When I was counting up how many books I read this year (somewhere between 140-150) I was expecting it to be a lot less than last year when I’d taken a YA lit class in library school and was reading a book a day for a couple of months. But I think I read about 180 last year, so it’s not as big of a difference as I expected. My list this year is similar to the one from last year in that it doesn’t accurately represent my reading as a whole. There’s a higher percentage of nonfiction and even adult books than make up my normal reading diet, which I attribute to the fact that when I do pick up adult or nonfiction books I am already pretty certain I will like them, where I will read any old YA vampire book. 7 of these books are adult, 7 YA and two are children’s. 3 are nonfiction and 2 are graphic novels. I reviewed 142 books this year which leaves out the adult books I’ve been reading since I started writing on this blog. Most surprising is that only 3 have a New York City focus, whereas last year the majority did. If I count the Tim Gunn book, 4 have strong gay themes (though I admit that Dan Humphrey’s bi-curious kiss isn’t exactly a “strong” gay theme, Chuck’s winning queerness pushes Gossip Girl over the edge).
Some of my original reviews can be found on this blog and those have been linked to, the others were all from my other, personal blog.
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan – So it’s pretty obvious that I really loved this book and was going to put it on this list. A fairy tale retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red” never had it so good. Violent and scary and sexy, this book about learning to leave heaven behind is one of my most favoritists ever.
Tamar by Mal Peet – I read this at the very beginning of last year and so while some of the more complex plot machinations now escape me, I will always remember it as a devastating love story on par with the Time Traveler’s Wife. Along with Tender Morsels, this was classified as YA but could easily have been adult. Betrayal and friendship and Nazi’s and finding out that the people you love are both more and much much less than you ever could have imagined. Melodrama at its finest.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Addictive, can’t-put-it down novel about post-apocalyptic sacrificial gladiators as a reality show. The kick-ass heroine of the story doubts her chances only so long as it takes her to realize she’s perfectly suited to kill and survive and manipulate the emotions of the viewing audience.
Band Fags by Frank Anthony Polito – Really touching book about what it’s like growing up in a place that doesn’t fully accept you, while in some sense remaining a product of that environment. You can leave, but you can’t escape who you were while you were trying to survive it. But it’s not as grim as all that, it’s funny and charming and Jack is so lovable and heartbreaking.
Trespass by Valerie Martin – Multiple, interwoven plot lines about the many different ways that people encroach on our lives and threaten what we think we know about ourselves. There are some really terrifying passages about the Serbo-Croatian war that I think are literally the only time a book has made me fear for my own future safety. Both intellegent and entertaining.
Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee – Broad examination of how Chinese food came to be so popular and ubiquitous in America (and the world), how it’s evolved to suit American tastes, and its effect on the Chinese immigrant community. I was personally very invested because I work with the Fujianese immigrants who now make up the bulk of restaurant workers and all of the peripheral businesses that serve the industry are within about two blocks of my library.
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan – Melancholy, last day of summer camp-type book about the last night of a Red Lobster located in the parking lot of a mall. Working class, middle America at its most sympathetic. The main character, the restaurant’s general manager is a decent guy who works hard and cares about his customers and employees. But even though his best is really pretty good, it’s not enough.
Everything Bad is Good for You by Stephen Berlin Johnson – It’s not that video games or television are better for you than great literature or going to see a symphony orchestra, but that high art has only ever appealed to a small group and the mass entertainments that we’re all gobbling up are better and more complex than ever before. I went into the book expecting to agree with it, but was surprised by how well argued and thought out it was, helping me to think deeper about its issues.
A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style by Tim Gunn – Tim Gunn is wonderful. I would do anything he told me to, and after reading this book I threw away about half of my clothes. It has fundamentally changed the way I think about fashion and style and dressing well.
Freak Show by James St. James – The costs and joys of letting your fabulous freakishness all hang out while going to high school in the most conservative and judgmental of environments. Almost getting killed for dressing in drag leads Billy to “Footloose up” his private, southern school. He’s everyone’s funny, dynamic friend who seems to put it all out there while really just being an elaborate defense mechanism. Here you get to peer behind the facade and see the pain he isn’t letting himself feel as well as going on a thrilling roller coaster ride with him. One of my favorite characters of all time.
Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily von Ziegesar – What can I say about this series that hasn’t already been said? It doesn’t have a whole lot of plot in common with the show (though the 2nd season has been pulling out a lot more stuff) and some of the characters are really hugely different. But they are all mockably, hilariously well-developed and lovable against all odds. This series is addictive and often laugh-out-loud funny. I’d just like to add my voice to the small choir of adults praising these in the hope that more people give them a chance.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – I read this when I was about 8 or 9 and loved Anne Shirley and everything about Prince Edward Island. The books, the tv shows, everything. I’ve been meaning to reread this for years but finally got around to it with all the publicity surrounding their 100th anniversary. Anne is still as cool and kickass as I remembered. She makes a mess of everything but never comes out the worse for it; Bella Swan could learn a trick or two about how to actually be an independent woman while still worrying about your friends and family and place in the world.
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale – Other than the uncategorizable Anne, this is the only children’s book and one of two comics on my list. Rapunzel is coming to the rescue and she isn’t taking any guff. The iconic American folk tale that the 21st century deserves, with beautiful illustrations and a seamless blend of fairy tales and folk lore and everything we all love about the wild west.
Sweethearts by Sarah Zarr – I love the way Sarah Zarr explores class issues and family relationships. The emotional force of this story doesn’t come from the severity of the shared secret at its center, it comes from the effect a moment and a friendship can have on a person’s entire life and how people can let things drag them down. Anyone who’s ever loved someone they couldn’t save will find a lot to relate to.
Breaking Up by Aimee Friedman – Insightful and wonderfully illustrated comic about female friendship. The people who know you the best are the most capable of hurting you and it doesn’t always have to be a “mean girls” situation. Sometimes the mean girl is you and none of the justifications in the world will make a broken friendship right again.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – This is a deeply creepy book. Not scary, just haunting. Would be fun to read after Trespass, as it explores similar themes of invasion and security but in such a different way. In a creepy, creepy, gothic way.