Dec 28, 2011

2011: The Year in Review

Cuckoo Clock

2011 was not a great reading year for me. Last year, not only was I able to easily come up with a list of 26 favourites, but I even had an alternate list to spare. This year, not so much – I read fewer books overall, and fewer still that really impressed me. I have no doubt that much of this has to do with the fact that this was a difficult and exhausting year for me on a personal level. It takes both the book and the reader, after all, for that special click to happen.

Having said that, I’m still very grateful to have discovered the following books, all of which will undoubtedly stay with me for a very long time. Without further ado, here are my favourite reads of the year, in no particular order (as usual, this is a list of books I read this year, rather than a list of 2011 releases).


Best of 2011 covers
  • The 10PM Question by Kate De Goldi — A subtle and layered story about a family dealing with mental illness, making the best of their circumstances, and realising there is more than one way to be happy.

  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness — This take on grief, loss, and the importance of the narratives we build for ourselves is absolutely brilliant. I strongly suspect this will be next year’s Carnegie Medal winner.

  • Temeraire series by Naomi Novik — I read this whole series in a little over a month, so it has kind of become a single entity in my mind. No other books brought me as much joy as these this year. Who knew adding dragons to Regency England could result in something so rich in accurate historical detail?

  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides — Young twenty-somethings trying to find their place in the world, plenty of literary theory, a heroine obsessed with Victorian novels, and heaps of intertextual references. The ingredients alone make this sound like something I’d love, and fortunately the execution did not disappoint in the least.

  • Kraken by China Miéville — It might sound overdramatic to say that Kraken restored by faith in reading when I thought I’d lost it, but that’s what it felt like at the time. This novel of giant squids, secret cults and fiery apocalypses is one of the strangest I’ve ever read, but also one of the most fun.

  • To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf — Possibly my favourite of the Woolf novels I’ve read to date. I loved To The Lighthouse for many reasons, but was particularly impressed by its take on the obstacles to real intimacy put up by Victorian gender roles.

  • Ragnarök by A.S. Byatt — A tender, dark and memorable take on the Norse myths and the apocalypse by one of my favourite writers. The writing in particular is Byatt at its best – elegant and full of descriptive detail, but never excessive.

  • Among Others by Jo Walton — There are many reasons to love this subtle fantasy novel, but my main one was its realistic and very sensitive portrayal of a young girl’s intellectual development, and of the effect that constant engagement with ideas, fictional people and imaginary worlds has on her mind. This is certainly a book for book lovers.
Best of 2011 covers 2
  • Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson — I could have listed any of the Ibbotson novels I read this year, but this is perhaps my favourite. I’m sure it helps that it was my first, but also that it ties in with so many of my interests – the Edwardian era, the Amazon, women naturalists, exciting voyages. This is a fairy tale without magic, and an absolutely perfect comfort read.

  • Westwood by Stella Gibbons — While Nightingale Wood remains my favourite Gibbons novel, this is now a close second. A hilarious, gentle novel about a bookish and awkward heroine, with an ending that subverts the stories about women that remain dominant to this day.

  • Thank Heaven Fasting by E.M. Delafield— An unwavering look at the emotional and psychological consequences of the marriage market. While novels that focus on women’s enforced economic dependence often seem to invite a sigh of relief from contemporary readers, this one will very much not.

  • Chime by Franny Billingsley — An unreliable narrator, an atmosphere somewhat reminiscent of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and a close look at the clash between modernity and an older way of life; at gender and creativity; and at life in small communities. What’s not to love?

  • Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay— Oh Casson Family books, how do I love thee? I finished this series last year and didn’t know there was a prequel on the way, so finding Caddy’s World was like receiving a gift from the universe. Anyway: if you like smart and funny stories with brilliant characterisation and the ability to move you when you least expect it, please read these.

  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson — A character-oriented mystery that I particularly loved for its examination of the idea of the “perfect victim”. My fellow bloggers keep telling me I’ll love Atkinson’s non-mysteries even more, so I can’t wait to read them.

  • Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman — An absolute gem of a book, and a strong contender for the title of Short Book Most Likely to Make You Run Out of Tears (watch out, A Monster Calls). Gleitzman’s theme – a young boy’s loss of faith in adult infallibility – is by no means new, but he gets it absolutely right.

  • There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff — Last but not least, we have another winner by Meg Rosoff. The concept of this novel (what if god was a teenage boy?) seems to draw the most attention, but it’s really the thoughtful, hilarious and generous execution that sets it apart.


