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Reading When I Don’t Have To: My Top Ten Books of 2011

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” — Oscar Wilde

I love this time of year. Do you know why? No, not because of Christmas. No, not because of New Year’s. I mean, do any single people love New Year’s? New Year’s is depressing if you’re single, let’s be honest. Well, I don’t suppose it’s depressing if you’re single and willing to kiss strangers. I’m not kissing some stranger. I don’t know where that stranger’s mouth has been. Ew. Also, I’m working on New Year’s. Someone has to deal with the weepy drunks calling at all hours on New Year’s Eve, and that person is yours truly. Well, yours truly and her co-workers, I suppose.

NO. The reason I love this time of year is LISTS. I love reading everyone’s best-of year-end lists like some people love things like, oh, I don’t know, social interaction. Or golf. Or internet porn, I don’t know, think of something people do that jazzes them and then substitute me loving lists and that completes the simile. I love year-end lists of all shapes and styles. They are my favorites. And this year, I get to MAKE some! Well, I’ve always made them. I just didn’t have anyone to read them. Now I have MINIONS! Who may or may not care what things I am making lists about! This is SO EXCITING I CAN’T EVEN!

So today, let’s talk books. I haven’t counted up all the books I read this year yet. It’s a smaller number than usual, though. I blame Twitter. And blogging. And my phone. But I love all of those things, so I can’t really blame them, now can I? If I was a New Year’s resolution kind of person, I’d say, “I’ll do better next year, momma, I promise, please don’t hit me with the hose again!” but I’m not, and my mom never hit anyone with a hose, anyway, I made that up, why would she hit anyone with a hose? That’s absurd. I’ll probably do the same next year as I did this year, which is, try to win Twitter and blogging and read when I can, which is seldom. But be happy. There’s a resolution for you. Be happy. Shouldn’t that be everyone’s resolution? Yes. Yes, it should.

Anyway! So I went through my totally anal list of the books I’ve read up until this point, and I hemmed and hawed and compiled and crossed things off and finally came up with my top ten. This might change in like three days when I make my own personal top ten that I post on my wall for the year. Yes, I do that. Yes, I’m weird. No, this shouldn’t surprise you. If it did, you haven’t been paying attention.

So here are my top ten books for the year, in ascending order. Much like my list of songs, these were not all published in 2011. I think that’s acceptable. I mean, who has time to only read books that were published this year? You’d miss out on a lot of great books that way, I think.

I hope you find something you love! If you do, let me know. You know  how above I said I love lists? You know what I love even more than lists? Discussing books. What? Someone’s yelling something in the back. Is it nerd? Yep. Yep, I totally am. Yelling something that I’m not embarrassed about only makes you look like an asshole, Loud Larry.

Also, I’ll try really hard not to be spoilery. I hate that. So if I spoil anything, I apologize. I want you to want to read them; I don’t want you to leave here feeling like you already have.

A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
Published in 1996

I was slightly interested in this book, but I thought, “I’m not a fantasy fan, so I won’t like it.” Then the Geek Girls Book Club chose it as one of their selections, and some woman in the New York Times told me women wouldn’t be interested in it (and you KNOW I don’t like being gender-stereotyped or told what to do), so with those two things combined, I thought, “hmm, let’s give it a go.”

ZOMG IN LOVE.

So apparently, I DO like fantasy literature. Who knew? This is very exciting.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year, the Song of Ice and Fire series (of which this book is the first installment) is about a fictional kingdom, Westeros, and the inhabitants therein. It’s set in what is roughly akin to medieval times, but there is magic, and there is evil, and there are power plays, and there is royalty, and there is romance, and there is betrayal, and there are dragons. And there is Tyrion Lannister, who makes the whole series worthwhile for me. There’s also the series on HBO, which I gobbled up over two days once I’d finished the book and now cannot wait for the second season. The only worry I have is that Mr. Martin will pass away before he finishes the series, and that would be heartbreaking. Have you ever attempted to read a series when someone else steps in to fill the shoes of the original author? Does the term “hot mess” mean anything to you?

A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin
Published in 2000

I promise there are other titles on this list but Martin titles. Just stick with me here.

So this is the third book in the series. The second book is very good, too, just not top-ten good. This book is the one where things HAPPENED. I mean, shit went DOWN. I had to put the book down a few times because it floored me. Also, I fell hard-core in love with a character I had HATED in the first two books. To the point where I had to email people, all, “Am I broken? Am I supposed to be falling for this person? Because I hated this person before? And now, all the love? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?”

I love when a book does something like this. When words on a page move you like this, it’s a type of magic, honestly. And I don’t think there’s enough magic in the world. So I take it where I can get it.

