Sunday Salon: 2011 in Review: Teresa’s List

Now that we’re officially into the new year, I’m finally posting my list of top reads for 2011. It’s a good thing I waited until the last possible moment to compile my list, too, because two books from the last weeks of December made it onto the list!

As usual, I’m not compiling a list of “best books” or even favorites. There are just books that stand out to me as I look back over the year. (And if you suspect that I make up my awards categories to fit the books I want to highlight, you won’t be wrong.)

Book of the Year: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson is among my favorite authors, and it was wonderful to finally read her first novel. It’s quite different from Gilead and Home, but it does have the beautiful writing I always expect from Robinson.

Favorite 2011 Release: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, with its well-drawn (but not always likable) characters and true-to-life depiction of the early adult years.

Favorite Nonfiction: Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick is a well-written examination of the racial divide in the U.S. South as experienced by two women, one white and one black, both bound together in a single historic photo.

Favorite Memoir: Small Memories by Jose Saramago. As you might expect, Saramago plays around with the conventions of memoir to make this short book into something that is as much about the nature of memory as it is about Saramago himself.

Favorite Audiobook: The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. Although I also listened to The Marriage Plot (listed above), this particular book belongs here because the use of dialect made it a particularly amazing listening experience.

Biggest Laughs: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis was chock-a-block with things to chuckle at.

Favorite Unreliable Narrator: A tie between Philip Ashley in My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier and Barbara Covett in What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller. (Review to come.) Honorable mention to 29 Barton Road from White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.

Best Sea-Faring Adventure (Western division): Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. I may not have been able to tell a fo’c’s’le from a mizzen, but I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin and look forward to more.

Best Sea-Faring Adventure (Eastern division): River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh. I was disappointed not to spend as much time with favorite characters from Sea of Poppies as I would have liked, but I still enjoyed this second volume in the Ibis trilogy.

Best Sea-Faring Adventure (Comic caper division): Pirate King. Laurie King took a risk by making the latest Russell/Holmes adventure a slapstick farce, but it worked for me.

Best Travelogue: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s account of his trip around the U.S. with his standard poodle, Charley, is a fun and thought-provoking slice of history.

Most Unusual Book: Nox by Anne Carson defies the usual definition of a book with its accordion-fold format and fragmentary style. Just beautiful.

Best Reread: Silence by Shusaku Endo. This powerful book was just as good the second time, and perhaps even better because it sparked some wonderful discussions in my book group. Rereading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series was also a treat.

Biggest Accomplishment: Finishing the 34-volume Morland Dynasty series. I’ve been reading these books for three years now, and it will be hard to saw good-bye to just reliably entertaining reads.

Favorite Crime Novel: Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson. Atkinson is always a pleasure.

Most Empowering Book: The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life by Wendy Shanker convinced me that I’m much better off thinking about being healthy than about being thin—because the two aren’t always synonymous.

And in the tradition of stealing categories from Jenny

Worst sex: Hands down, no contest, and will not be beaten ever: Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter and read by Wayne Knight. Once heard, some things cannot be unheard. Trust me, you do not want these sounds in your head. (You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik probably deserves a special mention here, not because of the writing, which was fine, but because of the allegations that the skeevy scene may be based on real life, which is disgusting in a whole different way.)

And I realize I still haven’t mentioned such great books as The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Little Big by John Crowley, The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, Lady Susan by Jane Austen, Bad Marie by Marcie Dermansky, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey, A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid, and so many others.

Having too many books I want to mention is indeed a good problem to have. Even better, I realize that the books I didn’t like turned out to be forgettable, and I see no need to mention them again. (I read lots of middling books this year, but very few that seriously annoyed me.)

And Now for Some Stats

And just a word about these stats: I enjoy keeping track of what I’m reading, not because I have any set goals that I hold myself to, but because I find it interesting. Whatever vague guidelines I have regarding gender balance, author nationality, and so on, are just that—vague guidelines, something to keep in mind when I’m deciding what to read next.