Best of 2011 Non-Fiction
  • Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine — My urge to stand on a street corner handing out copies of this book to random passer-bys remains every bit as strong as when I first professed it, almost a year ago. Delusions of Gender is both one of the best feminist books I’ve ever read and one of the best science books. Fine demolishes dangerous and prevailing myths about gender and biological determinism with elegance and wit.

  • The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller — A must-read for any Brontë fans, but also for anyone interested in the complexities and dangers of idealising others, in feminism and literary history, and in our changing perception of historical figures over time.

  • The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal — This memoir/family history/art history book was to me more than deserving of all the accolades it’s been getting. De Waal tells his family’s story with amazing sensitivity and insight.

  • Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson — Another fascinating piece of feminist social history from Virginia Nicholson, this time focusing on British women’s lives during WW2: What were they doing? What did it feel like? How did their experiences change them?

  • Letters from a Lost Generation edited by Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge — The collected WW1 letters of Vera Brittain and four men who did not survive the war – her fiancé, her brother, and two close friends. A harrowing read, but impossible to put down.
Honourable mentions: Fly By Night, Anya’s Ghost, Ship Breaker, Anna and the French Kiss, A String in the Harp, The Essex County Trilogy, A Doll’s House, Henry Dunbar, Walk Two Moons, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland on a Ship of Her Own Making, The Monstrumologist.


I must begin the stats section with the usual disclaimer. I was disappointed not to have reached 200 books for the first time in a few years – but I do of course realise that complaining about the number of books you’ve read, especially when it’s still a fairly high number by most people’s standards, has the potential to make you sound insufferably smug, like you’re fishing for compliments, or, worst of all, completely blind to your own privilege.

So let me get this out of the way: I feel blessed to have been able to read as much as I did, even if it wasn’t as much as in previous years, and I absolutely don’t see reading as a competitive sport. I publish these stats because I find other readers’ interesting, and therefore hope they may be of similar interest to others. But I absolutely don’t think how much you read say anything at all about you, other than perhaps how quickly you read or how much time you’re lucky enough to be able to devote to a favourite hobby.

Before I go on, I should also clarify that these percentages don’t add up to 100 because some of the categories overlap.

Total books read: 174 (23% down from last year.)
Novels: 107 (61.5%)
Short Story Collections and Anthologies: 4 (2.3%: mission Read More Short Fiction was a failure yet again this year.)
Comics aka Graphic Novels: 28 (16%)
Non-Fiction: 50 (29% — this number is a little inflated by all my dissertation-related reading.)
Poetry: 1 (0.6%. Eep.)
Plays: 2 (1.2% — better than last year’s zero, I suppose.)
In translation: 5 (A dismal 2.9%.)
Classics: 25 (14.4% — certainly down from last year’s 22%.)
By Women: 103 (59%)
By Men: 69 (39.8%)
By Men and Women: 2 (1.2%)
By People of Colour: 17 (9.7% )
glbtq: 16 (9.2%. Diversity roll call is about the same as last year, which is to say, still not great. More on this tomorrow.)
Re-reads: 1 (0.6%. I guess this year I have the excuse of having been separated from most of my books all year.)
By new to me authors: 98 (56% — though again the number is inflated by research-related non-fiction.)
Favourite authors discovered this year: Eva Ibbotson, Kate Atkinson.
Least favourite book of the year: The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison – apologies to any fans, but it really wasn’t for me.
Best reading month: January (26 books, or 15% of my yearly reading. I was ill for much of the month and took refuge in books.)
Worst reading month: September (8 books, or 4.6% of my reading. The month when I finished my dissertation – enough said.)

I’ll be back tomorrow with one last post about my reading plans for 2012, but I wanted to wish you all the best for the New Year anyway. May it be full of wonderful bookish discoveries for all of us.


  1. Hahaha, even though you've had an ultra busy year, you still read way more than I did. Well done Ana and I look forward to reading more recommendations from you next year:)

  2. Thanks so much for sharing, Ana! I see several books here I'd like to tackle in the new year myself. Also, I started reading Case Histories over the weekend! I don't think it's the right book for me right now, but I'll be coming back to it in 2012. :)

    Cheers to a new reading year!

  3. I've been thinking about getting The Hare with Amber Eyes for ages - just clinched it for me. In fact, almost everything you've listed sounds fascinating. Even if you did struggle to connect with as many books, it seems like the ones that hit it out of the park were amazing.

  4. 174 while you're in graduate school? I'd say that's pretty impressive! :--) I'd probably agree with you on the least favorite - I also found it to be a real dog, as you know!

