Monday, December 26, 2011

End-of-Year Book Survey

Time for my end of the year roundup!  I've adapted this meme from Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner, via Amanda over at Ramblings.

1. Best book(s) I read in 2011:  Are best books the same as my favorites?  Some of my favorites didn't necessarily have the best writing or have other flaws, though I still loved them.  So here are the ones that I suppose are the best on a critical level:

The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen (annotations by David M. Shaphard)
Germinal by Emile Zola
The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

My favorites:  well, keep reading and I think it will be obvious!

2.  Most disappointing book: 

Villette by Charlotte Bronte.  I adore Jane Eyre, so this was a huge letdown.  I know many people love this book, but it just seemed like a huge slogfest, and the payoff sucked.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011: 

This one is a tie:  The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer and A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.  I expected to hate Sophy because I'm not a fan of Jane Austen wannabees, but this was great -- I could feel the Austen influence, but the characters were fresh and the story was pretty funny.   Not terribly challenging, but a fun read.

And I normally have no interest in epic fantasy but I fell in love with Martin's world of Westeros and its multiple intertwining storylines.  I finished the first three books in the series and I'm dying to know what happens next.

4.  Books I recommended most to people in 2011:  

The three volumes of Jane Austen annotated by David M. Shaphard:  Persuasion, Pride & Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility  -- though I admit I've only read two so far.  Persuasion and S&S are so wonderfully annotated, Pride and Prejudice must be great also.  I'm also looking forward to the annotated Emma which is out next spring.

And I've been recommending Zola all over the place.  Germinal is a masterpiece, but I loved La Bete Humaine and Pot-Bouille as well.  I first read Zola back in 2010 but this is the year I really fell in love with his work.

5.  Best series I discovered in 2011: Hands down, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.  See #3.

6.  Favorite new authors of 2011:  Georgette Heyer and George R. R. Martin.

7.  Most thrilling, unputdownable book of 2011:  Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  It's called Victorian Sensation for a reason -- I can see why this book has never gone out of print.  It's a fun Victorian roller-coaster of a novel.  Not very deep, but really fun.

8.  Book I most anticipated in 2011:  Probably Germinal by Emile Zola.  I'd heard raves about it from Amanda, and more than a year ago we put it on the reading list for our real-life classic book group.  I know it's more than 100 years old but it was my most anticipated book of the year, and one of my favorites.

9.  Favorite cover of a book I read in 2011:  Again, it's a tie:

The Night Circus is just beautiful and stylish, and I love the woodcuts in the Wodehouse editions by Overlook Press.  If I had more money and bookshelves, I'd buy the whole series.

10.  Most memorable character in 2011:  Two characters actually, both from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.  First, Tyrion Lannister.  He's a rude, lusty dwarf from a horrible family, but Martin makes him so interesting and sympathetic.  Also, Arya Stark, the ten-year old girl who's trying to survive as war breaks out in Westeros.  I can't wait to find out what happens to both of them.

11.  Most beautifully written book in 2011:  Probably The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I did have some problems with this book, but it was really beautifully written.  Unfortunately I can't pull any quotes from the book because there was a huge waiting list at the library and I had to return it immediately after finishing it.

12.  Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for me:  A Storm of Swords is my favorite so far in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but it was A Game of Thrones that dragged me kicking and screaming into the epic fantasy genre.  Definitely NOT my comfort zone!

13.  Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011:  A tie between Zola's Germinal and La Bete Humaine.  From Germinal I realized just how amazing Zola is; La Bete Humaine has moments that still shock me when I think about them.

14.  Book you can't believe you waited until 2011 to FINALLY read:  Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.  I've wanted to read it for about five years, since I read the wonderful Angle of Repose.  I nominated it for my library book group and we had a great discussion.

15.  Book you read in 2011 that would most likely to be reread in 2012:  The Annotated Persuasion edited by David M. Shaphard.  The annotations add so much to these books -- I get more out of them every time I read Jane Austen.

16. Book that had a scene in it that had me reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it?  (A WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc., etc).  No spoilers! : All three books in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin have moments that made me nearly drop the book and scream, "Oh. My. God!  That did NOT just happen!!"  And La Bete Humaine by Emile Zola had some shocking plot twists as well.

