I’d like to say that I’ll look back and remember 2011 for the wonderful books I read. More likely, though, I’ll remember 2011 as the year e-books entered my life. From writing a paper on them for my proficiency exam to reading my first e-book, through buying an e-reader to watching the conniption fits they’re giving libraries, e-books are the defining feature of 2011 for me.
Which isn’t to say I don’t remember anything about this year’s books. I’m happy to say that I was able to give a good share of the books I read this year the highest marks. I hope this means I’m getting better at judging what kind of books I’ll like before committing either time or money to them. (Sure, it’s exhilarating to let it all out in a negative review, but it still means you had to endure the horrid thing in the first place.) Nothing I read this year was so dreadful that I had to give it a 1-star rating. I’m also pretty happy that I achieved a fair quantity of books read this year as well as quality. I participated in Goodreads 2011 Reading Challenge, setting my goal at 100 books. I managed 101 books in the end—yay!
Here are the books I read this year that stand some chance of my remembering them in years to come. In order of reading date:
- A Householder’s Guide to the Universe: A Calendar of Basics for the Home and Beyond by Harriet Fasenfest (6/10; finished 2/27/2011): Memorable. Definitely memorable. I went through the whole book ricocheting between finding useful information and concluding that the author was, ah, eccentric. As the title suggests, Fasenfest works her way through the year, with topics for the home, garden, and kitchen allotted to each month. But the book is as much memoir as it is householding advice, and between her way-too-personal anecdotes and her holier-than-thou tone, it ended up being a very annoying read.
- Castle Waiting by Linda Medley (10/10 (v.1); finished 3/14/2011; 9/10 (v.2); finished 3/16/2011): This is a 2-volume graphic novel series (so far) about the other characters in fairy tales, the ones who aren’t the prince and the princess. I’d seen it drifting around bookstores in various forms of publication, but it wasn’t until I found the v.1 omnibus at a used bookstore that I finally committed to it. The story loosely revolves around Lady Jain, pregnant and escaping her abusive husband. She ends up at Castle Waiting, the castle of Sleeping Beauty after the princess has woken up, married, and left for her husband’s lands. From there, the story, such as it is, just wanders through everyday life at the castle and nearby areas. Nothing wildly exciting happens, but it’s fascinating anyway. (How can a story involving a convent of bearded nuns be boring?) Ominously, Medley’s publisher tweeted that she was taking a break after v.2. Since that was over a year ago and I haven’t found any new information, I’m scared there’ll never be a v.3.
- Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter (9/10; finished 4/22/2011): This is one of those cookbooks that goes into the science of cooking. I have several of this sort of cookbook and enjoy them. The difference between this cookbook and the others is that this one includes recipes that could kill you if done incorrectly. Mishandle the liquid nitrogen needed for the ice cream recipe and you could blow up your house. But it’s a fun read, and I’m sure most of the recipes are perfectly safe to attempt. Probably.
- Epistles 1-65 by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (8/10; finished 7/22/2011): I became interested in Stoicism this year, and since Seneca is one of the more accessible Stoic writers, I started with his writings. When I started reading this collection of his letters, I was confused because what they were calling “letters” seemed more like “essays.” Eventually it sank in: if Seneca were writing today, these would be blog posts. And as long as I didn’t try to read too many of them at once, they were far more entertaining than I expected anything ancient to be.
- Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach; illustrated by Ricardo Cortés (8/10; finished 6/5/2011): A parody of a children’s book, with rhymes and pictures. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, it may be worth the 10 minutes of your time it will take to read it. Do not take it seriously; do not actually read it to children. And do not read it if you already know that the f-word will upset you; it’s not blacked out in the book itself.
- Ōoku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga: I began reading Ōoku at the end of 2010, and since the series isn’t finished yet, I’ll probably still be reading it in 2013 or later. But since I read most of the series in 2011, that’s when I’ll count it. Ōoku is a Japanese manga series, although unlike most manga that’s made it to the United States, it’s written for an adult audience. It’s an alternate history of 17th- and 18th-century Japan. The (fictional) redface pox epidemic devastates the male population of Japan, eventually reducing it to a quarter of the female. The Tokugawa shogunate adapts to the new gender ratio by installing female shoguns, first as placeholders until a male heir is born, and then eventually as shoguns in their own right as it becomes clear that those male heirs will never be born. Scattered throughout the series are shorter stories from all walks of life as women take over the positions of power and the men who make it to adulthood become treasured—and often sold— for their ability to father children.
- Traditional Astrology for Today: An Introduction by Benjamin Dykes (10/10; finished 12/28/2011): Yes, I read something that will have an even smaller audience than Seneca’s Epistles. See, I’ve been interested in learning traditional astrological methods for several years now, but the bulk of the materials available have been translations of the original classical and medieval authors. I’ve been hoping that more 21st-century astrologers would write up this material in a modern format, and Dykes has done so. Oh, he’s done nothing more than an introduction: it’s a thin book. But it’s understandable, presented in a logical order, has references for further reading, and he manages to present traditional astrology without taking potshots at modern astrological practice (most of the time, anyway).