Thursday, January 7, 2010

Books Read in 2009

booksMost have already posted about the books they read last year. However, I wanted to be finished with the ones I had started which did not happen until New Year’s Eve.

I started and finished 25 books this year. That is not the whole story since I also read a couple of these either a second time or at least substantial parts of some. I also reread a couple of books from previous years which are not listed here.

Choosing books to read

I choose a book to read based on very nebulous criteria like its title, subject, author, synopsis, a recommendation, a cross-reference in another text, or the cover if it’s on display somewhere. I do maintain a list of books I do not want to forget about as new books snag my attention.

The books I read in 2009 fell into four categories: memoir and biography, self-help, general nonfiction, and fiction. In the book business, memoir and biography do not share a category because there is a distinction between texts that are straight facts and those which are literary creations. While I feel the industry has a duty to clarify the distinction to consumers I don’t see a reason not to combine them for my personal list.

The best-worst list

This is the first year in a long time that no books turned out to be too bad to finish. That doesn’t mean every book was fabulous or not work to finish, but no book that I started last year ever crossed the line to getting replaced by the next book in line. This year did seem to be a bumper crop of winners of which I hope to read many of them again.

Memoir/biography: Every one of these books is a tale about second chances, even Julia Child’s My Life in France. Each one is well-written and warm and invites the reader to stowaway in a secret perch for a front row seat on their story. Four of the books are about real people living on the Autism-Asperger’s Syndrome spectrum, and every one of these books will challenge what you think you know about autism spectrum individuals.

Self-Help: Self-help books are hard to rate for general audiences because the bulk of their value is in the content; and if the potential reader does not need the content it doesn’t matter how well it’s written.

Four of the books listed are by Mira Kirshenbaum and two of these titles are directed toward women but she also writes about other topics. I like her writing voice and style because the reader does not have to wrangle with the text and the topic.

Hudson’s book about working through the fallout from divorce literally saved my life over the past year and I continue to work on the exercises she suggested. While the title targets people who divorce the book also can apply to the ending of any long term relationship.

General Nonfiction: Each of these books was a spontaneous selection after seeing them cross-referenced somewhere else (book, blog post, article) except Ballard’s The Butterfly Hunter which was sticking out of the shelf at the library. Every one of these books is about challenging how you see the world and why, and the influence that has on the choices you make. The topics range from off-the-beaten-path careers, to what is influential, to women and culture, and what makes a difference.

Fiction: This year fiction made up a much smaller proportion of my reading and it is probably related to my circumstances. I do tend to read more nonfiction in a year than fiction but the disparity is not usually so striking. These five titles were without a doubt the most challenging of my 2009 reads.

Precious Bane by Marie Webb is considered a contemporary of Jane Austen and her novels. The comparisons end there however. Whatever you learned about rural regional norms and dialect from Austen will not help you read Webb. Still Webb is an important if largely unknown 19th century novelist and deserves more exposure in the 21st century. Precious Bane is a good first choice because there is a film adaptation to refer to if the language is too obscure.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is probably familiar to most readers since years ago it was on the Oprah List. I haven’t liked any of her other books but this one was important because it showed me that I was not the only one to grow up with a slanted childhood.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett has some similarities to her other book The Secret Garden. However, I did not find the writing to be of the same quality. I especially felt there were disparities in the voice as well as the continuity and flow.

The Curious Incident… by Haddon is about a fictional autistic boy living in the UK. Haddon is not autistic himself but he worked with autistic children for several years. While he presents situations and circumstances that can be and are common in the autism community, he has a lot of stuff happening to one boy in a relatively short span of time. I believe Haddon meant to illustrate that dire events, even many dire events, happening in an autistic’s life do not destine him or her to an unrewarding life. But it is very intense reading and in my opinion spends far more time on the negative than is necessary to make the point.

I have already started on my reading pursuits for 2010. I do not have a goal for the number or kinds of books I will be reading but I know that it will be interesting because I love to read whether it is for information, insight, or just for pleasure. What are you reading? My current reads can always be found in the sidebar.

The complete list of books read in 2009:

Biography or Memoir 10 titles

Grandin, T - Emergence: Labeled Autism

Tammet, D - Born on a Blue Day

Grandin, T - Thinking in Pictures

Robison, J E - Look Me in the Eye: my life with Asperger’s Syndrome

Child and Prud’homme - My Life in France

Frankl, V - Man’s Search for Meaning

Burgess, A - The Small Woman (The story of Gladys Ayleworth)

Andronik, C - Kindred Spirit: a biography of L. M. Montgomery

Shanley, K - The Dogs of Dreamtime

Gilbert, E - Eat, Pray, Love

Nonfiction - Self-Help 6 titles

Madson, P - Improv Wisdom

Kirshenbaum, M - Women and Love

Kirshenbaum, M - Everything Happens for a Reason

Kirshenbaum, M - Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay

Kirshenbaum, M - The Gift of a Year

Hudson, P - You Can Get Over Divorce

General Nonfiction 4 titles

Ballard, C - The Butterfly Hunter

Heath & Heath - Made to Stick

Estes, C P - Women Who Run with the Wolves

Gladwell, M - The Tipping Point: how little things can make a big difference

General Fiction 5 titles

Connell, E - Mrs. Bridge

Haddon, M - The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Burnett, F H - A Little Princess

Kingsolver, B - The Poisonwood Bible

Webb, M - Precious Bane


chelle said...

I am not sure i could remember every book I read in a year. I love to read and always have one or two going at once. This small children it is harder to fit it in though without distractions. I love that they see me read and therefore with hopefully follow suit!

Deb said...

I wouldn't be able to remember either. I keep them posted in my sidebar at the bottom.

And that reminds me that I need to clear last year's Books Read list since I have finished my first book of 2010.