Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Best books of 2011

One of the best gifts my parents gave me was a love of reading. No matter what else I’m involved in, there’s always a book in the background—not as a means of escape but rather as a way to keep a larger perspective. What I read and how I live go together. The following are the books that most affected me in 2011, no matter when they were published.

Contemporary novels:
Kathryn Stockett, The Help: Compelling treatment of relationships between black maids and white mistresses in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. The author uses the technique of deliberate exaggeration (stereotyping) of some of the white women, while, in contrast, developing more fully the characters of the black women. Good on interracial relationships, prejudice, hypocrisy, friendship and the power of the written word. I also enjoyed the movie.
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games; Catching Fire; Mockingjay: Provocative and violent futuristic fantasy books for young people about peace. It was almost impossible to put them down.
Stieg Larson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest:  Well written, if rather violent, murder mysteries with an underlying message about violence against women. I tried but could not watch the corresponding  movies because of the violence.
I love reading stories set other cultures, especially when the authors are from that culture. My favorites in 2011 included Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone (set in Ethiopia and India); Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,  Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria); and Chris Cleave, Little Bee (Nigeria and England).

Old novels: I also re-read several old favorites.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina: Tolstoy is probably my favorite author.
George MacDonald, Lillith: Every time I re-visit this old friend, I find new treasures. This is my favorite MacDonald book and represents his mature work. A fairy tale for grown-ups, it contains one of the most inspiring visions of heaven I have ever read (an influence on C. S. Lewis, precursor to the scenes in The Last Battle and Perelandra).
Pearl Buck, The Good Earth: The values embodied in this book reflect Buck’s growing up in China and her bi-cultural nature.

Memoirs: This was the year of the memoir, and I read some great ones.
Other memoirs I that impacted me include two books by Iranian author Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Iran and Memories: Things I’ve Been Silent About; Mary Karr, Lit: A Memoir (an unusual conversion story); and Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle (the best insider’s view of poverty in the US I have ever read).

Other non-fiction books I found engaging include the following: Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life; David Allen, Getting Things Done; Pete Grieg, God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer; Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully; and Thomas Kelly, The Eternal Promise.

I’ll save poetry for another blog.  I’d love to hear about the books that impacted you.

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