Books of 2011

Last year, I set myself a challenge to read 50 books. I never used to need such a challenge, I used to simply read as many books as were available. Nowadays though, it’s not so simple, one mood episode and I can’t concentrate and I stop reading for weeks, even months on end.

I reached 47.

Considering that includes Gone With the Wind, and that there’s several other books only 300 pages shorter, and I started university this year, I’m hardly displeased with that.

I’m going to recap the highlights from last year, and maybe a few of the truly low points.

Firstly, I have to mention Moby Dick. Took me 6 months to read, but I was really glad I finished it, including the supposedly eminently skippable whale encyclopedia sections. Something about Melville’s writing was just so delectable, despite being so rambly.

I was most glad to read 1Q84, given that for a long time, there was no certainty of it being published in English at all. Wind-up Bird Chronicle was definitely the better Murakami though- possibly better even than Kafka on the Shore.

Any year that contains two Ishiguro novels to go along side the Murakami’s is always a good one as well. He’d stand a chance at being my favourite author if not for Murakami. I always love the slight sadness, and subtlety. Ishiguro never labours a point, indeed, quite the opposite, he allows it to dawn upon you ever so gently. It makes for quite a powerful experience, in it’s own way.

Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series deserves a mention simply for being such a fun read. Not at all challenging, but not overly simple. Just an awesome set of lighthearted reads that don’t patronise the reader- perfect!

Probably the biggest surprise of the year was Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks. After finishing Gone with the Wind, the idea of starting a 600 page book was at least a little intimidating. I certainly did not expect to find myself racing through it, and finished all of a week later. Faulks wartime novel managed to avoid cliche and repetition of a theme, largely through the use of rather wonderful prose.

On the other side of the coin, the biggest disappointment has to be the version of Kafka’s The Castle that I read. Not sure if that’s just due to the translation, which it might well be. I know that I rather loved The Trial, so I think I shall have to give this one a second try.

Hurry Down Sunshine is probably the book that spoke to me the most, portraying as it did a young person with bipolar. Books like this leave me feeling so much less alone.

Cloud Atlas ranks as the most interesting book, in terms of concept and execution. Most writers would balls this entirely up, but David Mitchell (and not the one you’ll have heard of), managed to pull off writing the lovechild of If On A Winters Night A Traveller and a short story collection with a surprising level of success.

Terry Pratchett’s Snuff was amusing, as is to be expected. Unfortunately, the writing style is plainly less tight than it used to be, leaving me wondering if there’ll be any more.

Finally, the books that left me feeling like I was wading through a slew of mud: The Sea, Dining on Stones, and Beloved.