Really Brief Reviews of the Books I Read in 2011

In my personal world of reading, 2011 was the year of reading books I should have already read long ago. 2011 essentially consisted of my last semester of college (student teaching), my summer in which I prepared to teach (because homeboy landed a job!), and teaching my first semester of high school English to sophomores and juniors. In order to teach the necessary books, I had to read them, and I was amazed to see how many curricular classics I had somehow avoided in my high school and college studies. I mean, I read some other books too, and those were usually great, but I read a lot of stuff I wish I had read when I was 16. Here is the list as I can best remember it (in no particular order):

Animal Farm by George Orwell–A weird and fantastic 109 pages (depending on the book you have, of course). I will teach it later this spring, and am looking forward to reading this dark fable another 4-5 times in order to do that.

1984 by George Orwell–I know, I know, I only just read both of the big Orwell books last year. Once I read this book, I started noticing how many things reference it. Music in particular. David Bowie, Radiohead, and Rage Against the Machine, for example.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck–I know, I know, I know, I’m a terrible person for having not read this sooner. This book is the best. So far, it is my absolute favorite to teach, and students typically love it. I read it aloud to my sophomores and I’ve had students gasp when I read the climax, and cry when I read the ending. And that’s really satisfying.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote–I read this over the summer, mostly while in California visiting a friend and sleeping on his couch. Anytime I heard any noises outside his apartment, I’d get really freaked out. Well done, Capote, you murderer-loving nutbar.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer–I pretty much don’t care to read or watch anything related to a national tragedy, but this book kept me entertained as I traveled by bus across our Southern states. Mysterious, sweet, sad, and funny.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret–I hear the move, Hugo, based on this book is great. I wasn’t super into the book. It is a cool idea: there are full-page drawings on some page and prose on others, kind of like reading a silent film, but I didn’t think too many of the pictures actually helped in telling the story. A graphic novel is better for incorporating art and prose in my opinion.

3 Story by Matt Kindt–Speaking of graphic novels, here is one of my new favorites! The story is about a man who cannot and will not keep growing, becoming a literal giant, and Kindt attempts to realistically imagine what life would be like for such a human. There are three different perspectives telling the story, each from different characters related to the giant. And the art is amazing. Read this one.

Habibi by Craig Thompson–Thompson, the author of Blankets, which might be my favorite graphic novel, and is a story I feel like I relate to the more I reread it, finally released this nearly 700-page monster last year. Not many good things happen in this story, and it is sort of hard to get through, I found. But it is a really interesting and well-told story all the same, with some of the most outstanding art I’ve ever seen in a book. I probably spent as much time just staring at the illustrations as I did reading the text, if not more so. I can’t praise Thompson’s art enough.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi–Honestly, I don’t remember too many specifics about this graphic novel. But it is creative nonfiction (my favorite), autobiographical, and has a really fun minimalist style of illustration. I know I liked it.

Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino (and Henry David Thoreau)–This is the graphic novel version of Thoreau’s Walden. And I loved it. It takes all the best aphorisms and concepts and cuts away the fat from the original (if you think there is any “fat” in Walden anyway) and accompanies it with pictures!

Night by Elie Wiesel–I don’t know how I never read this before. I think it was assigned in high school and I just didn’t do it. Because I was an idiot. This holocaust memoir will break your heart and the read is worth it.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck–It is no Of Mice and Men, but it is a nice novella. Worth reading if you know you like Steinbeck.

Live From New York by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller–this is basically 600-page oral history of Saturday Night Live as told by the people who made the show happen from before its beginning until the early 2000’s. I’m a huge SNL nerd, so I couldn’t get enough of the behind-the-scenes secrets and drama, but I think it would still be interesting to even a normal fan of the show.

Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris–Sedaris is one of my favorite writers, I own all of his books. Dress Your Family is probably my least favorite of his non-fiction books, but it was still really, really funny. And there are a few really sick (great) stories in there.

Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman–this is a memoir/heavy metal analysis book. Heavy Metal/Hair Metal is my guilty pleasure music, and I was obsessed with a few (or several, or many) metal bands in high school, so this was right up my alley. Probably not for the non-heavy metal fans out there, though.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby–I don’t know if reading this book is better or worse right after a breakup, but it seemed like the protagonist and I often had similar thoughts on our minds. I love the film, and the book was really fun too (again, a good book for music people. Or the ever-been-dumped-before, I guess), but the book is super British, so all the dialogue sounds extra intelligent or extra cute.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins–Action-packed and fun, though I’m honestly a little surprised this book is so popular because I still kind of felt like it was pretty “teenage girlish”. (To be fair, the narrator and protagonist IS a teenage girl. And I am kinda excited for the movie.)

The Crucible by Arthur Miller–OK, I was supposed to have read this my junior year of high school. But I didn’t really “get it” then. I had to teach it last semester, so I made sure I “got it” this time. And it is really fun. High schoolers don’t automatically love it still, but it is definitely worth reading and teaching. And by reading, I mean watching, probably, because it is a play, and they are more fun to watch than read.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher–this was the last book I read in 2011 (that I can remember reading, I probably read some others). This book, much like The Hunger Games, is a non-stop action-packed book of fun and danger. But, unlike The Hunger Games, it is MANLY and set it CHICAGO. And stars a detective who is also a WIZARD. That’s right. You might think that sounds corny, and you’d be right, but that doesn’t keep the book from being really enjoyable.

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