Just for fun, some stats about my 2011 reading: 

Books completed: 105
Pages read: approximately 35,586

Books by male authors: 38
Books by female authors: 66
Books by both male and female authors: 1
New books: 93
Rereads: 12
Fiction: 86
Nonfiction: 19
Short story collection: 7
Plays: 1
Children's books: 3
YA books: 1
Big fat books (more than 500 pages): 8
Books in translation: 11 (6 French; 2 German; 1 Swedish; 1 Norwegian; 1 Japanese)

Repeat: authors: I repeated a LOT of authors this year!  I read three books each by Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and George R. R. Martin; four by Emile Zola, and seven by P. G. Wodehouse.

Books from my TBR shelves:  26.  An epic fail!!  I read too many books from the library, and I'm sorry to say I bought way too many new books so I could read them immediately instead of taking something off the TBR shelf.

And let's not even discuss the books I bought in 2012 that are filling up the TBR shelf.  I think it's time to adjust my reading goals and habits.

What about you, bloggers?  Did you have a good reading year in 2011?  What are your reading plans for 2012?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Victorian Challenge 2012

Sorry for the double posting, but I accidentally clicked on publish instead of save as a draft.  Oh well.

I didn't mean to sign up for more challenges, but I love the Victorians, how could I resist?  This challenge, hosted by Laura at Laura's Reviews, is pretty easy by my standards:  two to six Victorian novels (or adaptations) are to be read, watched, or listened to.  I have stacks of Victorian novels on the TBR shelves, and quite a few in the DVD cabinet I still haven't watched.  I could easily complete this challenge by watching BBC adaptations alone, but that would be cheating.

According to my Goodreads 2011 list, I read seven Victorian novels this past year (strictly counting anything that was published in Victorian England; I'm not counting authors from any other country, so that means Zola is out).  Here's what I read:
  • Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  • Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Plus I read half of Daniel Deronda by George Eliot before I got distracted.   So I think I can easily watch, read, or listen to six Victorians next year.  Here's my tentative list:

1.  Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens -- already signed up for a group read for this one.

2.  Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens -- there's going to be a lot of Dickens obsession next year as it's the 200th anniversary of his birth.  Two Dickens doorstoppers in one year would be quite an achievement.

3.  The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy -- I'm hoping to get this on audiobook.  I've heard the version narrated by Alan Rickman is brilliant.

4.  Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope -- I loved Barchester Towers and it's been a whole year since I finished it, so it's time for more Trollope.

5.  The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith -- I've heard this is hilarious.  Plus I'm intrigued to read something by a writer named Weedon. And it's really short, a nice change from most of those Victorian chunksters.

6.  The Odd Women OR New Grub Street by George Gissing -- I've read a lot of good things about Gissing and got both of these last years from Paperback Swap.  I'd like to expand beyond Dickens, Trollope, and Hardy.

Besides these six novels, I own BBC adaptations of The Barchester Chronicles (starring Alan Rickman!), Daniel Deronda, and He Knew He Was Right.  Plus, I know with the Dickens bicentenary there are two new adaptations of Great Expectations coming to TV and theaters.   Maybe I'll even make it to Galveston for Dickens on the Strand next December!

TBR Pile Challenge

I'm a complete pushover for a good challenge, especially when it involves reading books I already own.  The other day I found another one that fits the bill perfectly for next year.  It's another TBR challenge, but with a twist:  participants must read at least twelve books off their TBR shelves, but every book must have been on the shelf for at least one year.  That is a real challenge!  It's hosted by Roof Beam Reader, a blog that's new to me, but I'm very glad I found it.  You can find the details of the challenge here.

Now, nearly all the books I purchased last year were more than a year old, but now I'll have to think carefully and choose books that I didn't acquire in 2012 -- tough, considering how many I got at book sales and the Borders liquidation (sniff, sniff).  However, I think I can manage twelve books in twelve months, and some of them will also qualify for my Classics Challenge (or is that cheating?)