  5. Sakura: Thank you and likewise!

    Andi: I hope you have more luck with Case Histories when you try again! It's pretty slow-paced for a mystery, so you do need to be in the right kind of mood for a slow and thoughtful read.

    Meghan: I'd really love to hear your thoughts on The Hare with Amber Eyes :)

    Jill: I half-cheated by including any books I read in their entirety for grad school - shame that I couldn't add up the scattered chapters here and there :P I loved your review of the Alison; it made me feel less lonely!

  6. Great list! I'm definitely planning on reading The Bronte Myth next year. Your the 3rd person to recommend it.

  7. I'm very impressed with your reading stats! My books read was down too and I wasn't in school. I haven't read any of your books but will be reading The Marriage Plot with my book club next year.

  8. I'm glad you still publish your stats because I love reading stats. :D I actually haven't read ANY of the books on your best of list except To the Lighthouse, and I read it when I was 21 and had absolutely no idea what I was reading. It's one to revisit some day. Oh and if you count the honorable mentions, Anya's Ghost, which I think was the only GN I read this year that I liked...

  9. I felt the same way about 2011 that you did. I kept trying to read what I knew to be some terrific books, but very few things clicked with me this year and I abandoned a lot of books, and I blame myself in most cases. I think the Eugenides will also make my favorites list this year, even though I was sort of disappointed in it...I think it was a "It's not you, it's me" experience!

    I'm so glad you loved Case Histories! I need to get on with reading the others in that series. From your list, the De Goldi, Ness, and Gibbons are going on my list for sure. :)

  10. Wow! You say it wasn't a stellar year but it seems pretty good to me. What book that you had to read for you dissertation did you like best?

  11. Your numbers are astounding! Especially 8 books the month you finished your dissertation! I rarely read anything non-academic for the 8 YEARS it took me to finish mine :( I'm working my way out of that trend though. My numbers aren't anything like yours, but they have increased between Year 1 and Year 2 of blogging :)

  12. What a great year for you—reading and dissertation-wise. Among Others was one of my best reads of 2011 as well, and has sent me further down the rabbit hole when it comes to fandom history…

  13. Ha, your list of favourites from this year reads like a chunk of my TBR! There is a reason for that, I suppose, since I pick up recommendations from you all the time. The Naomi Novik is the only thing I've read on this list already, though I have a Mieville on my favourites list from this year too.

    I like what you say about being fortunate to read as many books as you do. My reading suffered significantly this year, and I often *don't* realize how lucky I am that I read as much as I do, even if it's not as much as I want to. Thanks for reminding me to stay in perspective!

    Finally: one thing I've noticed with keeping track of statistics -- it makes me a better librarian. Keeping track doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to change my habits, but it does make me aware of my biases when talking to library patrons. Plus I like keeping track of numbers. :)

    Happy holidays, and happy reading in the year to come!

  14. I'm looking forward to trying China Mieville for Carl's Science Fiction Challenge in January/February. I was debating on either "Kraken" or "The City and the City." Have a Happy New Year. and here's looking to a better year on reading!

  15. Wow, 8 books during your dissertation month, I'm impressed! I may add the people of color and women vs. men to my stats this year as well. It's a good idea.

  16. A few of these are on my list for the new year, and a few of them are about to be purchased seeing that you loved them so much! Even though you had a slower reading year, it looks like you had a few great reads tucked in there too! I hope the upcoming year is an all-star year for you where reading is concerned, and I have to tell you that I enjoyed this post a lot!

  17. I know I must have read your reviews about all these books, but several titles are jumping out at me anew here, so I'm going to have to add them to my TBR. Millions Like Us, Delusions of Gender, Kraken in particular...

  18. Amanda: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! It gave me so much to think about.

    Kathy: Can't wait to hear what you all think!

    Amanda: I love stats too - this is one of my favourite times of the year blogging-wise for that very reason :P Sorry to hear you had such bad luck with GNs this year :\

    Priscilla: I know that "it's not you, it's me" feeling very well. There are plenty of books I read this year I need to revisit to be able to do them justice.

    Stefanie: Difficult question, but I think it was Boys, Literacies and Schooling by Leonie Rowan, Michele Knobel, Chris Bigum and Colin Lankshear. It was the book that helped everything click into place and that gave me the theoretical framework I needed. I also loved what I read of Dude, You're a Fag by C. J. Pascoe, but I only needed it for brief referencing and didn't read the whole thing. I should return to it!