Those Who Save Us – Jenna Blum
Published in 2005

Trudy’s mother Anna survived Germany during World War II, but refuses to speak about what happened there. Trudy, a professor of German history, is determined to find out the truth of her mother’s – and ultimately, her own – history. But there’s a reason her mother’s been hiding the truth, and what a person is capable of in order to protect the people they love are more than anyone can imagine.

This is a painful book. No question about it. I mean, are you expecting a pretty book, considering the subject matter? But it’s got poetry, too, between the pain and heartbreak. Anna is one hell of a strong woman.

The title is based on a quote, “She can never tell him what she started to say: that we come to love those who save us. For although Anna does believe this is true, the word that stuck in her throat was not save but shame.” I love that. So, so much.

Remember how I like my music dark & twisty? I like my books that way, as well.

11/22/63 – Stephen King
Published in 2011

I already reviewed this over at Insatiable Booksluts (I’m the one who liked it the most, obviously!) but listen, I can’t stop thinking about this book. I think of new things I would change, were I able to go back in time, on an almost daily basis, even though I know that would screw up the fabric of time. Who wouldn’t want to fix things, even though the consequences might be severe?

Maybe it wasn’t his best book. But it’s stayed with me. So it was a successful book, and one of my best reads of the year.

Bossypants – Tina Fey
Published in 2011

“A coworker at SNL dropped an angry C-bomb on me and I had the weirdest reaction. To my surprise, I blurted, ‘No. You don’t get to call me that. My parents love me; I’m not some Adult Child of an Alcoholic that’s going to take that shit.'”

Listen, I laughed out loud so many times reading this book that I’m pretty sure my neighbors, my coworkers, the people walking by my car, and everyone who caught me reading in those few days thought I was a complete and total loon. Which I am? But that’s kind of beside the point.

You know how Tina Fey is a hysterical actress and screenwriter? She’s also a brilliant writer-writer. No joke. Her life is HYSTERICAL. She seriously can turn the slightest thing into the funniest situation you’ve ever come across. She is my idol. I want to be Tina Fey when I grow up, and I want to be best friends with Tina Fey, and I want to go to there. Daily. Also, she’s a hard-core feminist without being scary about it. She just is. I adore her. Seriously. I kind of worship at the church of Tina Fey.

Also, she was a total theater nerd growing up. Theater nerds represent!

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Published in 2011

Also reviewed this one, in brief, over at Insatiable Booksluts. If you are a nerd, know a nerd, grew up in or around the 80s, or like awesome things? You will love this book. It has everything. 80s nostalgia, friendship, romance, intelligent writing, humor, pacing that speeds you along without making you feel rushed, actual stakes that the characters have to work toward. I loved it. Just devoured it. I was so sad when it was done.

Also, Wil Wheaton reads the audiobook, and who doesn’t love Wil Wheaton? And he’s mentioned in the book itself, but I won’t give that part away, because it’s too goddamn good. When you come to that part, you’ll totally cheer. Because it should happen, honestly. It really, really should.

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai
Published in 2011

Lucy is a small-town librarian whose favorite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, both kidnaps her and forces her to kidnap him for a cross-country trip to escape his parents, who are forcing him to attend “pray away the gay” classes and not allowing him to read any of the books he wants to read. On the way, Lucy runs into her inconsiderate boyfriend, possible mob men, a house full of ferrets, and falls more in love with Ian. What’s the right thing to do in this situation? Do you save the boy? Or do you save yourself?

I adored this book. It was life-affirming and heartbreaking and frustrating and wonderful. I wanted to scoop Ian up and hide him under my bed and give him every book he ever wanted for the rest of his life. It has everything I love – books, libraries, crazy people, love, loss. Just an amazing read.

Vaclav & Lena – Haley Tanner
Published in 2011

Vaclav and Lena are Russian immigrant children who meet in an ESL class in Brooklyn. Vaclav wants to be a magician; Lena wants nothing more than to be his lovely assistant. All seems to be on track and destiny seems to be spinning along beautifully. Until Lena disappears, leaving Vaclav to say goodnight to her, every night, without fail, hoping to one day find, as if with magic, his lovely assistant again.

Oh, magic, how I love you. Oh, romance, how I love you, as well. This was a perfect novel; there was magic, and there was romance, and just when it seemed to be getting too treacly, the darkness seeped in and you saw the man behind the curtain, dressed all in black, beckoning the little girls to come to him. Don’t expect to leave this book without some tears. It kind of breaks you. But it’s got hope in it, too. And a lot of magic. Magic goes a long way.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
Published in 2011

My top three books are all about magic, romance, and darkness. I think it’s pretty obvious what I love most in the world.

