Thursday, December 29, 2011

The New Dork Review of Literary 2011

From Leo Tolstoy (twice) to Vince Flynn and from Stieg Larsson to Margaret Mitchell, an eclectic year in reading, it was. So much so that I'm writing like Yoda now, apparently. Anyway, in total, I read 43 novels comprising about 19,000 pages. Out of that, here are some high (and low) lights:

Novels That Had Me Near Tears...of Funny
Domestic Violets, by Matthew Norman, and Fathermucker, by Greg Olear -- Of all the novels I read this year, I probably had the most pure fun reading these two.

Best (But Most Depressing) Novel About Catholicism
Faith, by Jennifer Haigh -- Haunting. A gut-punch to your guilt-basket. But very, very good.

Longest, Most Scaled-the-Summit-Feeling-When-Finished Novel
War and Peace, of course. As one commenter suggested, I can now where the "I Read War and Peace" Tshirt. You know, if something like that existed. It doesn't, right? Right?

Uber-Hyped Trilogy That Kept Getting Worse As The Books Got Longer
I liked The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. But The Girl Who Played With Fire was mostly dull and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest made me glad there are no more novels.

First Time With a Famous Novelist...Success
Haruki Murakami -- I loved both Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore. I'm hoping to take on The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84 in 2012.

First Time With a Famous Novelist...Failure
T.C. Boyle -- When The Killing's Done just didn't do it for me. But it was just intriguing enough to give Boyle another some point.

Most Sobering Reading Moment of 2011
Finishing The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace. Made me incredibly, incredibly sad.

Most Overrated Book of the Year
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht -- The writerly chops are clear, but why this novel won so many awards isn't.

Biggest Surprise of the Year
I really, really enjoyed Gone With The Wind. I had assumed it would be an ooey-gooey slog. Not so at all. Ta'dow, Rhett!

Favorite Non-Fiction
In The Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson -- Just a fascinating, intricately researched look behind the curtain of Berlin in the 1930s.

(and finally...)

Favorite Fiction of the Year
3. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
2. Domestic Violets, by Matthew Norman
1. The History of History, by Ida Hattemer-Higgins

Cheers to a great Literary 2012!


  1. Awesome list! I read the first of the Larsson books and after one, have little to no desire to read the other two. Your comments sealed the deal for me on that one.

    Also, it's not an "I read War & Peace" t-shirt (although I'm seriously shocked that that doesn't exist... yet), but how about this one? You've earned it, after this year:,398939860

  2. Domestic Violets and The Art of Fielding both made my favorite fiction list for this year. I hadn't heard much (maybe anything?) about The History of History this year until now, but I'm definitely going to put it on a list of books to look for in 2012.

  3. Man, I haven't read a single of your top three, though I've been eyeing them for a while. I've been meaning to read The Art of Fielding largely because of your praise for the book so - 2012, that's my year for it.

    Hope you have a great New Year's, Greg!

  4. I really enjoyed In the Garden of Beasts too. Yay for you liking Gone with the Wind! This is my favorite book (and hopefully one I will be re-reading this year).

  5. Sounds like a successful year! I have a few of those books on my to-read list for 2012, and I'm looking forward to them.

  6. Both you and Jackie from Farmlane Books listed The History of History as your favorite book of 2011. As two bloggers who have reading tastes I trust A LOT, I've got to read this book.

  7. Wonderful list! I Couldn't agree more about the Larsson trilogy, I stopped after The Girl Who Played with Fire. And I remember reading your Gone with the Wind post earlier in the year and loved it - that book helped to make me a reader, many, many years ago. Happy New Year :)

  8. Thanks for the list. Great categorizing.

    If you truly want to give T.C. Boyle another chance, go lightly: check out some of the articles/short stories he wrote for GQ magazine back in the 90's.

    Back then he was calling himself T. Coraghessen Boyle. He probably went to "T.C." because he was tired of seeing Coraghessen misspelled. Or maybe he is like a huge Magnum P.I. fan.

  9. I read Gone With the Wind aged thirteen and I was also certain it would be some stupid romance-y slog but I remember being so surprised at how good it was. It was one of the first adult books I read so quickly without wanting to do anything but read. Surprising, indeed.

    It was after reading your posts about Haruki Murakami that I realized I had to get around to reading him. And then I read (and was very impressed by) The Wind-up Bird Chronicles. So thank you for that! I'm looking forward to reading Kafka on the Shore next.

