I love lists. One of my favorite things about the end of the year is getting the scoop on what might have been the best foods, reads, movies, recipes, etc of the year. My Google Reader becomes full of lists as many of the blogs I follow take a look back at the past year. I adore these “Best Of” lists!
So here’s my list of favorite reads from the last year. These aren’t necessarily the the most high brow literature books, since sometimes my tastes run everywhere from Sci-Fi to contemporary to trashy vampire Young Adult fare. But just the books I enjoyed reading the most.
Cleopatra – A Life
by Stacy Schiff
Brilliant historical account of one of history’s most intelligent, resourceful, and ruthless leaders. And a story that has never really been properly told. As a feminist, this book was a joy to read.
“Cleopatra stood at one of the most dangerous intersections in history; that of women and power. Clever women, Euripides had warned hundreds of years earlier, were dangerous.”
Born to Run : A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
by Christopher McDougall
This book as the potential to be life changing and I think it should be recommended reading for EVERYONE, even if you utterly hate running. Trust me, it’s good.
“You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else…We were born to run; we were born because we run.”
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
by Helen Simonson
Utterly charming. I could not stop grinning over every dry English quip, each clever turn of words and phrases.
“You are a wise man, Major, and I will consider your advice with great care–and humility.” He finished his tea and rose from the table to go to his room. “But I must ask you, do you really understand what it means to be in love with an unsuitable woman?”
“My dear boy,” said the Major. “Is there really any other kind?”
by Ann Patchett
One of the most lyrical and beautiful books I’ve read in a really long time. Just utterly exquisite and will probably end up as one of my favorite books ever.
“Carmen prayed hard. She prayed while standing near the priest in hopes it would give her request extra credibility. What she prayed for was nothing. She prayed that God would look on them and see the beauty of their existence and leave them alone.”
World War Z
by Max Brooks
The BEST zombie book ever. Not that I’ve read a ton, but it was so thorough, almost historical or sociological in its writing. A zombie book with real intelligence.
“Most people don’t believe something can happen until it already has. That’s not stupidity or weakness, that’s just human nature.”
Looking for Alaska
by John Green
One of the best Young Adult books I’ve ever read. Just so smart, thoughtful and well written. If I had read this as a teenager, I think it would’ve been like what Vonnegut had been for me at that age, a book that completely helps to shift and shape your world paradigm.
“Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there’. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
“They love their hair because they’re not smart enough to love something more interesting.”
by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, and I think she outdid herself on this one. Even better than my previous favorite, The Handmaid’s Tale. This was like a showcase of truly genius level talent.
“Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence. Time and distance blur the edges; then suddenly the beloved has arrived, and it’s noon with its merciless light, and every spot and pore and wrinkle and bristle stands clear.”
“Women have curious ways of hurting someone else. They hurt themselves instead; or else they do it so the guy doesn’t even know he’s been hurt until much later. Then he finds out. Then his dick falls off.”
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot
I am not a huge science buff, but despite the plethora of scientific information in this book, I was so hooked. One of those books that I think all people should read, since the history and implications are so far-reaching.
“You know what is a myth?” Bobette snapped from the recliner. “Everybody always saying Henrietta Lacks donated these cells. She didn’t donate anything. They took them and didn’t ask.”
Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein
I love dogs, and so I love books about dogs. Cheesy? For sure. But I can’t help it. Books like this, and Story of Edgar Sawtelle, A Dog’s Purpose, Marley and Me, etc, they all make me weep.
“People and their rituals. They cling to things so hard sometimes.”
by Richelle Mead
Yes, I sometimes read trashy vampire chick lit. No, I don’t feel guilty about it. And at least this one has a main female character who is a trained fighter and bodyguard. It’s bad, but in such a good way.
“The only thing better than imagining Dimitri carrying me in his arms was imagining him shirtless while carrying me in his arms.”
by Tom Rachman
I’m not usually a fan of short inter-connected stories, but I LOVED The Imperfectionists. Funny, wry, poignant.
“If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.”
Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand
One of the most spectacular true stories I’ve ever read. It blew me away, not just the sheer terrifying amount of trials and tribulations, but the heart and humanity in it. I was sobbing by the end.
“Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it.”
The Sweet Life in Paris
by David Lebovitz
I picked this up as a nice easy read, from one of my favorite food bloggers. And it ended up being a witty, funny, and supremely informative book on all the joys, frustrations, and quirks of being an American living in France.
In a country where there’s such an emphasis on fine dining, whose good food is celebrated not just here, but around the world, it’s stupefying why Parisian coffee is so vile that fed-up French food writer Sophie Brissard described it as “donkey piss.”
by Tina Fey
Not only is this book hilarious, but Tina Fey’s humor is just so intelligent. So sharp, and quick. And rooted in so much common sense.
“Some people say “Never let them see you cry.” I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
by Barbara Demick
I have a strong interest in North Korea, not just because my Grandpa was originally from North Korea before he escaped during the Korean War, but because I have always had a fascination with dystopian society. This was an incredible and haunting look into the lives of defectors, both in North Korea and out of it once they escaped.
Dr. Kim couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a bowl of pure white rice. What was a bowl of rice doing there, just sitting out on the ground? She figured it out just before she heard the dog’s bark. Up until that moment, a part of her had hoped that China would be just as poor as North Korea. She still wanted to believe that her country was the best place in the world. The beliefs she had cherished for a lifetime would be vindicated. But now she couldn’t deny what was staring her plainly in the face: dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea.
The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
Enchanting is the only word for this book. But do yourself a favor, stay away from reading too many reviews beforehand!
“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
And because I actually wrote up a post a year ago and never posted it, here’s my list of favorite reads from 2010.
Never Let Me Go
The Book Thief
Water for Elephants
Pillars of the Earth
Hunger Games Series
Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Glass Castle
My Life in France
And a shoutout to the worst books I read in 2011, Ready Player One, Inheritance, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.
Here’s to another year of great books. What have you been reading lately?