A young boy and a young girl are pitted against one another in a life-long battle to the death. A circus blooms like magic overnight, calling people to it with a siren-song of caramel and seduction and mystery. A farmboy falls in love with a girl who can see the future in the stars. A contortionist keeps her secrets hidden. A clockmaker starts a movement. A fire goes out. A new one starts. Lives end; lives begin.

This book wouldn’t let me go. I just finished it a few days ago. It’s one of the only things I did over the Christmas holiday. When I wasn’t with family, I was curled up reading. I stayed up much too late with the people in the circus, going from tent to tent, finding what was hidden and what was lost. It’s beautifully written; it’s like a book-length poem in its beauty, really. Oh, and the love story. You will just adore the love story. It’s swoon-worthy.

Swamplandia! – Karen Russell
Published in 2011

Apparently, this was one of the New York Times Best Books of the Year? I have impeccable taste, truly.

Three children grow up in a run-down tourist attraction named Swamplandia! with their parents in Florida. Their mother swims with crocodiles. Their father is the barker and the keeper of the park. One of the children loves the park and everything contained therein. One dreams of escape. One dreams of love and sees ghosts in the trees.

The magic in this book is just the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. And then it wrecks you. It utterly wrecks you. I won’t tell you how, because that’s a total dick move? But it does. I like books that do this, because real life does this, and I like things that are real. I don’t like the fairy tale. Or, I take that back, I DO like the fairy tale, only the REAL fairy tale, the GRIMM’S fairy tale, with the wolf actually ready, willing, and able to eat the children, or the red-hot shoes that actually burn off your feet. I like the reality in my books, because otherwise, I want to cry “foul!” and I want to cry “too easy!”

There is magic, and there is romance, and there is a giant tongue, and there is a man who is also a bird, and there are crocodiles, and there is family who loves one another more than anything imaginable. You need to read this book. I actually gave it as a gift to all three of my people I give books to this year, and I never do that. I wanted everyone to read it. I wanted to share it far and wide. It deserved it, and they deserved it.

So there you go, kiddos and kiddlettes! I hope you find something you love! And if you’ve read any of these, what did you think? Tell me tell me tell me, I want to know! Because you know what G.I. Joe used to tell me after school when my brother was all, “WE ARE WATCHING THIS NOT THE FACTS OF LIFE AMY” and that is, “Knowing is half the battle.” And the other half is, I think, killing one another with assault rifles, but we’ll leave that for another day.

Happy Wednesday! Oh, I’m totally still dying of the grippe, just so you know! Or maybe a wasting disease. It’s debatable, really.

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About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

17 responses to “Reading When I Don’t Have To: My Top Ten Books of 2011

  • Recommendations by kaazz - Pearltrees

    […] Reading When I Don’t Have To: My Top Ten Books of 2011 « Lucy's Football I promise there are other titles on this list but Martin titles. […]

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  • elaine4queen

    i don’t read books with MY EYES any more because they hurt, but what i do do do is listen to audio books. this has made my reading/listening list a bit odd, since it depends on what has been made available and if i can stand the voice of the person reading it.
    i am currently listening to 1Q84 which got panned, but i am enjoying it. it is 46 hours long! FORTY SIX HOURS. i mean, i like haruki marakami anyway, and i also like a long listen. i think reviewers hated it because they started thinking about their hourly rate and how they could be working in a sweatshop and get paid more. still, i like it.
    i also liked the ‘mystery man’ trilogy. it’s crime and humor at the same time which is a mix made of win, and add to that that the voice artist was great, and that though the books were normal length there were three of them. plus, i got them for my mum for xmas, which was also a load off my mind.
    i listened to ‘the corrections’ recently, and ‘the shipping news’ both of which i read when they first came out, and that was good, too.
    i’m going nowhere with this, it’s just a list. i’ll stop now.

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    • lucysfootball

      I have 1Q84 on reserve at the library – I like the author, so I think I’ll like it. I can’t get into audiobooks for some reason – the only time I can listen to them is when I’m driving, and then I get SO INTO THEM I almost drive off the road. Or do, actually. Once I actually did. Stephen King’s “UR.” Drove right off the highway. I decided it was probably best I confine my reading to actual books, for everyone’s safety. :)

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  • Andreas Heinakroon

    Interesting list! I’ll study it in more detail once I get more time (my mum and her husband is coming to visit in a few hours).

