Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The First 10

If you read my reading goals post from a few weeks ago, you'll know that I'm planning on switching up my reading blogging format for this year. Instead of posting weekly reading updates (which felt rather redundant to my Goodreads reviews), every 10 books I read, I'll write a post, ranking the last 10 books I read.  Here are my first 10!

To be honest, it was a little difficult to rank these because I really liked a lot of them, and would say I enjoyed reading all of them. I think they're a particularly interesting mix of Young Adult fiction, "serious" fiction, and non-fiction.
1 | Graceling  Kristin Cashore
I've had this book on my list to read since the day I joined Goodreads almost 2 years ago. I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to it - maybe I was afraid of being disappointed?  Luckily I had nothing to fear. This is perhaps my favorite kind of book - set in a unknown, magical world, with characters you can love and admire.

2 | Fire  Kristin Cashore
After finishing and loving Graceling, I knew I needed to read it's sort-of sequel, Fire. I say "sort-of" because this isn't actually a sequel at all, it's just set in the same general world, though in a different time, and different part. Really, what these 2 books have in common is the same feel of magic and wild. Once again, these characters are so engaging, I can't help but support them and want the best for them.

3 | An Abundance of Katherines  John Green
Here is another young adult novel, but one completely different than the first 2 on my list. I loved this book because it was real and witty and surprisingly, sometimes shockingly, funny. I loved how quirky and OCD-ish Colin is, and his cast of friends are all unique and fully themselves, as they try to figure out exactly what that means. On top of all that, though, after reading this book, I discovered the video blog of the author John Green and his brother Hank, who in 2007 challenged themselves to no textual communication (email/texting/IM) for the whole year, communicating almost entirely through daily video blogs back and forth. These guys are so funny and hilarious and warm and real, I feel like we're already good friends, even though I'm only up to April 2007. And apparently, the video blog was such a success that that they still record videos, though not daily anymore. You can check them out at their youtube channel, Vlog Brothers. Can you tell I'm slightly obsessed? :)

4 | The Vanishing of Katharina Linden  Helen Grant
This was my friend Heather's pick for our book club this month, and I am happy to report, it's the first book (of the twelve we've read so far) that everyone has liked! Usually, there is at least one dissenting opinion, but for once, we unanimously enjoyed this book. This is a funny yet creepy little mystery set in a small town in Germany, and though the cover describes it as a "modern day fairy tale", I'd say it's less fairy tale and more social commentary from the perspective of a child, ala To Kill a Mockingbird. It's definitely one I would re-read sometime, because I was totally surprised by the ending!

5 | Kitchen Confidential  Anthony Bourdain
I used to think Anthony Bourdain was kind of a jerk, based on his appearances on Top Chef, but I had heard his book was really good, and I admit to being curious about the culinary world, so when I saw this one for $1 at a local library sale last fall, I was quick to pick it up. I definitely enjoyed this book - Bourdain is straightforward, descriptive, and honest, both about his checkered past and the restaurant business. I loved hearing all the nitty-gritty details about life as a chef, working at a restaurant, and everything that entails. I have a much better opinion of Bourdain now, to the point where I actually found him charming when he appeared on Top Chef last week. :)

6 | The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  Rebecca Skloot
This one is a really fascinating true story and one of my mom's favorite books from last year. Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman who died of cancer in the 1940s, is the woman who, unbeknowst to her or her family, provided the first cells to be grown in culture and the cells that are most widely used for research to this day, HeLa cells. Rebecca Skloot does a great job presenting both sides of the debate on the ethics of cellular research, writing from the perspective of both the medical community and the people whose cells are harvested, often times without their knowledge. The real heart of this story, though, is the effect these cells had on Henrietta's family, especially her youngest daughter, Deborah.

7 | Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer  James L. Swanson
Abraham Lincoln is one of my favorite presidents, and after reading a great biography on him last year, I was curious to know more about his assassin, John Wilkes Booth. While you will not find a more detailed and better-written account of Lincoln's murder and the search for his killer, in the end, I was left saddened and disappointed, not in the book itself, but just with the whole situation. While I was curious about Wilkes Booth, to be honest, I don't really want to know more about him, and the more I learned, the more I was frustrated in his audacity and single-minded obsession. Even thinking about him now makes me mad. Some things in life just aren't fair, and one of those things is that Lincoln was murdered on perhaps the happiest day of his life, when the long struggle of the Civil War was finally over.

8 | The Elephant's Journey  José Saramago
One of my friends on Goodreads, Lori of the Next Best Book Blog, sent me this book last fall after she ended up with 2 ARCs. The subject matter seemed really fascinating - based on a true story, of how in the 1500s the King of Portugal gifts an elephant to his cousin, the Archduke of Austria, and the subsequent journey that elephant makes, together with his mahout, from Lisbon to Vienna.  And don't get me wrong - the story really is fascinating, and the characters are unique. I love elephants, and it was interesting to see how people reacted to him along the journey.  But Saramago's writing style can be difficult to absorb, as he writes in solid chunks, also stream-of-conscious style, without pausing to change paragraphs or anything during dialog. It can be a challenge to read, and I have to admit, sometimes when I am reading, I don't want it to be so difficult.

