Saturday, 31 December 2011

Reading in 2011

One of my three New Year's resolutions for 2011 was to keep track of what I read. I've done this using LibraryThing, which is quite a good system. So here is my personal set of book awards for 2011.

Favourite all-round book of the year:
A tie between these two, which are both humane, amusing, and intelligent:
  • Moo by Jane Smiley
  • Rameau's Niece by Cathleen Schine
Moo is a great campus novel which I read back in January. Rameau's Niece is another academic-y one. I read it in August, and since I never reviewed it on this blog I'm posting here my review from LibraryThing:
Wonderful, my favourite of hers so far. Margaret has a lovely husband, a terrible memory, and a surprise bestseller under her belt, an edition of a post-Revolutionary anatomical treatise by a Frenchwoman. Now she's editing an eighteenth-century philosophical dialogue which is really the story of the seduction of the eponymous niece of Rameau -- written by a philosopher at a time when "philosopher" had a secondary meaning of dirty, dirty man (e.g. Sade, Casanova). Unfortunately she gets rather caught up in her work, and rediscovers erotic yearnings. This novel is great fun, affectionately satirical, and pokes gentle fun at the idea of the search for knowledge as a form of sexual desire.

Snidest and most subtly brilliant author:
  • Muriel Spark, especially for The Abbess of Crewe
  • Barbara Pym, especially for A Glass Full of Blessings
Enjoyable company, but likeable?  And a runner-up prize for Elinor Lipman, The Ladies' Man.

Best light-hearted reads:
  • Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce books
  • Paul Magrs's Brenda books
Two excellent series, worth saving up.

Favourite author discoveries
  • Jo Walton
  • Javier Marías
  • Ismail Kadare
with runners-up awards for Cathleen Schine, Allegra Goodman, Kate Christensen, and Ian McDonald.

"I'm an Intellectual me" award for high-brow books I actually really enjoyed
  • Javier Marías, Your Face Tomorrow trilogy

Reliably cheering author award:
  • Marian Keyes
  • Jilly Cooper
and a lifetime service award to Georgette Heyer

Brilliant memoir award:
  • Rhoda Janzen, Mennonite In A Little Black Dress
  • runner up Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman

You're A Bit of An Arse award for being entertaining but mostly a bit of an arse:
  • Russell Brand, Booky-Wook Two

Very interesting history/biography award:
  • Bride of Science by Benjamin Woolley (about Ada, daughter of Byron)
  • Mad Madge by Katie Whitaker (about Margaret Cavendish, another early female scientist)
  • Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey
  • Augustine of Hippo by Henry Chadwick (worthy but more likeable than you'd expect)
  • As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil by Rodney Bolt (Mary Benson)

Ouch award for unpalatable truths:
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
There's a lot of racial tension in the US but when you read this book it's hard to understand why there isn't out and out war. Of course this book was credited by Abraham Lincoln no less with starting the War Between the States.
Honourable mention to John Lanchester, Whoops!.

Best drawings:
  • Hark a Vagrant! by Kate Beaton
  • The First In Line by Mattias Adolfson

And here is an analysis borrowed from how Stuck In A Book does it, though shortened.
  • Total number of books read: 209
  • Gender of authors (of each book): 107 male, 92 female, 5 not sure (they're all K. J. Parker), and 5 anthologies
  • Fiction vs non-fiction: 181 to 28
  • Number of re-reads: 23
That's less non-fiction than I would have guessed, and fewer rereads.  Also I would have expected the male/female ratio to be more equal (though K. J. Parker is probably a woman, which would make the numbers closer).


  1. thank you! though i'm not sure what Effie would think about being thought of as light-hearted...!

  2. No, Effie is certainly very serious! I do really love these books -- when a new one comes out I save it up as a treat.