2011 in Retrospect: What I Read

Admittedly, I watch a lot more TV than I read books, but I do read – about a book a month, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on what I’m reading. For instance, the Song of Fire and Ice novels are HUGE, and since I’m reading them on the Kindle, I can’t even tell how thick they are (I can’t help but think if I could see how big they were, I might feel more motivated to read them faster; then again, they’d be really heavy).

You might have noticed that under the category What I’m Reading Now, I often just list a book with no comment. Several years ago, I totally fell out of the habit of reading books. Sacrilege, right? Especially for a writer. I was mostly reading magazines – Time Out New York, specifically – and it seemed as soon as I finished one issue, another one had arrived in my mailbox.

Plus it was total brain candy.

Finally, one new year I decided to make reading at least one book a month one of my resolutions, and listing them on my blog has been a way for me to keep track. Since setting that goal, reading books has been a habit.

That’s a very long way of saying, here are the best books I read this year, in no particular order.

Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters. My pal YP turned me onto Sarah Waters when he sent me Fingersmith, which made my top 10 favorite books of 2010. Tipping the Velvet is Waters’ first novel, and is very very good. Set in Victorian London, it follows the life of Nan King, a young woman who becomes a male impersonator. Everything about the book is excellent: the voice, the characters, the details of the gay “underworld” in a repressed society. While Fingersmith is better and more sophisticated, Tipping the Velvet is still a must-read from Waters.

The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher. Back in May, I wrote about how surprised I was that The Shell Seekers was so good. I expected it to be a cheesy romance, but it so wasn’t. Here’s what I wrote:

It was extremely well-written and somewhat restrained – quite British in a way – but people still have sex, though mostly off the page.

Basically, it’s about Penelope Keeling, a woman in her 60s who has just had a heart attack.  She’s recovering but her adult children still worry.  At the same time, the children find out that the paintings of their mother’s father, a little-known artist, are suddenly very valuable.  One has just been sold for some exorbitant price, and the children, or at least two of them, get greedy about the works their mother owns – including the titular piece – and what else she might have in the depths of her house.  The book also flashes back to World War II, and Penelope’s youth and a lost love.

Although I went to my parents’ twice in two months, both times I still managed to forget to pick up Coming Home, another Pilcher novel. I read it when I lived in China when I was bored and had run out of things to read.

Drinking Closer to Home, by Jessica Anya Blau. I raved about this novel back in March, and like I said back then, ” I could read about this crazy family forever.” It’s hilarious, moving, and stays with you for a long time. I hope to write a novel like it someday.

Skinny, by Diane Spelcher. Another rave! Here’s what I said back then:

Skinny is a quick read – I read it basically in one weekend when I was feeling a bit coldy – but is darker and runs deeper than its fat camp backdrop implies.  I don’t want to give anything away so all I’ll say is: death, blame, guilt, infidelity, eating disorders.  And the characters are really vivid.

Pictures of You, by Caroline Leavitt. In March, I wrote that Pictures of You is “deceptively a ‘domestic’ tale – about women leaving their families, affairs, divorce, etc. – but also so much more.”

Pretty, by Jillian Lauren. Living in a halfway house and attending cosmetology school, Bebe Baker is trying to escape everything: her dead boyfriend, her domineering mother, the scars left by the accident that killed her boyfriend. In a voice reminiscent of Holden Caulfield’s, Pretty made me laugh, cry, and keep reading.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for Day, by Ben Loory. These stories creeped me the fuck out. The end.

Anatomy of a Story, by John Truby. I’ve written about this book a lot already (here, here, here, and here), and in case you couldn’t tell, I’m really into it. It’s completely changed the way I look at writing (update on my novel progress coming soon!).

In case you’re wondering where I heard about these books, two were recommended (Tipping the Velvet, Anatomy of a Story); one was from the BBC 100 list (The Shellseekers); while a whopping five I received via the Nervous Breakdown book club. If you’re not already a member, you should be! It’s just $9.99 a month and every month a good book comes to your mailbox, often an advance copy of something that’s not even out yet. If you love to read and am lazy (like me), the TNB Book Club is for you.

1 comment

  1. […] By the way, I loved Diana’s novel Skinny. In fact, it was one of my favorite books from all of 2011. […]