    Peppermint Ph.D: It was only a Master's dissertation - I'm sure a Ph.D. would have had me reading far less! I'm glad to hear you're happier with your reading this year :) Blogging often has that effect.

    Clare: Do share any particularly interesting sources you stumble upon!

    Kiirstin: It's very easy to lose sight of that, isn't it? I only ever compare my numbers with those of previous years, but I'd hate to make any readers out there feel inadequate by saying "oh no, I didn't read 200 books this year". Also, that's such an excellent point about stats making you a better librarian! I'll keep that in mind next time I feel a little bad about posting mine :P Happy Holidays and happy reading to you too!

    Natalie: I haven't read The City and The City yet, but I've heard wonderful things about it. It sounds like either one would be a great place to start. Happy New Year to you too!

    Amanda: I hope you do! I'd love to see your stats. I'm really grateful to you and Amy, actually, as the Real Help project gave me lots of wonderful ideas that will help diversify my reading.

    Zibilee: Yes, there were some amazing books too, and I'm very grateful for that. Thank you for the good wishes, and the same to you!

    Fre: That happens to me too - end of the year lists always have me adding books I somehow forgot about to my wishlist. It's part of the fun!

  19. Wow, that's a lot of books! Great list of favorites Nymeth, I've added several to my list for next year. :-)

  20. It wasn't the best reading year for me either, but it looks like you still had some really great reads! Here's hoping 2012 brings all the good stuff! :)

  21. For someone who had a down year, you sure hit a lot of incredible books. I read A Monster Calls based SOLELY on your review (thank you for that!) and I would agree with Case Histories. In fact, I am making one of my 2012 goals to have a project on Kate Atkinson.

  22. This is an amazing end of year post, although it makes my stats look piffly. I know, it's not a competition, but still...jealous! :-)

    Like Kiirstin, your list reads like my TBR, which I find heartening. It means, hopefully, that I will enjoy them. The only ones I've read are Ragnarok (which I also enjoyed very much), The Hare with the Amber Eyes (which also made my end of year best) and To the Lighthouse (which I think is my absolute favourite Woolf out of all her novels). The rest are all yet to be enjoyed.

    Incidentally, I also heartily dislike The Very Thought of You:

    And finally, before this comment becomes even longer, I wanted to say how much I've been enjoyed reading your blog. I only recently discovered it, which is insane since I've been hearing your name around the blogosphere for a while. Thank you.

  23. Ahem, that would be 'enjoying' rather than 'enjoyed'.

  24. These end of the year posts are dangerous! I'd forgotten that I want to read Kraken.

  25. A great selection of books, Nymeth, some of them I've also read and loved. You remind I need to get my hands on a copy of The 10pm Question!
    Have a wonderful New Year!

  26. It sounds like even though you didn't have as much time to read as you did in previous years, you still managed to enjoy a wonderful assortment of books. I have just added Among Others to my TBR and I've been hunting for a copy of Disillusions of Gender at my discount bookstore ever since you first reviewed it.

  27. You still read more books than I did, if that makes you feel better. ;) This was a weird reading year for me, too!

  28. It's uncanny how many books on this list are on my wish list.... :)

  29. Ahahaha, I so many feelings about one of your favorites. So many feelings. Maybe I will live vicariously through you on that score.

    Totally going to read Delusions of Gender now. I am determined to read some books on feminism this year instead of just sending you email going " about this..." FAILURE.

  30. I loved Among Others as well and now I wonder why I didn't put it on my list?
    You've read a few others I loved too and some that are already on my pile.
    Very nice choices.
    I know what you mean by restoring the faith in reading. I had such a year when nothing seemed to spark and I was thankful for that one book that manage to give me back the joy of reading.
    I think To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway and Flush are my favourite Virginia Woolf novels.

  31. You still had a great year considering all that you have going on. I haven't been keeping up with my stats although I plan on still getting them done. I didn't have the best reading year since some of my reading mojo disappeared after last year and I found myself in many slumps. However I'm hoping that 2012 is going to be a great year for you Ana!

  32. I think you did pretty well, considering you were full-time in grad school for the duration of the year! Well done :-) @011 wasn't a great reading year for me, either, but I did get through some EXCELLENT books, which makes it not a complete loss :-) And I am so excited by our buddy read to really end 2011/start 2012 on a great note of diversity!

  33. Your list is dangerous, Ana! :) I just put a hold on Delusions of Gender & will have to check whether my library has some of the novels on your list, too.

    I've read Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson & loved the book (=a collection of stories with a "Buffy-connection" :)) so much I've had difficulties in getting into any of her other novels. I'm actually thinking of rereading Not the End of the World in 2012.