9 | Nightlight  The Harvard Lampoon
This book was a gift from my friend Heather LAST christmas (as in, 2009!), and though I am slow, I finally picked it up and read it the first weekend of the new year. This is a ridiculous and funny parody of the Twilight books, which I can take for exactly what it is: a humorous over-exaggeration of the flaws found in the popular, overly dramatic teen vampire books. Despite my irrational love of the Twilight books, I still found this book pretty funny, and it's definitely a light, silly and fun read.

10 | Claim to Fame  Margaret Peterson Haddix
Although I did eventually enjoying reading this book, it ends up on the bottom of my list because I know it could have been so much more! I still enjoyed Haddix's writing style, but her heroine, Lindsey, was pretty annoying for most of the book, and I didn't feel like her "special talent" of hearing other people's comments about her was very well integrated into the story.  I loved the concept, though, which incidentally had a few things in common with Graceling, and a few of the characters stood out as being quite enjoyable, like Roz. I'll continue reading Haddix's books, as I've liked others by her, but maybe my expectations will just be a little lower.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2011 Reading Goals

After much thought, I present to you my reading goals for this upcoming year. :)

1| Read 100 books.
Since I've met this same goal the last 2 years, part of me feels like I should increase my overall reading goal, but to be honest, I like round, even numbers too much.  And though I like pushing myself, I think upping my goal to another round number, like 125 or 150, would be too stressful to sustain. Above all else, I read for enjoyment, and I never want to lose that.

2| Read long books.
There's something thrilling about finally finishing a hefty book, and I want to continue to challenge myself to pick up and read the big books that are only too easy to pass over. I will definitely be reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, as it is one of our book club picks for this year. I also hope to finally read The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, as well as another epically long Russian tome or two.

3| Read Russian books.
Yes, I failed miserably at this goal last year, but I'm really hoping to do better at it this year.  Hopefully, by starting with specific books in mind, I can be more successful.  On my list to read are The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin, which I began about 5 years ago and never finished; Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who is my favorite Russian author; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who I have only ever read short stories by; and Death and the Penguin by Andrei Kurkov, a modern Russian novel, and one that seems different from any of the others I've read.

4| Blog.
I don't think my Weekly Reading blog posts last year really accomplished what I wanted - a different perspective on my reading. Sure, sometimes what I wrote about each book was different than my Goodreads review, but as the year went on, I found myself copying and pasting more and more. What I've decided to do instead this year is write about my books in sets of 10, ranking and comparing them to one another. Every time I hit 10 books, I'll write a post, talking about each book and ranking them in order of preference, from #1 to #10. Hopefully this will be a unique enough perspective to not grow boring. It will be a challenge, I'm sure, to pick favorites, but a good challenge!

And that's it! Hopefully with only a few specific goals, I'll be able to really focus on them this year.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

126 Books Read in 2010!

126 Books read in 2010!

Another year has come to an end, and I'm proud to say that I once again met my main reading goal for 2010, reading 100 books. At times this year, it was a challenge. My trip to Israel and Turkey this summer didn't provide me with much reading time, as I was uploading photos and blogging our experience every night. Add to that a major lull in reading in October, and for a bit there, I wasn't sure if I was going to finish! Luckily, I was able to refocus by catching up on my manga, and eventually far surpassed my goal.

As for my other goals for 2010, I was successful in some, and others, not so much.

1| Read 100 books.
Success! :)

2| Read longer books.
I would say I was moderately successful with this goal. I am proud that I finally read Anna Karenina (838 pages), and while I didn't read the rest of the books I had originally planned, I still managed to get through several other "epically long" books: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (944 pages), The Children's Book (675 pages), The Lonely Polygamist (602 pages), and a re-read of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (759 pages).

3| Read from the LOST List in January.
This one I can say was a resounding success! Though there are still quite a few books on the Lost List I want to read, I managed to read 6 books from the list in January, and 3 more throughout the year. I liked most of them, but I would say my favorites were probably Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Everything That Rises Must Converge.

4| Read a Russian book every month.
This is the goal I failed miserably at. Yes, I read Anna Karenina, but that was it. I really do what to read more Russian literature, I just couldn't make myself. Hopefully I will do better at this during the coming year.

5| Write weekly reading updates.
If you follow my blog, you'll know that I kept up with my weekly reading updates for most of the year, until my friend John's death in October. After that, I didn't really feel like it, so I lumped the last 3 months together in monthly lists. To be honest, a lot of the time, my weekly reading blog felt really redundant to what I was already writing on Goodreads.

So that's it!  I still use Goodreads regularly, and am grateful that I have a spot that I can track all my reading. If you feel like signing up for Goodreads, you can add me as a friend here. You can also check out a list (with links!) of the books I read this year. :)