  10. Greg, great list.

    I think you'd like Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander.

    I'm glad you enjoyed Gone With the Wind, I have yet to read it. But in a similar vein, I've read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I have put off for many years because I thought it was a "girly" book, yet enjoyed it tremendously.

  11. I knew I was right in choosing not to fall into the Dragon hype. Phew!

    But I'm glad that Murakami was a success for you! He's a big love of mine, and I'll be embarking on 1Q84 too!

  12. Congrats on a good year of reading,Greg and as someone else suggested,you can probably make your own W&P shirt at Cafe Press. Have it say something like "I read War and Peace but all I got was this stupid T-shirt" or "All I am saying is give War and Peace a chance!"

    Happy New Year:)

  13. interesting categories. 1Q84 was my top favorite. here is my recap:

  14. I loooved Domestic Violets. It even had one of my big pet peeves in it, but I still loved it. Shows how awesome it was.

    Happy Happy New Year!

  15. I liked the Larsson books, but felt they were too violent. You can show a character's awfulness without having to tell it in gory, specific detail. But I thought the mystery aspects were good.

    I've read Gone with the Wind twice, and both times have found it good, if a bit long-winded.

    I'm glad you enjoyed your 2011 reading -- here's to more awesome stuff in 2012!

  16. Great year you had there Greg. 43 novels for 19 000 pages is a LOT of material. I know people that read 60-something books, totalizing 18 000 something pages. You like those long bricks!

    Anyway, I agree with your vision of Stieg Larsson. While I thought Lisbeth Salander was a great character, the series went from a great mystery to "oh....please-tell-me-you're-not-going-there" plot wise. I don't say that often but the films are a safer option.

  17. Tolstoy IS my homie! That Tshirt's almost better than a "I finished ... " one.

    Yeah, if you read the first one, you read the best one. Probably good enough to stop there. ;)

  18. The History of History is a novel that was definitely under the radar this year - but the few who have read it have raved about it (me included). Hope it finds a wider readership in 2012!

  19. Happy New Year to you too! Definitely check out The Art of Fielding - even if you don't have any interest in baseball, but especially if you do...

  20. Yeah, like many guys, I had this notion of it as all romance and smooches. That's definitely not the case - it was really a fun read!

  21. It was definitely a successful year - good luck with your 2012 to-read list!

  22. Nice - great minds. ;) I'm tellin' you, if you liked your brief foray into Huraki Murakami, you'll love that novel.

  23. Happy New Year to you, too. I wish I would've stopped after The Girl Who Played With Fire - at least that one had a few redeeming qualities. It took a LONG time to get into it, but once you did, the story was pretty good. Hornet's Nest just altogether sucked.

  24. Thanks for the recommendation on Boyle - yeah, I think I need to just start over with him, and I like the idea of starting with his journalism. He writes with a flair I really enjoy - just couldn't get into that particular story.

  25. RE, Gone With The Wind - yeah, I was surprised by how (mostly) fast-paced it is. That's great that you read Wind-Up - that's next on my short list of Murakami novels, too. Kafka is sooo freakin' good!

  26. Thanks for the recommendation - I'll check out Hope.

    And I've also been meaning to read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn for a long, long time - glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  27. You were, indeed, right - though, as I say, the first one is pretty good (after you plow through the first boring 100 pages).

    I can't believe I'd waited so long to read Murakami - his fans are so loyal and passionate. I had no idea what I was missing!

  28. *snort* - give War and Peace a chance. Nice!

  29. Well, now I'm intrigued - what did Domestic Violets have in it that annoyed you?

    Happy New Year to you too!

  30. Yeah, they were awfully violent. That didn't bother me so much as all the superfluous detail - and the fact that for one entire novel, the best character did nothing but lay in a hospital bed.

    Cheers to 2012!

  31. Thanks, buddy - yeah, reading Anna Karenina, Gone With The Wind and War and Peace in the same year bumps up my pages-per-book average a bit.

    Yeah, I totally agree that Lisbeth is a great character - and I like Blomqvist, too - just too much detail and not enough story to make them "good." That said, I agree with you also that the films are awesome!

  32. Once you are ready to try TC Boyle again, I recommend The Tortilla Curtain. It's not very long and though it was written in the mid-1990s its subject material makes it feel like it was written more recently.