One of the best corners of the Internet for book lovers is The Millions. The site is chock full of reviews, essays and general celebrations of literature. I’ve bookmarked it and I follow it on Twitter (@The_Millions) and have found more than a few recommendations there. For the 8th year, The Millions is featuring “A Year in Reading” (#yir2011 on Twitter), where famous authors and celebrities write a short post about what book they will remember most this year.
It’s a great series, but why should I let famous writers have all the fun? How about an infamous writer, like me? Wait, what? Oh, right. I mean a non-famous writer, like me.
It’s easy for you to go back and see what I’ve read this year—it’s up at the top under “Full Archive of Books.” Other than some books I read for work (ask me about tomatoes sometime) and Jeffrey Toobin’s classic about the OJ trial, all the books I’ve read this year are listed above. I’m delighted with my picks for 2011–I’ve had a fantastic Year In Reading: “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” “Skippy Dies,” “Steve Jobs,” “Under the Banner of Heaven,” “Onward,” and more—what a great year it has been in reading.
But “Year In Reading” authors are picking their favorites, so here goes.
My fiction award winner is “Lean on Pete.” Willy Vlautin’s book about a young boy and a racehorse was just spectacular. It perfectly captured Portland, as I know it, grey, rainy and gloomy. The book was inventive in that there was a blend of mysticism and realism; Charley is as believable as any young man, abandoned by his family, but the strangeness of him toting a horse across the western states is almost as magical as when Bastian is riding Falcor through the streets in The Neverending Story. The book’s prose is simple—it’s written in Charley’s voice—the voice of a malnourished and under-educated fifteen-year-old. In my mind, “Lean on Pete” didn’t top “Goon Squad” on the unique scale and it didn’t top “Skippy Dies” in the “coming-of-age” genre. Maybe it tied them. But “Lean on Pete” gets three major bonus points: 1) I bought it at Powell’s, not online; 2) It is the best novel I’ve read involving a racetrack; and 3) the supercool (and fictional) Spero Lucas buys it for his girlfriend in Pelecanos’ “The Cut.” End of story.
Non-fiction is a little more difficult for me, but by a nose, the book that will stay with me most is the first book I finished this year, “The Warmth of Other Suns.” Isabel Wilkerson delivers a tour de force—an moving history of the Great Migration of African Americans into northern communities through the 20th century. Her story is fit for a classroom—either a history class or a literature class. It’s thoroughly researched and is a topic as crucial to American history as is the Civil War. It’s also a stirring story of three individuals who made the difficult journey North. They are remarkable Americans whose story needed to be told. Shame on me if I forget this book anytime soon.
So, that’s my “Year In Reading.” I hope you are enjoying this blog. I’ll probably sneak in one or two more posts before the end of the year, so keep checking back or sign up on the right to receive this in your inbox. I love your comments, whether they are made online or in person, but most of all, thanks for reading.