My Year in Books

A year ago, I joined a Facebook group for people who agreed to read 110 books during 2011. Then, I did the math and realized that there was no way I could accomplish that goal so I quickly left the group. Still, I decided that I wanted to step up my commitment to reading, so I've spent the last year reading much more than I normally do. Because much of the time I read on the treadmill, I didn't read a lot of heavy books, but I have still managed to complete 54 books this past year--and since I'm in the middle of three other books, there's a chance that I'll add to that list before the year's end.

Some of the books have been forgettable; others keep coming back to me. I had purchased Richard Flanagan's Wanting a long time ago but had never read it. It isn't the type of book that I'm usually drawn to, but I find myself thinking about it occasionally and wishing that one of my friends had also read it. The novel combines several story lines: an aboriginal girl in what is now Tasmania, the British colonizer John Franklin who first takes care of and eventually destroys her, and Charles Dickens who creates a play about Franklin's disastrous trip to the Arctic. It's a meditation on desire and colonization--and the destruction that we can leave in our wake.

Another book that I've recommended to several people is Annia Ciezadlo's Day of Honey. Ciezadlo and her husband are journalists who spent several years in Iraq and Lebanon after 9/11. While there, she became obsessed with discovering local food traditions and their origins--so her account of being in the midst of the Iraq war includes recipes and stories about food.

I also really enjoyed Henrietta Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the story of the African American woman whose cells, now labeled HeLa, are used in scientific research all over the world. However, her cells were taken without her informed consent and her family didn't even know about let alone benefit from their sale. Not one to read a lot of scientific work, I was still fascinated by this story.

I look forward to another year of reading. For now, here are my favorite ten books of the year (in the order that I read them):

Richard Flanagan, Wanting

Jim Burke, What's the Big Idea?

Annia Ciezadlo, Day of Honey

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Patti Smith, Just Kids

Dorothy Wickenden, Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers

Philip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice

Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table

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