  34. Happy New Year. I'm afraid many of your favorites will be ending up on my TBR list!

  35. Nymeth, I really don't think you should have a disclaimer about your stats. For book bloggers and readers in general, reading is like breathing. I have a hectic full schedule of classes next semester and one of my worries is that I won't be able to read enough. When I don't read, I get cranky! ;-)

    Anyway, I'm going to add The 10pm Question to the top of my tbr list. I remember reading your review about it earlier this year but I couldn't find a copy of it. I hope next year is much better for you (and more relaxing!) than 2011. Happy New Year.

  36. What a wonderful reading year! My review of Case Histories is scheduled and I love your comment about the "perfect victim." That was such an interesting aspect. I also caved and bought A Monster Calls the other day. I absolutely loved it.

  37. Oh what a fabulous mixture of books you've read this year, I've added quite a few of them to my tbr list!

    My review of the year will be posted tomorrow.

  38. Joanna: I hope you enjoy the ones you pick up!

    Amy: Fingers crossed!

    Sandy: You're most welcome :D Sharing recommendations is what this blogging thing is all about. I look forward to hearing more about your Atkinson project!

    Victoria: Thank you so much for the kind words! They means a lot coming from you. I'm more of a lurker than a commenter over at Eve's Alexandria, but I find you all a constant inspiration.

    Jill: I hope you enjoy it! It's such a strange book, but in the best possible way.

    Gavin: I would love to hear your thoughts on it :) Happy New Year!

    Brenna: Fingers crossed that you do find Delusions of Gender! It's such a great read.

    Tasha: Fingers crossed for a better 2012!

    Renay: I'm all for reading books, but I hope that doesn't mean you can't e-mail me and Jodie anyway. We LIKE talking about these things with you, you know :P

    Caroline: It's such a wonderful feeling to find a book that finally pulls you out of a slump, isn't it?

    Dar: Thank you! I hope it's great for you as well :)

    Aarti: It's all about the quality, right? And yes, the book we're reading is certainly a great way to start the year! Can't wait to discuss it with you.

    Tiina: I really need to try some of Atkinson's other books. Everyone keeps telling me they're better than her mystery novels.

    Kathleen: Happy New Year!

    Vasilly: That's very true. I just can't help but worry - you know me :P I hope you do manage to find a copy of The 10PM Question. Happy New Year!

    Melissa: I really look forward to your review!

    Jessica: Hope you enjoy them! And Happy New Year :)

  39. I continue to be delighted that you enjoyed Hilary McKay so much. Caddy's World was wonderful too! I thought it tapped into some of the underlying sadness in the series really well, without getting depressing at all.

    The reading year wasn't great for me either. I miss my regular home library. New York Public Library makes it harder to get awesome books. :(

  40. January is traditionally my biggest reading month as well. I think the rekindling of blogging and reading excitement around this time of every year contributes quite a bit to that fact.

    Nice to see Among Others on your list, it was a terrific book. And I was fortunate in that a friend sent me his copy of Kraken so when I get time to read it I'll have it near to hand.

    Hope 2012 sees you finding more books to get excited about than you did this year. I wish you all the best for the new year! :)

  41. Wonderful post, Ana! Loved the statistics! Congratulations on a wonderful reading year in 2011! You have read a lot of wonderful books! Nice to know that you loved Virginia Woolf's 'To the Lighthouse'. I haven't read any books by Virginia Woolf before. Just started 'Mrs Dalloway' and am finding it quite interesting. I also got a book of Woolf's essays recently and read one of the essays and it was quite interesting. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the essays in the collection.

  42. Lovely to read your stats, I always love reading them. You read so many more classics than me, inspires me... kind of... :) Makes me THINK I should read more but not actually follow through I should say. LOL.

    (btw I also didn't reach 200 last year!)

  43. Well, that's the only redeeming thing about a significant illness, the amount of reading time that it can --sometimes-- translate into. I'm glad you rediscovered your bookishness in the Mieville novel; that makes it sound irresistible. Mostly with your list, I just found myself nodding along with it because several of the titles are ones that I've enjoyed and many more are on my TBR list. I hope your 2012 doesn't require any disclaimers and that it holds many new favourites for you! Thanks for all the terrific suggestions throughout 2011!

  44. I love seeing these favorites of the year lists because there are some I missed for one reason or another when you first posted about it! Way to go on your reading, even with the dissertation in the way. Sounds like it wasn't the most satisfying for you, but what a list of intriguing books for the rest of us to look in to!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.