For example, I do want to read more books by international authors and people of color, and I know their books don’t often get as much publicity as books by white US and UK authors. For that reason, it helps me to check in with how I’m doing and remind myself to seek out books by those authors. However, if my reading muse carries me in a specific direction that doesn’t fit these guidelines, I go with it and don’t beat myself up about it.

The math here isn’t perfect, partly because I probably made some cataloging errors and partly because some books appear in multiple categories. I’m not taking the time to look for the discrepancies, because the details aren’t that important to me.

Books Read in 2011: 138 (134 in 2010).

Review Copies: 30 hard copies, 12 e-galleys (31%). I’d be happy for this to go down next year. A third is about my limit of how much review-copy reading I want to do.

TBR Books from before Jan 1, 2011: 45

Books Acquired in 2011: 88 (Hmm, I sense a problem here. At least I read 39 of these, leaving 44 for the TBR pile. The remaining books are mostly review copies I gave up on.)

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: 111 fiction, 26 nonfiction (81% fiction)

Audiobooks: 16 or 12%

New to Me Authors: 67 or 49%

Male vs. Female: 75 female, 62 male, 1 various (54% female). Last year, men had the edge at 53%.

Pre 1900 Books: 5 (This was a surprise to me because I do love my 19th-century literature.)

20th Century Books: 43, with at least two from every decade, except 1900-10. (Seriously? I do like old books. Really! I do! I’m just not reading them.)

21st Century Books: 91, with 37 (27%) coming from 2011. As much as I insist I won’t be lured by the siren song of the shiny new book, it still happens. Next year, I’m going to do my best to limit myself to 24 books published in 2012.

Translations: 13 books/9% (same as last year)

Books by Authors of Color: 19  books/14% (13% in 2010)

US vs. UK Authors:  62 US/50 UK (Last year was 61 UK/50 US.)

Non-US/UK Authors: 30 books/22% (17% in 2010).

Author Nationality Map:

visited 21 states (9.33%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Last year, I was only able to check off 14 nations. Besides the US and UK, India and Japan tied for the most “visits” at four each. Now I’m wondering how long it would take me to check off every country on the map.

So that’s my 2011 reading in a (very large) nutshell. Now on to 2012!

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43 Responses to Sunday Salon: 2011 in Review: Teresa’s List

  1. Tony says:

    ‘Silence’ was a first-time read for me, but it was up in the top few for book of the year – just a wonderful book.

    I think my stats were a little different to yours – this year, of my 123 books read, more than 50% were originally written in a language other than English…

    • Teresa says:

      That’s so impressive about your translated fiction, Tony! I doubt I’ll ever get to that point, but I expect the percentage to increase as I learn about more authors.

      And I’m always pleased to hear people say good things about Silence. It’s an all-time favorite and was a big hit with my book group.

  2. litlove says:

    Always fascinating to read the stats- and like you I think they’re just for fun, not for serious guidance in reading. Very interesting to read your list of favourites. Several books there I’d be keen to try and notably The White Woman on the Green Bicycle. I do hope to get to that one in 2012.

    A very happy New Year to you, Teresa! May it be full of wonderful reads. I’ll certainly be here following your paper trail!

    • Teresa says:

      A Happy New Year to you, Litlove! I’m always happy when you stop by :)

      I do like taking stock with these stats, but I don’t want to get so regimented in my reading that I’m choosing books to fill gaps or meet arbitrary goals. But everyone’s different as far as how planning affects them.

      I hope you get to White Woman on the Green Bicycle this year. I liked it a lot, and it helped spark an interest in Caribbean literature that I hope to follow up on at some point.

  3. krismerino says:

    So many books here that will make it onto my “must read” list this year. Thanks for your always insightful reviews!

  4. Lisa says:

    I’m realizing now that my list was way too conventional. I like the categories you and Jenny used and may borrow them (or adapt them) next time. I’m also realizing that I read mostly American and English literature – and history – and there is a world of books out there. Happy New Year – and thanks again for a wonderful year of reviews.

