On my bookshelf, 2011

So, last year I made it to sort-of 50 books. I’m not sure if I want to set a numeric goal for this year, because if I do I will never get round to reading Anna Karenina, Moby Dick or Gone with the Wind (although my motivation is a little on the low side for all of those anyway).

Who am I kidding? I’m far too competitive, even if it is only myself I am competing with. Full disclosure: this list (and last year’s) includes book I finished this year, even if I started them last year. That said, there will be books I start this year that I don’t finish until later, so it all comes out in the wash, or something.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer.

– 9/10. Difficult to know how this one can be topped. Oskar, the main character, is so very real and his story is haunting and heartbreaking, and I loved that it was long enough that you could really get into it – great book to take on holiday. It was a bit of a stretch that so much tragedy could have happened in just one family, but the story was so good, and so well-written, that I forgive it. I love how the different elements all tie up. I welled up several times at the end. Can’t wait for J Safran Foer’s next novel, and trying not to feel inferior about the fact that he’s only a year older than me.

2. Cupid and Diana, by Christina Bartolomeo

– 7/10. I was looking for a book set in Washington DC, and this one is infused with its setting, so I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, it’s chick lit, and no, I don’t read much of that particular genre, but it was funny and wry and there were some great observations on the life of an early-thirties woman trying to find love. The ending left me unconvinced, though – she had me rooting for a different one. I recommend this one for a poolside read in the summer.

3. Chapter after Chapter, by Heather Sellers

– 8/10 Inspirational and helpful, and tackles some questions that none of the (many) other books I’ve read about writing have answered. I liked the “nobody tells you” chapter – I feel better prepared for life as a writer now, though I still need to do the exercises!

4. Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart

– 7/10 I enjoyed this, and he writes well. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. It was a good read, though, and a scarily plausible prediction of America in the not too distant future.

5. The very thought of you, by Rosie Aliison

– 6/10. Not the sweet coming-of-age story implied by the title, the cover or the reviews. Still, I couldn’t seem to stop reading, so there must have been something about this book that I liked, and towards the beginning especially I found it quite moving. I love that she structured her book how I plan to structure mine. And gold star for not one but two mentions of Belgium!

6. Catcher in the Rye, by J D Salinger

– 8/10. I found Holden’s voice compelling and readable and I really liked him as a character wtih his wry observations, his recurring pet phrases and yes, even his negative outlook. The ending didn’t feel very satisying, but I think the book was more an insight into a character than a story with a definite beginning and ending as such. I liked it a lot.

7. Dog Days, by Ana Marie Cox

– 6.5/10. Not a book I’d lend to my mum or recommend to my pastor, or even normally read myself, but it was really useful research for my novel: another DC-based book with a great “sense of place”. And despite the mildly ridiculous plot it was a bit of a page-turner. I’m bemused by the title, though.

I was going to give it a lower rating so you could all admire my preference for literary fiction over chick lit, but the truth is, despite its mildly ridiculous yet oddly believable plot and language and erm, things, it was a bit of a page turner!

8. The American Future, by Simon Schama

9/10 I don’t read much non-fiction, and I certainly don’t read much history. I would read more if it was all like this, though it’s a slow burner: you have to be awake and able to concentrate for good bit of a time!

Schama is a master storyteller, weaving together the strands of history, and shedding light on current issues by drawing lessons from past events, but never in an over-obvious way. He assumes an intelligent reader, and I like that. I also particularly liked that he admitted that he finds it hard to square certain very positive aspects of true Christianity with his own worldview.

Oh, and he likes the word pyrrhic.I love words with odd spellings, so that worked well for me.

9. Florence and Giles, by John Harding

7/10. I really only read this because I was doing a book review – but can’t complain, there are worse ways to earn money! Not really my kind of book – it’s Gothic novel, and possibly more of a YA novel too, but it made interesting use of language and that’s always good to keep me reading. “Nothing prepares you for the chillingly ruthless finale,” says one review, and that’s about accurate.

10. Primary Colors, by Anonymous/Joe Klein

-8.5/10. I thoroughly enjoyed this – quality writing, a good story, a romantic subplot, and a genuinely unpredictable ending. I was a little confused by the many characters, though, particularly in the first third of the book.

11. Sammy’s House, by Kristin Gore

– 8/10. I loved this! Sammy’s Hill, which I read last year, was good, but this was a notch up from this. Sammy herself is fun and endearing and has lots of quirks I can identify with. I was really rooting for her and Charlie and I am normally quite scathing of happy endings so she clearly worked her magic. Plus, you know, the whole DC thing.

I think I said this about Sammy’s Hill, but it’s basically Bridget Jones meets the West Wing. These are both very good things.
12. The me I want to be, by John Ortberg

7/10. Eminently readable, though I enjoyed it less (and got less immediate pratical application from it) than his other books. But maybe that says more about where I’m at right now than about his book.

13. The People’s Choice, by Jeff Greenfield

This was, at times, an easy read, and at times I really needed to concentrate to understand the point he is making. And he is making a point: it’s a lesson in the oddities of the American electoral system as much as it is a novel, and there were way too many characters for me to be able to keep with them all, but I enjoyed it, and the ending was more satisfying than I thought it would be. The style is idosyncratic – he is consicously talking to and educating readers. I liked that, though I’m not sure I’d want to read a hundred novels in this style.
14. The Book Thief

haunting, beautiful, enchanting, heartbreaking. 9/10

15. The Privileges

I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this. I hope the ending is deeply meaningful and somehow passed me by, because otherwise it’s just weird.
16. I think I love you

17. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

18. When a Woman Trusts God

19. Living History

20. The Grapes of Wrath

9/10 This book epitomises what I love about literary fiction: lyrical, heart-breaking, deeply understanding of humanity. The only thing I didn’t like was the end – because it wasn’t really an ending.
21. The Finkler Question

6/10 There’s no doubt the man can write, and I enjoyed it at fast, but then it got darker, weirder, and more incomprehensible to those not versed in the intricacies of Judaism and the intellectual arguments for and against Zionism, and he lost me.
22. Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of?

23. Hostage in Hava

24. Know Doubt

25. Becoming George Sand

26. Bird by Bird


27. No Plot No Problem


28. Capitol Offence


29. The Audacity to Win









2 thoughts on “On my bookshelf, 2011

  1. nicdempsey says:

    I have to ask why did you find The End of the Affair, religious element "kind of false and exaggerated and a bit incoherent"?I didn't and I'm wondering if it's a Catholic thing

  2. Claire says:

    I just thought it was a bit random and weird! But now I can't really remember why! Sorry…

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