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  • Cassie

    So many of these books I keep seeing on other bloggers best lists. I think it’s high time I add them into the TBR Pile. Thanks for the recommendations as well. : )

    PS. Douchecanoe – what a fantastic word.

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  • lynnettedobberpuhl

    Haven’t read ANY of those. And I totally wasted a couple of days this year reading crap or almost good (but just. not. quite.) when I could have been reading these. Sigh. Soul-suckingly magic books give me a terrible hangover, but that doesn’t stop me from reading them. Thanks for the recommendations!

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    • lucysfootball

      You’re welcome! I hope you find something on here you love! I read a lot of crap this year, too, don’t feel too bad! Why are there SO MANY CRAPPY BOOKS? And once I start, why must I refuse to quit reading them? Gah.

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  • Mer

    I am so lucky to have you as a friend. And one who shares at that!

    I am one chapter in to Swamplandia! – it will probably take me months to read due to my wackiness, but I love it so far.

    Bossypants is the only book I have finished on your list. Oh, Tina Fey. *sigh* Is it possible to “Misery” someone in a happy way? I would totally hold Jimmy and Tina hostage. :)

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    • lucysfootball

      I’ll “Misery” her with you. But happy-“Misery” her. We’ll “Misery” her with LOVE.

      I am the lucky one! :)

      I think you’ll love Swamplandia! – so much beauty in that one book. I want to reread it already. I think I have to buy myself a copy of my very own at some point! Take your time and read it as long as it takes you – it’ll be better, because you’ll have time to digest it!

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  • lahikmajoe

    So, for once I can’t write a blogpost in your comments. Though I’ve heard about many of these books, I haven’t actually gotten round to reading a single one.

    I’m often reading the book of the year from several or many years ago.

    And that photo of the man arms cradling Tina Fey’s pretty little head makes me weirdly uncomfortable.

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    • lucysfootball

      I know, I don’t love the cover of Tina’s book. It’s creepy.

      That’s ok – I’m reading the Martin books and they’re 15 years old, some of them! Nothing wrong with discovering a good book years later. That’s why books are awesome – they endure for us to love them for years to come.

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  • blogginglily

    The biggest problem with taking off a lot of time around the holidays is the blog backlog I develop. So let me say a few things here before moving on to the next . . .

    1) I hate lists. I mean, not YOURS. I love YOUR list, but in general, i hate lists.
    2) Game of Thrones is a great series AND HBO has done it real justice. I started reading the books when they first came out and fell in love with Martin’s ability to surprise me in a genre that is soooo ordinarily predictable. I love that his villains are “real”. There’s a REASON they’re opposed to the heroes, and that reason makes THEM the hero if the story is told from their perspective. . . which Martin then DOES! So yeah, Jaime Lannister. . . completely evil. . . wait. . . I like him. . . wait. . . so conflicted.
    3) I mostly glossed over the rest of your list. I’m not proud of it. . . but my backlog is ENORMOUS. There are at least two more of YOUR blog posts on it, and they’re typically MASSIVE.

    So. . . you know. . .

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    • lucysfootball

      It’s ok. I’ll let you gloss. YOU GET A PASS, JIM.

      (But only Jim gets a pass. The rest of you better be reading EVERY LAST WORD. I mean it!)

      Are you so excited for season two of GoT on HBO? I cannot WAIT. Although I’m even MORE excited for Season Three, assuming it’s renewed. Season Three will be KILLER. I wonder if they’ll split it up into two seasons because the book was so massive and there was so much going on in it.

      Also, Jaime Lannister is second only in my heart to Tyrion, now. I’ve only read up to book 3. Starting book 4 soon. It’s a treat I’m saving for myself when I really, really need it, and I’ve been very good.

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      • blogginglily

        Tyrion is awesome. Jon Snow is my favorite though.

        I’m on the fifth one now. The fourth one pissed me off because the scope of his characters got so broad that he split the books into characters. . . books four and five occur simultaneously, but he writes about five or six characters exclusively in each. MISSING from Books 4, for example are both Tyrion and Jon Snow. PISSED. So you may as well get Book 5 too, cause it all happens at the same time.

        He’s got two books in the series listed as “upcoming” and since he publishes on average ever three fucking years, it’ll be 6 years before I’m done with this awesome series if he doesn’t pull a Robert Jordan on me (if you don’t know what that means . . famous fantasy writer. . . huge series. . . died before the final book. . . )

        Yes, I’m very excited for the second season.

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        • lucysfootball

          You’re the second person that’s told me that today! Tyrion AND Jon are missing in Book 4? ARGH! Two of my favorites! Well, I suppose I can make do as long as I have Arya, Samwell & Jaime…but I’m not happy about it!

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