Here are some ideas from a quick scan of my shelves, in no particular order:

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields -- this is an easy one; I'm starting a book group at my library branch and I deliberately chose this one for our February read.  Maybe I should take the entire years' reading list from my TBR shelves?  Completed 2/14/2012

A Bell for Adano by John Hersey -- I'm embarrassed to admit how long I've owned this book.  It's a Pulitzer Prize winner so I would feel guilty about giving it away unread.  Completed 8/17/2012

East of Eden by John Steinbeck -- how is it that I still haven't read this book?  I love Steinbeck and I hear it's one of his best.  I promised to read it in 2011 for my Reading Swap with Amanda.  Epic fail!  Completed 7/29/2012

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather -- the Cather novel that has been owned-and-unread the longest.  Completed 8/27/2012

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay -- This came highly recommended by a book lover in one of my Florida book groups a few years ago.  I was hoping to read it with a library group but there aren't enough copies in our system.  Completed 1/21/2012

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen -- I bought this about five years ago when I started on my quest to read all the Modern Library 100 Best Novels (I'm still stuck at about 46/100).  I keep forgetting about this book but Book Snob, (one of my favorite bloggers) included Bowen's To the North as her favorite read of 2011 so I'm intrigued.  Completed 10/18/2012

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles -- I had to include at least one neo-Victorian! And it's on the Radcliffe Top 100 List.  Completed 7/1/2012

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West -- I have a big stack of NYRB classics that I haven't read, and I've heard so many great things about this book.  Nicola at Vintage Reads raved about it this summer and there were so many great comments about it.  I haven't forgotten it but I really do want to get to it this year.  Completed 4/3/2012

Mrs. Craddock by W. Somerset Maugham -- another book I bought based on one of Amanda's raves.  We both love Maugham and we're going to read Of Human Bondage together this year for our real-life Classics book group, which should be great.  Of Human Bondage was one of the very first classics I ever read for pleasure, so I'll probably be eager to read more of his works this year.  Plus it's quite short so it should be a quick read after OHB which is kind of a doorstop.  Completed 1/28/2012

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty -- another of my suggestions for my IRL book group.  I try to choose books off my TBR list since it forces me to read them.  Completed 5/11/2012

The Barnum Museum by Steven Milhauser -- I bought this back in 2006 after watching the excellent movie, The Illusionist, which is based on one of the short stories in this volume.  I still haven't read any of the other stories in this collection, but my good friend Amanda over at Ramblings tells me that the first story, "A Game of Clue" is one of her all-time favorites, so she's inspired me to add it to the list.

Saplings by Noel Streatfeild -- I had to include at least one Persephone; it's the last of the Persephone classics (the ones available in the U.S.) that I haven't read yet.  And I've never read anything by Streatfeild, even though she's the beloved author of Ballet Shoes.  Completed 11/11/2012


The Provincial Lady in America by E. M. Delafield -- I loved Diary of a Provincial Lady, so this should be a quick, fun read. Completed 9/19/2012

Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford -- I received several of these lovely Vintage editions for Christmas last year, but haven't opened any of them!  Might be a good alternate to the weightier reads. Completed 10/27/2012

So what do you think, bloggers?  Good list or bad?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Persephone Secret Santa Reveal!

I was very lucky -- my Persephone Secret Santa gift arrived more than two weeks ago!  This is what's been waiting patiently to be opened:

There's a note enclosed which says to be on the lookout for something else, but I couldn't help myself, I had to open it today!  I don't know who it's from, but here's what I found:

It's Good Things in England by Florence White!!!  Very exciting!!  I've wanted this book since I saw it on the Persephone list -- I love cookbooks and British food.  I remember this being mentioned in one of my favorite food books, Laurie Colwin's delightful Home Cooking.  I love food history and historical cooking.  I really enjoyed the first Persephone cookbook I purchased, Kitchen Essays, and I bought Plats du Jour this summer (though I confess I still haven't cooked any recipes from either).

This book includes twelve recipes for gingerbread, plus all kinds of other fun stuff -- Madras chicken curry, kedgeree, and manchet, plus pease pudding and even haggis.  Okay, maybe I won't be making haggis, but it's pretty fun that it's included.

Many thanks to my secret Santa!! I still don't know who you are, but I love my gift!  If you read this, please reveal yourself in the comments.  I love my gift and I hope you get a wonderful gift from your Santa.  

And here's a link to the post from my secret Santee, Care of Care's Online Book Club!  Merry Christmas, Care, and to all the other Persephone Secret Santa participants.  And thanks again to Verity and Claire for hosting!

Who else had a visit from Secret Santa recently, Persephone or otherwise?  What did you get?  Let me know in the comments.