28 December 2011

Favorite Books of 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - Adult Fiction
Two young magicians, Celia and Marco, have spent their entire lives training to compete against one another in magical duel that can leave only one survivor.  Their masters create the breathtaking night circus, Le Cirque des RĂªves, as the arena for the competition, where Celia and Marco create stunning exhibits and performances without revealing their actual, competitive, purpose to the circus patrons or knowing themselves who is winning.  When the two contestants meet and fall in love, though, the stakes become even higher as they struggle to find a way that the two of them and the circus can all survive the deadly game.  I wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did.  The writing's very good and the story had the feeling of the films The Prestige or The Illusionist to me.

I read a number of books this year with a similar theme: Gawking at Other Cultures and Being Slightly Appalled.  But also Fascinated.  The following four books were my favorites from that category:

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick - Adult Nonfiction
The author follows the lives of six ordinary North Koreans over 15 years, including the year of Kim Il-Sung's death, showing typical family life and the incredible power of the state in the lives of its citizens.  A National Book Award Finalist, this is a remarkable work that I found equally interesting and disturbing.

Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin - Adult Nonfiction
Great account of a Chinese peasant boy selected to attend Madame Mao's Dance Academy.  After traveling to the US in the late 1970s, he marries an American and defects.  Like Nothing to Envy, I was intrigued by the author's experiences growing up under Mao but I almost couldn't believe some of it was real.

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler - Adult Nonfiction
More China but from a Western perspective.  Gives an account of the author's years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Sichuan province.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar - Adult Fiction
I love this author and I wish I could get my hands on every single one of her books.  The Space Between Us is a beautifully-written look at class division in India, told through the intertwined stories of a middle-class woman and her servant.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - Adult Nonfiction
Henrietta Lacks was a poor Southern farmer, but her cells became immortal when they were taken without her knowledge and used to study and develop vaccines, cloning, in vitro fertilization, and other medical advances.  The book discusses Henrietta's life, the science around her cells, and her family's (traumatized) reaction to the discovery of Henrietta's cells being used without their knowledge.  So interesting!  Slightly anticlimactic at the end but overall a fascinating read.

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar - YA Fiction
Reviewed this one here.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead - YA Fiction
And reviewed this one there as well.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby - Adult Fiction
Quick and very readable love story about a man, a woman, and a musician.  I've been really impatient with chick lit this year (I am NOT calling this chick lit), but this book worked for me in the same way that chick lit used to (with an established relationship and a bit of a look at loneliness and redemption).

Yoga for Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond by Francoise Barbira Freedman - Adult Nonfiction
So, I suppose this one has a limited appeal if you don't happen to be pregnant, but I've had it checked out of the library almost all year long and I adore it.

Soor Plums and Sair Knees by Bob Dewar - Adult Nonfiction
Fabulous illustrations and short snippets of info about growing up in Scotland following WWII. Blogged about it here.

Other suggestions?


Jefran said...

Hi there...and happy New Year when it comes. A very momentous year it will be for you guys! I just want to recommend a couple of books. One is "The non-potable Scotch: A memoir on the clansmen in Canada" by J K Galbraith. It is OP, but Amazon has a cheap second hand copy just now. The other is my all time comfort book "Anybody Can Do Anything" by Betty MacDonald. I've given this to loads of women friends over the years and it is a hit with all but the most cynical. I have really enjoyed reading your blog this year.

MBC said...

Thanks for the recommendations! I can always use more. I'm glad you've enjoyed reading the blog; I've certainly enjoyed your comments and recommendations. Happy New Year!

MBC said...

By the way, my husband just told me that JK Galbraith is his friend's uncle!

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