2011 Book Wrap-Up

The end of the year is synonymous with lists–movies, writers, celebrities, destinations, etc–everyone has their own Top Ten (or more) things that made 2011 special for them.  I wasn’t organized enough to make separate lists for everything or even to prepare this post in advance so I wouldn’t be counting the minutes so anxiously as I type right now!  (Yes, we’re having a quiet night here together.  I’m not complaining though as it’s exactly what we both wanted and need.)  Thus, without further ado, here is my contribution to this year’s Top Ten genre, the Top Ten books (in random order) that most caught my attention over the past 365 days:

  1. A Tout de suite, les enfants–Le destin tragique de Lilli Jahn, 1900-1944/English: My Wounded Heart: The Life of Lilli Jahn, 1900-1944 This book did to me what the Diary of Anne Frank never managed to–brought the tragic side of the Holocaust out on an individual level.  The majority of the personal stories/books on the Holocaust come from survivors–Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel (the names which first come into my head) write about the darkest side of humanity but you are left with the idea that they survived.  Very few personal narratives exist of those who perished.  Reading the 300 letters which make up the book between Lilli, a Jewish physician married to a Protestant German, and her friends and family was a touching experience.  The bulk of the book is composed of letters to and from Lilli and her four eldest children written during her internment in a work camp before her untimely death at Auschwitz.  Moving, touching and a rich addition to Holocaust literature.
  2. Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War  My idea of fun reading.  A look at the place of the Civil War in American Society today.  By turns funny, thought-provoking and travel-log/road trip, Horowitz’s writing keeps you coming back for more.  The book was written pre-Obama and a new epilogue by the writer would be welcome in light of the race-relations theme which comes up in several chapters of the book.  I received his new book on John Brown, Midnight Rising for Christmas and I can’t wait to start reading it.  I will be getting my own period rush soon!
  3. With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln  I am clearly getting into the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.  Oates’ biography of Lincoln is an excellent one-volume look at a man whose life, ideas and writing merit to be studied by all.  I would add Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America by Garry Wills as a nice companion piece.  Lincoln’s writing is masterly and Wills look at his chef d’oeuvre, the Gettysburg Address gives it additional depth and context.  I’m hoping to continue my forays into Lincoln’s writing next year….the local library is going to love me!
  4. Bibilothèque du Voyageur: Japon  Clearly not in the literature/history category but I’ve spent more than one moment flipping through its pages and looking at all the pictures this past year.  Not a practical guide as it lacks detailed information on opening times/addresses/prices/etc, the Gallimard series makes up for this default with wonderful pictures and cultural information/history sections that make daydreaming your own trip easy.  (I prefer Lonely Planet or the Rough Guides along with the Internet for actual trip-planning purposes.)
  5. The Rebus series by Ian Rankin.  I had gotten away from crime reading–too much gore, too many serial killers and not enough plot can get old.  I tend to read in themes/genres until I hit saturation and then I move on to another topic/genre.  The pattern repeats itself regularly so that I actually have read my way around all sorts of random things.  A chance encounter at our library brought me in contact with Rebus and a renewed love for alcoholic detectives with complicated existences.  Rankin’s characters are well-developed and easy to get attached to.  His portrait of modern Edinburgh brings to life the city beyond its perfect postcard image; social issues are not a taboo subject in his books and his character’s flaws make them more attaching.
  6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Another random library grab that turned out to be a page turner; I read it in one night and then spent another two days rereading it and savoring the story.  The book’s structure in and of itself is unique and helps you get in touch with the narrator’s Asperger’s Syndrome as soon as you start reading.  Not a traditional mystery novel but a great read and a book worth having on hand at home.
  7. My Sister’s Keeper.  I had been meaning to read this book for some time but never had gotten around to it.  The book deals with Anna, genetically designed to be a perfect donor for her chronically ill sister, and her decision to sue for her own independence–for the right to decide what is or is not done with her body vis-a-vis her sister’s treatment.  The story is told from multiple points of view, each chapter has a new narrator, and the questions the book poses are well thought out.  The ending was to simplistic for me.  I felt like the author took the easy way out but then, she might not have wanted to have had to write another 100 pages or so to resolve things in a more complicated manner.
  8. Battle Cry of Freedom.  Yes, another Civil War book.  For those of us who don’t have the shelf space for Shelby Foote, McPherson’s one-volume overview of the Civil War is a must-have.  When I’m bored and don’t know what to read, I can pick up his book, flip to a random chapter and just let my mind go.  I picked up my copy at Antietam and it’s beginning to show its age.
  9. Des vents contraires  One of the few French books that stood out for me this year and now a movie as well!  After his wife’s disappearance, the narrator tries to get his life together, move on and care for their children.  The central question of the book–how can you move on without answers?  The book follows the narrator’s ups and downs as he struggles with not knowing what happened to his wife.  While not a light read, the book is well-written and a change from normal mystery books.  Bonus points for having the action set locally in Saint Malo!
  10. Olivia, Peter Rabbit, Madeleine….  Reading to Laura and Elise is a daily activity.  I could read to them all morning and I don’t think they would get tired of it.  I have quickly come to the conclusion that not all children’s books are created equal….or at least, some books are much more easy for me to read to them than others!  The three titles above all have managed to delight the girls and withstand the read-it-ten-times-in-a-row test!

Here’s wishing you a 2012 full of wonderful books, interesting postcards, a happy mailbox, new travels and magical surprises!  See you next year with my next postcard and some new resolutions!

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