Thursday, December 29, 2011

My favorite books of 2011

Blogging is such a joy.  I've never had a place to post a list like this, nor have I ever had so many other interesting lists to peruse - a wonderful change from the big established lists full of books that don't interest me.

I know it's traditional to post 10 books, but I'm going for 12 - one for each month, and because I can't stop at 10.  And I can only manage 12 by posting lists for both fiction and non-fiction.

On the fiction list (and in order):
  1. Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson. I opened this book and fell in love.
  2. The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope. I had read this before, but reading it again was as enthralling as if it were the first time.
  3. The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim.  This was the year I discovered von Arnim, which explains #4
  4. The Caravaners, also by von Arnim. One of the funniest books I read all year.
  5. The King of Attoilia, by Megan Whalen Turner.  The third in her excellent "Thief" series, and my favorite so far.
  6. Mary Lavelle, by Kate O'Brien. Re-discovering O'Brien has been one of the highlights of my reading year.
  7. Farthing, by Jo Walton. I can already tell I will be looking for everything she has written.
  8. A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny. I'd move to Three Pines if I could, despite the murder rate.
  9. Never No More, by Maura Laverty.  Another re-discovery, and a re-read of an enchanting book. 
  10. Cleopatra's Sister, by Penelope Lively.  I read several of Lively's books this year, and a memoir of her childhood, all which were great reads.
  11. I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett. The latest in the Tiffany Aching series - and hopefully not the last.
  12. The Masuda Affair, by I.J. Parker. A fascinating introduction to a mystery series set in medieval Japan.

On the non-fiction list (also in order):
  1. A World on Fire, Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War, by Amanda Foreman. As I said in my review, one of the best books I have ever read on the Civil War period.
  2. The Fiery Trial, by Eric Foner. Abraham Lincoln's gradual conversion to emancipation and equality for African Americans.
  3. Grant's Final Victory, by Charles Bracelen Flood. Ulysses Grant's last fight, to finish his epic memoirs in the face of economic ruin and terminal illness.
  4. The Diary of George Templeton Strong, The Civil War, 1860-1865, Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas, eds. This diary is one of our national historical treasures.
  5. Queen Mary, by James Pope-Hennessy. A majestic but compulsively readable biography.
  6. Blue Latitudes, by Tony Horwitz. I learned so much history, and geography, from this book about Captain Cook and his voyages.
  7. Acedia & me, by Kathleen Norris. I read this spiritual autobiography and exploration of the ancient vice of acedia before I began blogging.  I'm not sure I could have done this book justice in a review. It's a cliché, but a true one, to say it changed my life.
  8. Family Circle, by Cornelia Otis Skinner. This warm and funny family biography set me off to find other books by and about the Skinners. I'm glad to find so many other fans of Our Hearts Were Light and Gay.
  9. No Biking in the House Without a Helmet, by Melissa Fay Greene. A heart-warming but never sentimental account of how her family has grown through foreign adoptions, including several AIDS orphans from Ethiopia.
  10. Jane Austen and the Clergy, by Irene Collins. I learned so much about the Anglican church in Austen's time, her own clerical connections, and her fictional clergymen.
  11. Sisters of Sinai, by Janet Soskice. How two Victorian women discovered one of the oldest known copies of the Gospels in the Egyptian desert - travel, archeology, and biblical scholarship.
  12. A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, by Isabella Bird. Another intrepid Victorian traveler, this one braving the American West in 1873.
What a rich year of reading it has been, and what fun it has been to share books through blogging.  I was introduced to several of these books, including Farthing, Sisters of Sinai, Mary Lavelle, and The Enchanted April, from reviews I read.  So as I'm reading through other people's end-of-the-year lists, I'm sure I'll be finding books for next year's list.


  1. Lisa, it's wonderful to hear how much you're enjoying blogging and you're absolutely right about the nice change our lists make from the press ones. I started blogging in January 2010 after having read and loved so many bloggers' best of 2009 lists, having been inspired when I realised that a community existed full of people who liked the kinds of books I like.

    I think the best part about your lists here are how few of the books I've read! That's always the best because it means I have so many titles to investigate and look forward to. I was particularly excited to see von Arnim's appearances on your fiction list - isn't she absolutely wonderful? I've only read a handful of her books but each one has been fabulous.

    I hope 2012 is filled with just as many if not more wonderful reads!

  2. What wonderful lists. Some that I have loved too and others I have in my sights on the fiction list, and many to remind me that I must make more space for non fiction next year on the other.

    And, yes, it is lovely to be able to read lists and thoughts from others who write simply from a love of books and reading. Long may it continue!

  3. So glad you decided to start blogging, and I'm very happy to have 'met' you through The House of the Seven Gables group read. You have some wonderful books on your list. I loved The Enchanted April, too, and will add The Caravaners to my list. Happy New Year!

  4. I'm so pleased to see Sisters of Sinai on your list! And I see many more that I have on my to-read list for ages--the King of Attoilia, Farthing, Lark Rise.

  5. Thank you for all the wonderful comments!

    Claire, I find that even when we're not all reading the same books, we're reading in the same way - really engaged, eager to discuss and share. I have more von Arnim on the TBR pile - though I've bogged down in Mr. Skeffington, which I expected to like the best of all!

    Fleur, you've got it exactly right: those "who write simply from a love of books and reading" - and want to share that.

    JoAnn, it was worth struggling through the Seven Gables for the discussion, and the introduction to blogs like yours. I'm working on my RL book group to read 97 Orchard!(which would have been #13.)

    Teresa, I owe my Jo Walton obsession to Jenny! I gave Sisters of Sinai as a Christmas present this year, to a friend who shares my interest in Egyptology - and also reads Dorothy Dunnett.

  6. I couldn't stop at 10 books either - I think there are 17 on my list! I enjoyed The Enchanted April too and hope to read more von Arnim soon. I'm also still slowly working through the Barsetshire novels and planning to read the final two in the series in 2012. As for your second list, I read very few non-fiction books but that's something I would like to change in the future!

  7. Helen, I love discovering an author like Elizabeth von Arnim, who has written so many books. Or Trollope for that matter - I don't think I'll ever get through all of his books! But I envy you, having The Last Chronicle still to read.

  8. I feel the way Claire does - I haven't read any of the books on your lists, but that just means that I have more opportunities to discover exciting and wonderful books through you.
    I'm glad you started blogging - I really enjoy your posts and your comments and look forward to hearing more about the books you're reading in 2012! Happy New Year!

  9. Anbolyn, happy new year to you too! I have added so many books to both the virtual & actual TBR piles, from reviews I've read this past year. I was once asked what weird book I was reading now - the eclecticism I find on the blogs is so refreshing. PS There was a character in The Star of Kazan, which I reviewed the other day, named Gudrun - only the second time I've come across that name - your blog being the first!


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!