition, my book cover collage from the past year:
This year's collage was a bit challenging. Granted all that I keep do and keep track of re: reading is a bit geeky, but I have to admit when I get close to the end of the year I am thinking about making this graphic and having it come out "right"... but 38 books didn't quite jive... but I don't think I did such a bad job with 2 rows each of 6 books, with a middle bulge of 7 books.
Here are this year's stats:
38 - Number of Books Read (tho two of them were Kindle singles with another short novella - more a short story than a novella! - so I'd really 'fess up to about 35 books, but let's say 38 "titles")
12,500 - Total Pages (my "goal" this year -- and likely going forward, well at least until I am retired and then can really read more, more more! -- is 12,000... so not bad, especially with another extended vacation this year)
79% / 21% - Fiction vs. Non-Fiction (pretty typical)
43% / 57% - Male vs. Female Authors (Believe it or not, for the first time in 6 years this is the first time I have read more by female authors than males... that always surprised me since I don't really consider myself a "macho" reader... early in the year, I had a streak of 6 books by female authors)
97% / 3% - Kindle vs. Non-Kindle (Almost had my first all-digital book year, but alas read one book in paperback... Death at La Fenice, the first of series of books set in Venice that was the only book in the series not available on the Kindle)
74% / 26% - Never Read This Author Before vs. Authors I Have Read Before (A bit higher on the new authors this year... had been 66% for the past couple of years... always looking for something or someone new!)
Each of the below book links go back to my original "review" if you'd like to learn more...
Non-Fiction Notables: With only 7 non-fiction books, there is not a whole lot to write about... but alas will still highlight the 4 stand-outs. Rafa by Rafael Nadal was pretty much your typical, standard, run-of-the-mill tennis autobiography -- which for me, meant it wasn't a very good "book" -- but Rafa, with all his quirks and insecurities -- is still a 5-star guy and certainly an anomaly in many ways for an elite athlete. For my fellow avid readers, there isn't a better love letter to reading than Nina Sankovitch's Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Nina sets out to read a book a day (yes, you read correctly!) as a way to deal with her grief over the loss of her sister. It's not a rote zip-bang-boom list of books read, but how books make us think and feel about our own lives.
Non-Fiction Runner-Up: While I got some grief in my household and by others who read the book for not rating it 5 stars, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand was still an amazing story of Louie Zamperini, a Olympic long-distance runner who ends up in WWII and into the Pacific Ocean... and into hands and prison camps of the Japanese... I dubbed the book, "Unrelenting." My verdict was the I respected this meticulously researched book more than I "loved it" or felt that I really experienced it... but that still puts it far and above a lot of books from this year (and years past, for that matter).
Non-Fiction Book of the Year: While I didn't feel it was a "knock it out the ballpark" year with my non-fiction reads, my top pick goes to a book that made me care about two things I never thought I would care about: the science of the ocean/weather and the world of surfing... which narrows it down to Susan Casey's The Wave. A literary combo of The Discovery Channel and ESPN it was a odd mix of a book, but compulsively readable.
Fiction Notables: On Goodreads, I had two books that I rated 5 stars for the year... one was truly 5 stars and, needless to say, tops the list... the other was one of my beloved round-ups from 4.5 to 5 stars... after that, I had 4 other books that I rated 4.5 but rounded down to 4... and honestly, even as I type this, I don't know how to order them.
But before I get there, I will highlight some other books that were all quite good but didn't make it onto this final list. First, the surprises... books that were critically acclaimed and/or award winners that didn't make the final cut. Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad pretty much won every literary award out there (including the Tournament of Books), but I just felt like I had better experiences with other linked-stories-as-a-novel type books. Pretty much anything Ann Patchett writes is going to get folks' attention, but State of Wonder was one of the biggest buzz novels of the year. While I think Patchett created one of the best characters of the year in Dr. Annick Swenson and a novel with great atmosphere (set in the Amazon jungle)... and while your limberness of believability is supposed to be tested here, I was just stretched too much and it didn't all quite gel for me in the end. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach topped Amazon's Best Books of the Year list... again, quite good and would make my Top 10, but not my Top 5. And just to wrap this up, others not making the cut, but on many other folks'/critics' lists: The Family Fang, The Leftovers, We The Animals, and Swamplandia!.
Okay, onto the Final 7... and figuring out which of the 6 books rated 4.5 stars to not make it to the the Top 3... and oddly enough, I am starting with the one that I bumped up to 5 stars, Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy. A bit less fresh than the first book, it was still a thrilling read that always wanting me to get back to it (and that means a lot!).
Likewise, How To Talk to A Widower was another amazing read from Jonathan Tropper... you may recall his This Is Where I Leave You was my top fiction pick of 2009. I sense if I had read this book first, I may have felt differently about that book... again, it's an instance where a bold and fresh voice isn't quite as bold and fresh the second time around... but again, amazing writing and amazing author. And I keep hearing his true masterpiece is The Book of Joe, which I will try to get to this year, so I another reason I am hedging my bets with this one.
One of the more surprising reads of the year was James Hynes' Next. I had never heard of this book, but it just landed in my lap when it was part of the Tournament of Books. It's definitely not a book for everyone... taking place over the course of one day, with a hecka lot of flashbacks, it's the story of the life of one man. The reader is lulled in with a lot of details and minutia, but one wallop of an ending.
Just missing the Top 3 cut is Amy Waldman's The Submission, a book that I thought might land near the top of the heap. It was a brash, multi-perspective post-9/11 tale of anonymous design competition for Ground Zero that goes to a Muslim-American. Provocative and testing even the most liberal thinkers, it was a great read... tho not quite staying with me as much as would have expected, and kind of wondering now how stereotypical it might have been vs. fleshed-out 'real' people, but still recall really liking it when I was reading it.
Are you still with me? Here's the Top 3...
Fiction Second Runner-Up: Just under the finishing line as a pre-Christmas read and perhaps getting that "late in the year" bump, Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending left me with more questions about the book and my own life than when I started. The story is of a man in his 60s looking back on his college days and his group of friends and a woman he dated... his past comes back to haunt him and a secret uncovered. Now, the plot is really not important here (at first, I was disappointed by the "reveal")... but the real story is how we remember things about other people and how our own memory, faulty at times, creates this very "shades of gray" narrative of our own life. Short in length (about 160 pages), but thought provoking enough to move it into the winners' circle for the year.
Fiction First Runner-Up: If you told me back in January while I was a couple of of hundred pages in, that this book would be my runner-up of the year, I probably would not have believed you. But I should know Barbara Kingsolver better by now and know she wouldn't disappoint me... and she ultimately didn't with The Lacuna. This book requires patience (something that I am re-learning with my epic first book of 20102)... and that's a good thing... in this age of instant information and gratification, sometimes a slow and deliberate book is a lot more rewarding.
Fiction Book of the Year: And speaking of a long and epic read, my no-brainer top book of the year was definitely all that... Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge. Very basically, the novel is about a Hungarian Jew in the years leading up to, during, and after WWII. Given his religious affiliation, you can imagine where this goess... but while a good chunk of this is a war novel, if that's not your thing don't be discouraged. The only quibble I had with it was the title - which while explained in a scene of the book - doesn't quite capture the scope and emotions of this novel... but I can't come up with a better alternative. The greatest testament I can give to Orringer is that she did make me feel the emotions of the main characters ... happy, hopeful, sad, betrayed, devastated... I kind of always (well, most of the time) thought I "felt" characters when I read books, but not to such an extent as in The Invisible Bridge. In another year of some great reads, to have one book kind of leave the other in the proverbial dust is saying something.