    • Teresa says:

      I find categories like these much more flexible than a “best of” list, which I find much too difficult to put together.

      One of the most exciting things blogging has done for me is introduce me to so many authors from all over the world. My reading will probably always be heavy on US and UK authors, but I’ve added lots of other favorites from India, Japan, the Caribbean, and so on.

      And Happy New Year to you!

  5. Stefanie says:

    I enjoyed your book list and categories and your stats! I think you are brave to keep track of how many books you bought in a year. I keep thinking I should but then I change my mind because I’m afraid to know the answer! Happy New Year!

    • Teresa says:

      Since I’m trying hard to forestall the need for another bookcase (because I don’t know where I’d put it), I feel like I need to put my own feet to the fire about the number of books I acquire. I was startled to see the final number when I put this post together!

  6. I loved reading all about your favorite books. Your tracking of stats is impressive as well. Hope 2012 is a wonderful year for you.

  7. Wendy says:

    Fun post. I also loved the Marriage Plot…and just finished reading River of Smoke which was awesome. It looks like you had a tremendous year of reading – hope 2012 is just as good for you! Happy New Year!

  8. Juxtabook says:

    Stats awe me! I have little idea of what I’ve read and that map is wizzy! I have The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides at the top of my wish list (and I have book money from Christmas!!) after your last post on it.

    Happy New Year to you and Jenny!

    • Teresa says:

      Oh I do hope you enjoy The Marriage Plot. It seems opinions about it are sharply divided, but I think you’ll particularly enjoy the book talk at the start.

      Happy New Year to you too!

  9. Melwyk says:

    I love this roundup! Fun categories, and so much variety. I loved some of the books in your ‘extras’ list like The Children’s Book and Little, Big. If only I had a whole year to reread favourites! :)

    I also really enjoyed your map. May have to try this one now…I’m curious how my year would look.

    • Teresa says:

      Those two are both books I want to reread, especially Little Big because I knew I wasn’t taking enough of it in on the first go round. (And it’s interesting that you mention those two books because they seemed similar to me.)

  10. Jenny says:

    I wish I’d waited until the very last minute to write my list, too. I finished The Morville Hours on Dec 31, and it would have made my list for sure. And I always dither about whether I want to do stats, but yours are so fun I might do them next year. Great list!

    • Teresa says:

      I say you can pretend you read it in 2012 and put it on next year’s list :)

      And the trick with stats is to decide now what you want to track so you don’t have to go back and count later. I tag books on LibraryThing as I add them, so it was easy to put this together.

  11. Oh you totally make me want to listen to the Karin Slaughter audio so I can hear the worst sex also! LOL

  12. Vasilly says:

    Your description of Martin Misunderstood tells me that I really need to avoid it! ;-) Many of the books you’ve mentioned today are on my tbr list for this year so I’m pretty excited about that. I’m glad you added the categories “most empowering” and “biggest accomplishments”. I don’t think that’s something that’s thought about often enough.

    Happy New Year!

  13. Sandra says:

    You have some of my all-time favourites here. Housekeeping, as well as Gilead and Home, Travels With Charley, and the stunning Silence. Glad to hear about River of Smoke. It and The Sea of Poppies are on my must read list. Also enjoyed White Woman on a Green Bicycle. May try Atkinson’s book since you liked it, I really enjoyed When Will There be Good News?. Must get to My Cousin Rachael one of these days, loved Rebecca. Good to know you had some great reading, Happy reading in 2012.

    • Teresa says:

      The Ghosh novels are wonderful, and I learned from Wendy that a movie is planned. And yes, if you liked When Will There Be Good News? there’s a good chance you’d like Atkinson’s new book, too. (I think her non-crime books are even better.) Happy 2012!

