2011 Reading List

I didn't really make any real New Year's Resolution this year, but I did make a reading list.  Actually, People Magazine made it for me. You see, I got a new kindle for Christmas (which I love) and was looking for some new books to download and read.  While on the plane to visit Doc's folks for the holidays, I flipped through People Magazine's last issue for the year.  You know, the one where they sum up everything that happened that year and rank everything on their Best and Worst lists.  Alongside the Best Hair and Worst Dressed was their list of Top Ten Books from 2010.  Just like their movie list, I hadn't even heard of most of the list, let alone actually read any of them.  But I decided right then and there in my aisle seat that "ya know what? I'm going to read all of these books this year."  And that's the closest I got to any kind of resolution.

I've made a little bit of headway on the top ten list, but it's nowhere near complete.  I'm not gonna lie, some of them I dread reading.  But I'm gonna do it, dang it.  Maybe you'd like to read some of these with me?  I will try to come back and update this list as I finish reading each book.

[Everything in blue is straight from People Magazine.  They are not my words.]

Room by Emma Donoghue           It's a ripped-from-the-headlines scenario: Kidnapped and impregnated by her captor, the heroine of this mesmerizing novel must raise her son in a garden-shed prison.  Who could possibly relate?  The way the peerless Donoghue handles it, anyone who's ever loved a child.

Status:  Complete Verdict:  Good, but not great.  I enjoyed reading it even though there are some gross parts.  The story's told by a five-year-old so it was interesting seeing things from his perspective.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot           A poor southern farmer, Lacks died of ovarian cancer in 1951.  Her tumor's unusually hardy cells, harvested for lab use, have helped lead to countless medical advances, yet her descendants remained too poor to buy health insurance.  Skloot's nuanced investigation is an eye-opener.

Status:  Complete Verdict:  A really good read, and educational.  It was like watching a really good documentary.  The book kinda flip-flops between the story of Henrietta's family and their lives now and the scientific research being conducted with her cells.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen           Impressive and engrossing, Franzen's zeitgeist-capturing tale of love, family, and the search for meaning lived up to the considerable hype. 

Status:  Not Started

Life by Keith Richards           The much-anticipated memoir from rock and roll's Rasputin proved well worth the wait.  "Believe it or not, I remember everything," Richards declares, and so it seems, from the Rolling Stones' beginnings to his drug-fueled heyday (and beefs with Mick) to the lovely women along the way.  But it's his smarts and passion for music that shine most brightly; fan or not, you'll love him by the end. 

Status:  Complete Verdict:  For me, it was torture to get through.  I'm sure any avid Rolling Stones fan would find lots of it entertaining, but I have zero interest in sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  I felt like it was incredibly long and took forever to finish; I'm sure that's just because I wasn't into it.

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron           At 69, she's just two years older than Keith Richards, but to hear her tell it, Ephron's recall's far worse.  Luckily some synapses are still firing:  The follow-up to I Feel Bad About My Neck includes chapters on her youth and career and drily hilarious musings on the trials of aging.  If we have to grow old (and as they say, consider the alternative) there's no better guide.

Status:  Complete Verdict:  Meh.  Honestly?  I don't know how this ended up on the top ten list.  I didn't think it was that great.  It was about nothing at all and seemed like it could have been written by anyone.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan           Much was made of Egan's experiments with form in this inventive novel (there's an entire section written in PowerPoint).  But it's the characters-record exec Bennie, his assistant Sasha, his childhood friends and the poignancy of their shifting fates that make Goon Squad indelible.

Status:  Complete Verdict:  I was easily hooked from the first chapter, but midway through I lost interest.  I forged on, though, and by the end I was back into.  Each chapter is written from a different character's perspective, and the time periods jump around a lot.  There were a few chapters I coud've done without, mostly because I don't think they added to the story a whole lot.  I won't go into too many details in case anyone wants to read it, I'll just say it wrapped up nicely.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand           She was gathering information for her smash '01 bestseller Seabiscuit when she came across Louis Zamperini in the sports pages.  Intrigued, Hillenbrand made the Olympic runner and WWII prisoner-of-war-camp survivor her next project.  As painstakingly researched and evocative as its predecessor, Unbroken is a triumph. 

Status:  Complete Verdict:  LOVED this book.  I dreaded reading it because I'm not into history/war books, but my mother-in-law recommended it and told me I'd enjoy it, so I dove in.  Oh my gosh, it's so good.  You don't have to be into war stories to appreciate this true story.  Seriously, if you only read one from this list, pick Unbroken.

Just Kids by Patti Smith           Reading rocker Smith's account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, it's hard not to believe in fate.  How else to explain the chance encounter that threw them together, allowing both to blossom?  Quirky and spellbinding. 

Status:  Gave up Verdict:  My kindle says I made it through 36% of the book, but I think my mind checked out around the 20% mark.  I could not get into this one at all!  Every sentence was chock-full of capitalized words that I didn't know - I'm assuming artists of all kinds of varieties.  I couldn't follow, or maybe I just didn't care.  Either way, I quit without finishing it which is something I rarely do.  I hate to give up on a book, but this one was torture for me.

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1           Open this book to any page, and you'll happen upon a gem.  ("All over the world there seems to be a prejudice against the cab driver...")  Published on the 100th anniversary of Twain's death, as he stipulated, this memoir brings him gloriously alive. 

Status:  Not Started

One Day by David Nicholls           After a one-night hookup, newly minted college grads Emma and Dexter agree to meet on the same date, July 15, every year.  Will they end up together?  Their deliciously witty love story keeps you reading and looking forward to Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in next year's movie. 

Status:  Complete Verdict:  Took a little while to get into, but then just like that, I was hooked.  I enjoyed it.  It didn't end the way I thought it would, so it was nice to have a little twist.  I think a movie is in the works...should be good.

As an Honorable Mention, People Magazine listed Stieg Larsson's Millennium crime trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest).  I plan on reading these, too.  Fun fact from People Mag:  Last summer (2010) the books from the trilogy were selling one per second in the U.S.  The books have sold 50 million copies worldwide, and a film starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara is in the books. 

So, have you read any on the list?  Which ones are going to be better than expected?  There are definitely a few I'm dreading...