True life: I like books. Sometimes, I like picking up new (and used) books more than I like reading them. I get ahead of myself. When I’m looking for new titles, I sometimes skim the best-seller lists — but I’m more likely to commit to reading a book if someone takes the time to explain the plot and tell me why he liked it so much.
So I gathered a few recommendations from the Living staff here at the Daily Record. Check out our picks for the best books we’ve read in 2011:
Sarah: The “Hunger Games” trilogy comes to mind right away. I read all three books within a week, making myself late for work every day as I struggled to put them down. The books focus on a dystopian culture where a teenage boy and girl from each of the 12 districts is chosen for the Hunger Games: A kill-or-be-killed fight to the death. Dystopian novels have always pulled me in, and the fast pace of these novels kept my attention the full way through. But I’d also give mention to “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” by John Boyne, which tells the story of a 9-year-old German boy who struggles to understand his place in 1940s Nazi Germany. He befriends a boy on the other side of a fence near his home, and the unique perspective of a 9-year-old makes this one of the most clever books I’ve read this year.
Teresa: The ones I reviewed this year that I especially liked:
— “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” by Michael Chabon
— “People of the Book” and “Caleb’s Crossing,” both by Geraldine Brooks
— “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls
— “The Deal from Hell” by James O’Shea
— “The Great Typo Hunt” by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson
Kara: The Hunger Games books are at the top of my list, too. I lost two weeks of my life to the trilogy. I read them in the car during my lunch breaks, while waiting in traffic and stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish them. During my reading binge, my daughter asked me to stop reading at the table because she wanted some attention.
John: It’s not new, but I recently read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Marquez. I picked it because it’s a classic that I hadn’t read and a friend vouched for it. I like it because it reminded me of classic writing about a far-off culture like “The Good Earth” or “The Kite Runner.” And for sentences like this: “Death followed him everywhere, sniffing at the cuffs of his pants, but never deciding to give him the final clutch of its claws.”
April: I was wary of reading Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.” I usually tend to shy away from much-talked about books until the buzz dies down. But Stockett’s first novel is worth every ounce of critical acclaim it has received. I couldn’t put it down! The 460-plus pages flew by as I became incredibly engrossed in the stories of Skeeter, Abileen and Minny in Jackson, Miss., during the early 1960s.
Matt: I kind of want to list the three or so Steven Pressfield books I read this year, but I’ll pare it down to one: “The Profession.” Of all the Pressfield books I’ve read — nearly all of them, or at least the fiction ones — this might be the most accessible to the general reader. It’s about war in the somewhat near future, where mercenary armies are the norm. Read more in my review. As a runner-up, I’ll say “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” which I recently breezed through. It’s a gripping read that you won’t want to put down. Or be done with, for that matter.
Jess: I’ll suggest the book I was most pleasantly surprised by — “The Snow Angel,” by Glenn Beck. Before I picked it up, I hadn’t read any of Beck’s earlier novels (“The Christmas Sweater” or “The Overton Window”). But I wanted a heart-warming story for the holidays, and that’s exactly what I got when I paged through the family tale. A bonus, though, was how Beck used one man’s dementia to reveal clues to the reader little by little about the past. As the man remembers, the reader learns more and more to piece together his future. I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be trapped by such a cruel mental disease. Beck not only sheds light on it, but uses it as a writing tool. If you’re not ready to say goodbye to the holidays yet, add “Angel” to your reading pile.
Gloria: Top three: One — “The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” by Michael Scott. Twins Josh and Sophie discover they possess magical powers as the Dark Elders and the Immortals fight to control the world. Historical figures (Niccolo Machiavelli, William Shakespeare, Billy the Kid) pop in and out of the story, as do a vast assortment of mythological beings. I am on the third volume of this ongoing series and loving every minute of it. There is plenty of action and lots of characters to love . . . and fear.
Two — Was there ever a more dangerous business than being a wife of King Henry VIII? Poor Katherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, is doomed and doesn’t know it. Her story is told in “The Boleyn Inheritance” from the viewpoints of three members of court: Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife (who keeps her head); Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn (who lost hers); and Katherine herself. If you like historical fiction, you can’t beat Phillipa Gregory.
Three — I have read lots of books about the Rev. Jim Jones and the Jonestown tragedy, but “A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown” by Julia Scheeres is perhaps the best. There is new information here because Sheeres had access to tape recordings and records not previously available. Scheeres recounts Jones’ rise and fall, but also paints intimate portraits of a number of his followers (some of them survive, most don’t). And even though you know how this one ends, you can’t stop reading.