Monday 19 December 2011

Best of 2011: Part One

Believe it or not, 2011 is the first year in which I have kept a record of every single book I have read and as of today, 19th December, I have read exactly 100 books.  I'm thrilled with that and still hope to finish a few more before the start of 2012.  Having kept such a record for the first time, it has been easy for me to look back and see what books I have very much enjoyed this year.  I've highlighted one favourite book from each month to share with you all over a series of posts.  Today's post covers Jan - April:


The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

This retelling of the life of Jesus is a thoughtful examination of how stories change depending on who is telling them and on the role of the church in creating and shaping myth.  Pullman separates Jesus into two characters - Jesus (in the Jewish tradition) and Christ (who starts to create the new Christian ideas).  Despite it attracting a lot of controversy, I found that most of Pullman's anger was directed at the institution of the Church, not religion itself.  A great book for anyone who likes to be made to think.


Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is all about human lives against the backdrop of civil war in Nigeria.  This book was my first introduction to Adichie, and since then I have read all of her published books this year.  Adichie alternates sections about the war and sections about life before the war to show how the war has altered everything and how everyday concerns just vanish in the face of extreme difficulty.  Recommended for fans of historical fiction, literary fiction and armchair travellers.


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

OK, OK - this one is in here partially because I am proud of myself for completing it, but mainly because I am proud of myself for enjoying it.  I hadn't read much classic Russian literature before trying this book and I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible and soap-opera-ish it was.  It's a true epic with many interweaving characters and stories threaded together by Tolstoy's wonderfully perceptive observations about what it is to be a human.  Recommended for fans of classics, even if you think you can't do it.


People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book is historical fiction at it's finest.  Hanna works as a book conservationist and is sent to war-torn Sarajevo to restore an immensely valuable Jewish Haggadah.  Through the use of many characters in settings such as Spain at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, Venice and Yugoslavia, Brooks lets us see the journey of the book and the factors contributing to it's survival.  Recommended for historical fiction fans and general book lovers.

Next time: May - August, including some non-fiction as well as fiction.
Interestingly, three out of these four books were library books.  I use the library a lot more than I really should, given the amount of unread books I actually own, but I have been introduced to some great authors through randomly picking books up off the shelves.


  1. Sam,
    This is really awesome that you broke it down by month. I should consider doing the same; although, I only read around 35 or so. Great job on covering so many! Glad you enjoyed Anna Karenina (it's one of my favorites) and will definitely have to check out Adichie as she's been on my TBR list for a while now.

  2. Thank you for these suggestions. People of the Book sounds especially interesting to me, and Anna Karenina is probably a book I should re-read. I first read it as a teenager and would like to rediscover it with more grown up eyes.

  3. Well done on reading 100 books!

    I have yet to work out my end of year posts! But I like the idea of the book from each month!

  4. Oh, you've made me feel so bad that I haven't read any of your favourites this year! :-)
    Well done on reading so many - it's a great sense of achievemnt.

  5. Beth, I think you should do the same, I would be interested to read it. I can't recommend Adichie enough, and definitely start with Half of a Yellow Sun.

    HKatz, I would have read Anna very differently as a teenager so maybe you would have a different experience?

    Jo, thank you. You are more than welcome to steal the book of the month idea :P

    Mel, still eight months to go, so you never know ....

  6. The People of the Book is one of my favourites this year too. Fantastic. Hope to read her other novels soon. Hope all is well x

  7. Pullman is one of my fav writers but I haven't read this latest book yet. I wasn't sure I would enjoy it but your review has made think me I definitely should give it a go.

    I'm impressed with the Tolstoy, he's one of those writers I always swear I'll read but then when it comes down to it I always find an excuse not to. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

  8. Congratulations on reading 100 books! This is a great idea, it's lovely to see what books you are highlighting. x

  9. Beth, I hope to read Caleb's Crossing by her soon, I've heard very good things about it.

    Louise, I'd say give it a go. It's a very short book too.

    Lindsay, thank you :)

  10. I've really liked Geraldine Brooks writing, but somehow I've passed over People of the Book. The synopsis always sounded dull or something--you've renewed my hope though! I'll put it on my list. :) Also, I'm about done with Anna Karenina and really loving it, I'm pretty amazed at how very little I remembered of it from when I read it in high school.

  11. Great recommendations, and I can't wait to see the rest of your list!!! Thanks for reminding me about People of the Book!

  12. Half of a Yellow Sun is a must read for me next year! I loved Anna Karenina, too!

  13. Melody, it is definitely not boring - it's epic! Don't worry about the synopsis, the story is well worth it. I'm glad you're enjoying Anna Karenina as well :)

    Andi, happy reading :)

    JoAnn, can't wait to see what you think of Half of a Yellow Sun. I've recommended it to everyone this year!

  14. I heartily endorse keeping a list! I'm reading the Adichie in 2012, largely thanks to you! I can wait to make my end of year posts; I have so much time to read in the next few weeks that I'm going to wait.

    So the Pullman anger didn't turn you off? I struggled with that in the third book of the His Dark Materials set.

  15. Jenny, so glad to see that you're going to read Adichie! Now that I've gone on about her all year, I hope that you enjoy it :P

    There isn't anger in Good Man Jesus like there is in His Dark Materials and what anger there is is directed at the church rather than religion. But then, I don't mind a bit of anger in books so I'm probably not the best person to ask ...

  16. Great list, and congrats on the 100 books! woohoo! Have heard such good things about the Geraldine Brooks... one of those on the must-get-to list. The Philip Pullman sounds very thought provoking. He is also someone I'd love to read more of.