What We Read in 2011

book lists notebookFor the second year in a row, my husband and I have kept lists of all the books we read during the year. Last year we had very few books in common, but this year we had more overlap, including David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, plus a few books one of us read in 2010 and the other in 2011 (Meloy, Franzen).

But perhaps most notable is that for the first time in — well, perhaps, ever, we agreed on a favorite book of the year: Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Quirky, compelling, plainly yet gorgeously written. I don’t know why this novel isn’t more famous. Jackson is about so much more than “The Lottery.”

I’m also struck by the way in which my husband will find a writer he likes and then just clean up through their oeuvre. He especially did this with Terry Pratchett this year, but he also read multiple books by China Mieville, H. G. Wells, Shirley Jackson, and Suzanne Collins. I’m much more promiscuous in my reading. The only writer I read twice this year was David Mitchell.

The last thing I’ll note is the somewhat embarrassing way in which my non-fiction reading list reveals my self-improvement obsessions-du-jour. I went through a “simplicity” phase early in the year (which I wrote about here) and then a meditation phase. I’m not sure either of them really “took,” and with few exceptions (Thomas Merton), I did not find that sort of reading terribly worthwhile or insightful. I’m a little anxious now about what my 2012 list is going to end up revealing…

Herewith, the books we read in 2011:

Dan’s list (roughly in the order in which he read them; multiple books by one author listed together; ss=short stories; nf=non-fiction):

  • Maile Meloy, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It (ss)
  • William Goldman, The Princess Bride
  • Arthur I. Miller, Deciphering the Cosmic Number (nf)
  • Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman
  • Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Lottery, or the Adventures of James Harris (ss)
  • Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City
  • Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms, Thud!, Soul Music, Jingo, Pyramids, Snuff, The Last Continent
  • David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
  • China Mieville, Perdido Street Station and Kraken
  • Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay
  • Harry Harrison, The Stainless Steel Rat Returns
  • Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories (nf)
  • Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Theodore Sturgeon, Godbody
  • Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics (nf)
  • Neal Stephenson, Reamde, Diamond Age
  • Robin Harvie & Stephanie Meyers (not that Stephenie Meyer!), eds., The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas (nf)
  • J. D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
  • Alphonse Allais, A Wolf in Frog’s Clothing  (ss)
  • Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (ss)
  • H. G. Wells, The Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moreau
  • George Saunders, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Naomi’s list (by genre):


  • Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs
  • Renee Thompson, The Bridge at Valentine
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
  • Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  • Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question: most infuriating book I read this year decade
  • David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: see my take on this book here
  • Emma Donoghue, Room
  • David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
  • Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
  • Jonathan Franzen, Freedom: not worthy of the hype or the time & effort
  • Murakami Haruki, 1Q84: weird, sophomoric in places, but worth the time & effort

Short Stories

  • Sabina Murray, Tales of the New World 
  • Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Kevin McIlvoy, The Complete History of New Mexico


  • William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors


  • Jane Kenyon, Let Evening Come
  • Denise Levertov, Candles in Babylon
  • Matthew Zapruder, Come On All You Ghosts 
  • Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
  • Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead
  • William Shakespeare, The Complete Sonnets
  • Terrance Hayes, Lighthead
  • Mark Jarman, Bone Fires: New & Selected Poems
  • Albert Garcia, Skunk Talk: lovely collection by the Dean of Language & Literature at Sacramento City College, where I teach

Creative Non-Fiction

  • Brenda Nakamoto, Peach Farmer’s Daughter
  • Mark Doty, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: amazing
  • Eula Biss, The Balloonists
  • Brenda Miller, Season of the Body
  • Deborah Tall, Family of Strangers

Other Non-Fiction

  • Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity
  • Ana Homayoun, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized & Distracted Boys Succeed in School & Life: somewhat helpful
  • Elaine St. James, Living the Simple Life
  • E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful
  • David Shields, Reality Hunger: second most infuriating book I read this year
  • Stephen Bodian, Meditation for Dummies
  • Sylvia Boorstein, Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living
  • Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation: on my list of books I need to reread every few years
  • Sami al Jundi & Jen Marlowe, The Hour of Sunlight (nf)
  • Edward Said, Orientalism: finally crossed this off my must-read list; dense & technical in places, but wow

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