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2011, the year in reading

January 1, 2012

I did a lot of reading in 2011. As a literary agent, I’m essentially paid to read, and a funny thing happened in my first year of full-time publishing employment: in my spare time, I didn’t read much fantasy or science fiction, ostensibly the things that I’m looking for in my day job.

I did, however, read a ton of mysteries and romance novels, and quite a few nonfiction books. I’ve always had a soft spot for the pre and post World War I era, so a lot of the books I read had to do with that, although, not all. I think in 2012 I want to make sure I read more fantasy and scifi. Diversify my tastes, so to speak.

A few highlights:

An Unsuitable Attachment, Excellent Women, Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym.

Pym’s been called a latter-day Jane Austen, and there is something very Austen-y in her novels. They’re invariably set in the kind of small villages or shabby-genteel London suburbs that Austen wrote about, populated with recognizable types. There’s always a vicar or a clergyman, always a helpful spinster, always an academic type (usually an anthropologist.) Her books are all about community, and her characters invariably choose to make strange bedfellows rather than have no bedfellows at all. They (the noevls) explore in tender and subtle ways the methods we employ to order our lives, and her “excellent women” are always entertaining as they experience the highs and lows of village life.

The Proud Tower: The World Before the War by Barbara Tuchman

Like I said, pre-WWI. I loved The Guns of August and reading The Proud Tower was a complete joy. She makes reading about things like the nineteenth century Anarchist movement really, really interesting.

I hate picking Favorite Books, but I think my most favoritest book I read this year was Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente. It’s the story of a sexually transmitted city- that is, it’s a city that you reach by sleeping with someone who has been there, and they reached it in the same way. It’s the story of four people who arrive in Palimpsest on the same night, and who are tied together by their experiences. Travellers find each other in the real world by the tattoos left behind- maps of the city, inked on the skin. One of the foursome is unlucky enough to be marked on the face. Another is damaged when another traveller cuts off his tongue. She weaves sentences together like fine thread, and the entire book is a sensual joy from beginning to end.

All in all I read 33 books in 2011, which is about a book and a half a week. Not bad! I have a looong list of non-work related reading for 2012, including Cold Magic by Kate Elliot, which I got myself for Christmas.

Happy reading, everyone, and I hope that 2012 is full of joy and good literature.

Books I read in 2011,
in rough reverse chronological order. (rr) indicates a re-read.

84, Charing Cross Road (rr) by Helene Hanff
An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie
Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie
Victorian Minds: A Study of Intellectuals in Crisis and Ideologies in Transition by Gertrude Himmelfarb
The Habitation of the Blessed (A Dirge for Prester John, #1) by Catherynne Valente
The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World before the War 1890-1914 by Barbara Tuchman
The Ordinary Princess (rr) M.M. Kaye
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie
Ghosts by Gaslight: Stories of Steampunk and Supernatural Suspense ed. Jack Dann
Mistress of Mellyn (rr) by Victoria Holt
Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940 by D.J. Taylor
Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
Storm’s Heart by Thea Harrison
Serpent’s Kiss by Thea Harrison
Lord Lightning by Jenny Brown
Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente
A Courtesan’s Guide to Getting Your Man by Celeste Bradley
The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy by N.A.M. Rodger
Volt: Stories by Alan Heathcock
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam (AHAHHAHAA- i have exactly as much time as I did before, thank you, internet)
Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction vol. 1 ed. Pritham K. CHakravarthy
The Reckless Bride by Stephanie Laurens
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
How to Woo a Reluctant Lady by Sabina Jeffries
Vogue Living: Houses, Gardens, People by Hamish Bowles
Yours Ever: People and their Letters by Thomas Mallon

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2012 3:15 pm

    I adore Barbara Tuchman. The Proud Tower and The Guns Of August, to my mind, represent part one and part two of the same history. As a subset to that, The Zimmerman Telegram is a clear description of how Wilson got suckered into entering WWI.

  2. January 2, 2012 4:39 pm

    aaah Barbara Tuchman is THE BEST. I read Guns of August in high school and that, as they say, was that. I haven’t read The Zimmerman Telegram- I’ll have to check it out! Have you read Paris, 1919?

  3. January 2, 2012 7:06 pm

    That’s the McMillen book, isn’t it? No, it’s on my extended “to-be-acquired” list. Worthwhile?

  4. January 2, 2012 7:11 pm

    Yes, the Macmillan one. Very good. It might as well have been titled “Paris 1919: a series of poor and ultimately disastrous decisions”

  5. January 2, 2012 7:29 pm

    Kinda like today. 🙂 I’ll bump it up my list. If you’re into that kind of deep examination of period, let me recommend The Dark Valley: a panorama of the 1930s by Piers Brendon. It lays out the entire global political and economic situation leading up to WWII with clarity and as much dispassion as can be expected while still have a narrative focus. Good stuff.

  6. January 2, 2012 7:36 pm

    Oooooh- that sounds awesome. Next on my nonfiction list is Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins, but I think I might have to pick this one up.

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