Monday, January 9, 2012

books of 2011

I have a bit of a memory problem where books are concerned. Two weeks after reading a novel, I'm lucky if I can remember the name of more than one major character. A month or two later, and I couldn't tell you a thing about the plot. A year out, and I'm lucky if I can even recall whether I liked it or not.

A couple months after I read Toni Morrison's Beloved towards the end of 2010, Mark, wanting to test my literary amnesia, asked me the name of the grandmother (a central character). I couldn't remember it. A few days later I received a triumphal text with the words "Baby Suggs" (the grandmother's name, of course). Only problem is, he had read the book ten years before.

While I couldn't make myself magically start retaining the details of what I read, I decided that keeping a list of the books I read was a place to start. Reviewing that list at the end of 2011, I also found it to be a good way of marking a year past.

Breathing Space reminds me of how Heidi Neumark's words opened up space for me to cry with the weight of the stories people told me as I prepared their taxes. The Time Travelers Wife, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian all came from a Brooklyn roommate, when lots of time on the subway meant I could go through a novel a week. The New Jim Crow was from a sermon recommendation at my NY church home, and changed the way I understand justice and law enforcement in the US. Young adult fiction in Spanish is for the anxious summer of wondering what moving to Arizona would be like and if I would, in fact, be capable of doing the job I was assigned. And there is more serious stuff too, Dreams in a Time of War, Strength in What Remains and Half a Yellow Sun, all accounts of war in Africa, were difficult to return to in the evenings after days of conversation about poverty, race and class.

Here's the list (just don't ask me too much about the books!):
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Breathing Space by Heidi Neumark
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiongo
A Shorty History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
En Busca de Milagros by Julia Alvarez (translated)
Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal by JK Rowling (translated)
Sweet Charity by Janet Poppendieck
All You Can Eat: How hungry is America? by Joel Berg
The Ground Beneath her Feet by Salman Rushdie
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngoiz Adichie
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Vergese
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

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