  14. Simon T says:

    I find it hilarious that you had three sea-faring categories!
    I had no idea that Notes on a Scandal had an extended title in the US…
    And I had no idea you read so many 21st century books, nor that you only bought/got 88 – I must have got at least five hundred…

    • Teresa says:

      It was definitely the year of the sea-faring novel! I don’t get the extended title for the Heller–it’s clunky and weird, but oh well.

      As for your 500 books, weren’t you just making up for lost time after your Project 24 year?

  15. Christy says:

    I also read To Say Nothing of the Dog in 2010, my first Connie Willis, and adored it, most of all for its hilarity. The word “screamlet” comes to mind. Your comment about Patrick O’Brian’s work reminded me about when I tried to read a book of his while a teenager and was simply overwhelmed by the seafaring terminology and abandoned the book. And LOL for your misfortune in hearing a bad sex scene in an audio book. I can only imagine (and I certainly don’t want to find out for myself.)

    • Teresa says:

      To Say Nothing of the Dog was my first Willis, too. I definitely plan to read more.

      What’s funny about the bad sex award is that I also listened to the book Jenny gave the award to (On Chesil Beach) on audio. But at least that was a clinical description, rather than one involving (ahem) moaning and gasping.

  16. Eva says:

    I have the same attitude towards stats as you! The only ones I track during the year are POC/white authors (and I’ve decided to stop doing even that for 2012), but I think it’s fun at the end of the year to look at the ‘shape’ of my reading!

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve seen a few critical comments about stats that assume everyone who tracks them is setting a quota or something, and I don’t think that’s the case for many people. And even if it is, there’s nothing wrong with that, if it’s working for the reader in question, as tracking POC/white authors has worked so well for you. You’ve probably established habits that will stay with you even when you stop tracking during the year.

      I do check in on some of these stats during the year, but not in any rigorous way. If, say, I notice I haven’t read a translation for a while, I’ll look through those possibilities first for my next book, but that’s the extent of it.

  17. Michelle says:

    That’s an impressive list of stats! You make me want to revamp mine, as I love comparing numbers.

    Happy 2012!

  18. Violet says:

    I love people’s posts with stats included, because I have no clue about my own reading stats. I’m going to try and keep a more detailed record of what I read in 2012, but I’ll probably have forgotten about it by March. :) I haven’t heard of many of the books on your list, but The Marriage Plot was definitely the best contemporary novel I read last year. Travels With Charley is a lovely book. I first read Steinbeck as a child and have loved him ever since. Best wishes for some great reading in 2012. :)

    • Teresa says:

      I read a lot of Steinbeck in my early teens and then sort of forgot about him when I went to college. Reading Travels with Charley reminded me how good he can be.

  19. Alex says:

    Hurrah for the Morland Series – congrats! It’s fun to see a “Sea-Faring” sections on your list – Sea of Poppies has been so long on my TBR, but this might be the year, inspired by an amazing start to the Aubrey/Maturin series.

    Happy 2012 reading!

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve never been into sea-faring stories, so it made me laugh when I realized that I had three on my list. I’m excited to continue with Aubrey/Maturin this year!

  20. rebeccareid says:

    I love reading best of lists and year end stats. Thanks for posting this.

  21. Aarti says:

    Oh, wonderful wrap-up! I too want my review books to significantly decrease this year vs. last year. I thought I did pretty well last year, but those books add up! Not only do they take away time spent reading books you already have, but I personally have no idea how to get rid of them after I DO read them! So I just have a lot of ho-hum ARCs laying around, which annoys me slightly. I would rather just have very few of them, or have only digital ARCs from now on.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m not terribly unhappy with 30% review copies, but when I think of how of them were mediocre, I know I’d rather have fewer. My library does take ARCs for donations, so they got a huge bag from me recently. I definitely prefer digital ones, though. I’m more willing to take a chance on those because I can give up on them without feeling it was wasteful for it to be sent to me. And if I don’t have time for it and it expires, it’s no big deal. Much easier!

  22. amymckie says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your stats. Was really interesting to read them. I can’t wait to see what you do now this year!

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