December 22, 2011

Quirky Bookworm's Best of 2011 (Part 1 of...?)

I've read 124 books so far this year. I'm going to attempt to sum up my favorites, although this may be brutally difficult. A numeric ranking was too hard, so I'm doing it superlative style. I think there will be three posts with my overall favorites, and then one final post with my best fiction and best nonfiction pick for the year. Unless the stress of narrowing them down drives me to despair first.

With no further ado, here are the first batch of nominations for the best books I read in 2011.

Most Addicting: The Hunger Games trilogy. I started book one while at my grandparents' condo in January. I finished it about three hours later. The moment we got home I checked the library website, and there were more than 200 holds on each of the later two books. Cue sadness and despair. But then I queried Facebook, and luckily had a co-worker willing to bring them to me at work the next Monday, huzzah! I don't really think you need a review, because you've probably heard about The Hunger Games a million times already, but Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm summed it up almost the same way I would have.

Best Re-Read: the Anne of Green Gables series. See, look how I'm cheating already. Three Hunger Games books and eight Anne books, for my first two nominations. But I haven't read these books in at least a decade, and I really enjoyed them -- particularly Anne of the Island and Rilla of Ingleside. I love L.M. Montgomery's way with words, and how vividly she brings turn-of-the-century Prince Edward Island to life. Reading the whole series gave me new appreciation for her ingenuity, because even the vast numbers of minor characters are well-sketched, and she rarely repeats character traits. As a mom I also appreciated the later books in the series more than I used to--the exploits of Anne's six children in Anne of Ingleside and Rainbow Valley are lots of fun.

Best Memoir: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I avoided this book for way too long based on the hype. (Yes, I am the kid that refused to read the Babysitter's Club books just because everyone else was. And I'm still avoiding The Help.) But, I'm so glad that I did read The Glass Castle. Jeannette Walls shares in gut-wrenching detail the story of her upbringing with her brilliant, itinerant, alcoholic father, and absent-minded, artistic mother. They lived in awful poverty, and yet in a way she had a beautiful childhood. It boggles my mind that anyone could let their children struggle through life like that simply because they weren't inclined to work a 9-5 job, but Walls does an excellent job of portraying the nuances of her parents, so that you don't hate them in spite of everything.

Most Likely to Make Me Clean My House: Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider. This book is a great guide to de-cluttering, retraining your brain to think in minimalist fashion, and just generally simplifying your life and possessions. It has inspired me to glean through collections of books, CDs, and toys, and get rid of many things. Read my full review here.

Best Use of the Transcontinental Railroad: The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell. I was kind of annoyed with how Mankell ended the Wallander series (after reading 10 books starring Kurt Wallander I was invested enough that I wanted a happier ending), but luckily I decided to give The Man From Beijing a chance. A village in northern Sweden is the scene of a terrible atrocity: nineteen people are brutally murdered. Judge Birgitta Roslin is shocked to find out that her adoptive grandparents, the Andréns, are among the dead. Soon she finds out that an Andrén family living in Nevada has also been wiped out. Is there a link? Birgitta's journey will uncover secrets in Sweden, China, and Mozambique, and lead her back 150 years in time to the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in the western US. The scope of this novel is impressive, and Mankell weaves the many complicated threads together brilliantly. I might have to do a longer review later, because I liked this book so much.

Phew! This is harder than it looks people! What are some of your favorite books from this year? Don't miss parts two and three of my nominations for best of 2011!