Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: I Read A LOT!

Last year, I thought I was doing good to read 16 books. This year, I originally set a goal of 20 books for 2011. I blew past that.
Thanks to Goodreads, I set a goal and had to reset it, still topping my original goal. Technically, I read 29.5 books (more on that later). And of those books, there were 14 that I would recommend. Because I know you're dying to know which books you should read so we can talk about them later, here are those 15:

The Most Beautiful Walk in The World
I wrote about this book when I finished it in May. It is THE book I recommend to anyone going to Paris (not just because I want you to buy one of those big trunks and stuff me in it when you go).

This book makes me want to just go to Paris and walk around. Maybe forever.

However, since I have pets, a mortgage and no income other than my job (which most certainly would not pay me to do pursue this dream), I must go back to dreaming about the day I can take this trip.

Note: if you'd like to donate to the "Send Nicole to Paris Fund," please send me an email. Donations are not tax-deductible, but they will score you a souvenir as proof that I used your money for something nice (not just wine and cheese).

Decoded
If you thought I added this book because Oprah called it one of her favorite things, punch yourself in the face now.

I happen to like Jay-Z's music. And while he rhymes about telling his life through rap, this book doesn't repeat the stories he's sold. It shows his absolute brilliance.

Every lyric has its own meaning - often not what you hear the first, second or even third time. Take a glance at a track list and you won't truly understand that what he's doing is pure poetry. They are stories that need to be told. They are stories that deserve hearing. If you don't like rap, you can still appreciate this book. You may not bump to it in the car after reading, but you'll appreciate that what he's doing nothing short of amazing.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Not even in school did I read a science story that made me want to sit up and take note. But this book rattled my brain!

I was intrigued by the photo of this woman I had never heard of. Then, once I realized how medicine operated back in the 1950s and that doctors didn't exactly feel like they had to tell patients what they were doing, I couldn't stop reading. What these doctors and scientists did in taking Henrietta's DNA wasn't right, but it changed - and continues to change - the medical world forever.

I do feel sorry for her family in that they were never compensated for Henrietta's apparent unknowing contribution while pharmaceutical companies had made ridiculous amounts of money. But, that didn't distract me from this story. It was true science told as well as any fictional novel I've read. In fact, the truth was so interesting, it could have been made up and I'd still tell you what happened was real.

Love is a Mix Tape
There are few things I love more than books. Music is one of them.

Rob Sheffield puts them together in such a wonderful way, it's a good thing he works for Rolling Stone. This book is one of two memoirs he told with the help of music. SPOILER ALERT: this book is about the life and death of his wife, so don't read if that stuff bothers you.

If you're even partially aware of music, you know that some songs bring back specific memories of a time in your life. And for the rest of your life, you will think of that time when that song plays. One of my musical memories: every time I hear Guns 'N Roses' Welcome To The Jungle, I remember when a homeless man jumped in front of my car. I can't think of the year off the top of my head, but I know that if I'm driving and that song comes on, I am seriously afraid a jerky homeless dude is going to force me to hit him with my car.

I read Sheffield's other book. I liked it, but I didn't love it as much as this one.

Just Kids
I'm still not sure why I picked up this book. I am glad I did.

I haven't been a huge Patti Smith fan, but there was something about the picture on the cover of this book that made me think she had a great story to tell. Where else could a songwriter get such great material from? Magazines? Movies?

Nope.

Real life.

Patti's life is fascinating! I mean, who can live in New York City without money as long as she did? Sure, it was the 1970s and things were different (and definitely cheaper), but she did things her way. Always. Learn from that, girls. Learn. From. That.

Furious Love
One more lesson, girls: If you want to do marriage over and over again and wear lots of diamonds, don't let Kim Kardashian be your role model. Aim higher! Elizabeth Taylor would never let you be fooled by the rocks that she's got. She never wanted to be mistaken for any "girl" from the block.

She loved men and jewelry - though after reading this, I'm not sure what she loved more. Also, she loved booze and pills, but that love affair was not consistent.

Her fiery relationship with Richard Burton was what put the paparazzi on the payroll for magazines (and now bloggers and websites). They were better than any reality show because what was shared by the couple - carefully chosen to protect their image. Buy this for the story, but also the pictures. And if you were lucky enough to scoop up her jewels, can I borrow them?

Blood, Bones & Butter
I am not what some would call an adventurous diner. I must know what I'm eating. Sometimes, I need to know how it was cooked. Sometimes, I need to know where the food came from (particularly meat).

This book hooked me from the beginning with a story about a goat roasted over an open fire - and I'm not even really fond of goat anything (except miniature goats which I find adorable but not in a "need that on my dinner plate" kind of way)!

Gabrielle Hamilton makes me think chefs aren't that different from comedians and strippers who seem to have some sort of messed up childhood, struggle to make ends meet, then make one big hit that changes their worlds forever.

She also made me VERY hungry and a little more curious about food. So, let's go out to eat and you order the strange things on the menu so I can have a bite while I order the chicken.

Once Upon a River
I was told this book was like a modern-day Huck Finn. However, it's been so long since I've read that, I can't tell you.

To tell the truth, I read most of this book while I was waiting to not be selected to serve on a jury (that seriously made me sad). I was also a little distracted by the people who full on napped and snored while sitting in the room with me.

If this book isn't made into a movie some day, I'd be surprised and perhaps a little disappointed. Having just recently seen (and never read) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I believe this sort of tortured girl who finds her way to be the kind of story Hollywood pees its pants over. You know, when it's not trying to remake some sitcom given a new life on Nick At Nite.

Before I Go To Sleep
If you read only one book told from the perspective of someone struggling with memory loss, this is the book!

There was at least one other fiction book with a similar story line (Turn of Mind wasn't nearly as good). But this one - I read it in a matter of days. I even skipped television (mostly) while I worked to figure out what caused this woman's memory to go blank.

I have to say, this memory loss thing is my fear. When I walk into a parking lot and can't remember where I parked, I have a panic that is so this could be why I'm fascinated by this thriller. It could also be that it's so well written, that I found myself shouting at the pages, like I could protect people from the outcome. I do this at movies (usually at home, rarely in the theater), but, sadly, it never changes the result.

Swamplandia!
This book made me not want to go to the swamps of Florida. It did make me wonder about parents who abandon their kids to go off and bring in an income for their families - forcing kids to raise themselves.

It truly is a wonder kids don't turn into wolves. And I don't know why Child Protective Services never seems to get involved in these stories. Guess that's be too sad?

Still, this girl's journey and being forced to raise herself was worth reading. I mean it. Even if it did make my hair swell with the humidity that seemed to drift off the pages.

It's not every book that comes *this* close to making you want to get in the water with gators (they're gators in Florida, not crocs, right? I get those confused). But don't try this unless you've been training - or the gators are really old and missing all their teeth. Even then, they could probably get you with the death roll.

Celebrity Memoirs
Yes, I learned six things from Tina Fey. I also learned a few things about and from Mindy Kaling. But the memoir that I surprisingly L-O-V-E-D was Rob Lowe's!

Let's start with the cover. I don't know if he sold his soul to keep his youth, but Rob Lowe is as handsome now as he was when I first saw him in The Outsiders! Sure, this book is stories about movies and the people in them (as well as those who make the movies). But it really is kind of cool to read those stories from a living actor who no doubt will have a second book when he might look just a year or two older than he looks here.

Plus, this book confirmed my thoughts about Tom Cruise. It also doesn't glance over the bad things that have happened in his life. It is also a book that makes Rob seem totally appreciative of how things are now. What the heck is wrong with that?

What I Didn't Finish
The Passage. I tried. I REALLY did. I made it about halfway through this +800 page book. Then, I realized I didn't care what happened to the characters or the planet. Since it's the first book in a trilogy, I figured I shouldn't torture myself to see how this one ends. If I had, I would have been forced to go through with the rest of the books and hate myself. Seriously - that book was ridiculously long. And I bought the hardcover version before my parents gave me a Nook for Christmas in 2010. Lugging around that beast was a chore. Just like trying to read it.

What's Next?
Don't let this stack of books on my nightstand fool you! There are six books there (two in my Nook - that's in the green case). One of the books on my Nook is 1Q84. That book is +900 pages. I hope it's good! The other book on the Nook is Domestic Violets. I've actually just started that one. I hope to finish it in the next few days.

I think I will set my goal for 2012 at 25 books. Perfectly reasonable. I just hope I'm lucky enough to have at least half of the books I read be worth recommending!

PS - If you want some of the books I've read (I'm keeping the ones I loved), they're available on Bookcrossing. I'm Nicole_Perez.
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