100 Books in 2011

This year I set a goal for myself. Maybe other people would consider it a sort of New Year’s Resolution, and you can call it that if you want. My goal was to read 100 books. This seems like kind of crazily a lot of books, even now that I have finished them all. But last year, with no goal in mind, I read 83 books. There were times in 2010 when I wasn’t reading much at all, so after some consideration, I realized I could probably read more.

I thought about it for a little while. Why not read an even 100? I said to myself. Why? No real reason – just a challenge to myself and to see if I could. It helped that I could use Goodreads to keep careful track of my progress – no calculations required! (In case you were wondering, to do this you need to read a little more than 8 books a month, or about 2 a week). I took it seriously, and I succeeded. I even finished with about a week to spare! I’m now on the 101st book but I won’t finish it before the year ends (reading very slowly for once).

I’d like to share out of the 100 books I read which were great and which were crap. I did read a few travel books like Round Ireland with a Fridge and some books that transport you to different but real destinations like Say You’re One of Them. Anyway, here’s the best and worst.

Best Books

5 – What is the What by Dave Eggers

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This is the (semi-true) story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee who was among the Lost Boys. I have to admit that before I picked up this book I was terribly clueless about the recent Sudanese history – I only had a haze of words like Darfur, genocide, and child soldiers to connect with it. I learned a lot, and the book was moving and well done.

4 – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

You should read this even if you hate nonfiction, because it reads like fiction. Fascinating, compelling, and wholly engrossing, it’s mostly the story of a family and how they have dealt with the fact that their loved one’s cells are extremely important to science – yet they weren’t told and have never seen a dime from them.

3 – The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

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A quirky, funny novel of an alternate-reality England. It would definitely fall under fantasy but don’t be alarmed if fantasy ‘isn’t your thing.’ It’s not at all typical of the genre, and I think anyone could enjoy it.

2 – Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

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I’ve read a lot of books on vegetarianism and the ethics of eating meat. I did my senior seminar research project in Anthropology on vegetarianism, and a lot of my friends abstain from meat to some extent. But this is decidedly the best book I’ve read about it. Most of them are dry and while illuminating, not easy to read. But this one is extremely well written (not surprising, considering the author). It may be difficult to read in parts because it gets a bit disturbing, but to be honest it does not rail against the meat industry like most things you’ll read. It’s well-balanced and very well-reasoned. It doesn’t even tell you that you should stop eating meat – just that maybe you should consider eating a bit less. I read it in March and decided to go vegetarian for a few months (until Korea) soon after, so it affected me pretty strongly.

1. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

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This book is absolutely amazing, and one of the best ever in my opinion. However, it may be a bit of a tough sell for you. It’s epic fantasy. It’s slightly over 1000 pages long. It’s the first book in a 10 book series – all of which will probably be just as long, and none of which have come out yet (the next one may come out late in 2012). But if you can look past all those things, you’ll find a book I could absolutely not put down. I was not once bored – impressive considering the length. Brandon Sanderson is one of the best authors writing now in my opinion. He can craft really believable worlds and creates highly intriguing and unique magic systems. He was once roommates with Ken Jennings. If you want a taste of his work without committing to a gigantic series, pick up Warbreaker – it’s a stand alone novel, a ‘slim’ 688 pages, and best of all totally free on his website (previous link).

Worst Books

  • The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan – I really liked the Omnivore’s Dilemma so I thought I might enjoy something else by Pollan. Not so. The science and history stuff was interesting but overshadowed by Pollan repeatedly belaboring his argument – which I totally understood and could agree with within 10 pages. Ugh.
  • The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde – The Thursday Next series started with a lot of promise. You may recall that I put the first book, The Eyre Affair, on my top 5 books of the year. The second one was okay, but the third one was so bad I couldn’t really finish it. Way to take an idea that I really liked and beat it to death.
  • In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin – Here’s a classic travel book that I absolutely hated. I thought it was totally boring. I don’t get why it’s so revered.
  • Eragon by Christopher Paolini – This book was sometimes okay but mostly I didn’t like it. But hey, it’s probably how I would’ve written a book at age 16 too.
  • Ash by Malinda Lo – My quarrels with this book are quite different from most people’s – I think the idea is really intriguing (an LGBT retelling of Cinderella), but I think it was done in a way that was highly boring. I didn’t care what happened at all.

I also read a couple of really terrible romance novels, but they are not even worth mentioning.

What I Learned

Even if you really love books, pushing yourself to read this many is hard and can make you feel a little burnt-out. There were times (during my first week or two in Korea) when I just didn’t have time to read, and that meant I had to kind of half-skim some books to finish the goal. I chose a lot of short books – I started off the year reading a bunch of Buffy graphic novels, and read a lot more romance than usual. I probably bypassed a lot of books I’d have rather read just because they were too long (not that I didn’t read some long ones…).

Would I do it again? No. Sure I feel really accomplished but I think rushing books takes away some of the magic of reading. At times I just wanted a break but I couldn’t really take one. Compared to last year, I read a larger percentage of books that I either didn’t like or only thought were okay. Usually I choose the books I read based on thinking I’ll probably like them, but this year I kind of read anything I could get my hands on. I would prefer to put less pressure on quantity and stick to quality instead.

So next year, I won’t stop reading. But I will be a little more discerning and only read when I really want to. I think reading is a great pastime on buses and trains and planes and it gets you thinking about places differently, so it mixes well with travel.

What were the best books you read this year?

13 thoughts on “100 Books in 2011

  1. stan

    Congrats on both accomplishing your goal and writing a superb article on the experience. I couldn’t put this article down! Wish I had enough discipline to read half that much.

  2. Greg Adel

    Congratulations on completing your epic goal, Rachel! That is a huge number of books, wow. This was a very interesting write-up of some of the notable books, too. Getting me even more geared up to read more of Brandon Sanderson’s books (Mistborn: The Final Empire still on hold at the library…), and making me think about starting a Good Reads account, too. It seems like a pretty good way to organize all the books you’ve read and want to read, at any rate. And if there is one thing I love it is keeping rigorous track of the things I do (I am probably a tremendous nerd for that, if nothing else)!

    This was a particularly good reading year for me, although I didn’t set out with a particular goal in mind, like you. I hadn’t actively read since probably 5th grade or so, but I decided to get back into it this year and really start diving into the depths of science fiction and fantasy – my favorite genres of fiction! I read about 40 books (depending on how you classify the numerous short stories I read, I guess), and as good as a lot of it was (Hitchhiker’s Guide series, Dream Cycle from Lovecraft…) Brandon Sanderson’s books were definitely the best – even the goofy Alcatraz series. That guy just knows how to write an engaging story and create deeply realistic and relatable characters. I read the Alcatraz books twice, and then powered through Warbreaker and Elantris (including all of the special bonus features available on his site!) and I have developed a very deep desire to be constantly reading and re-reading all of his books lol. Mistborn: The Final Empire is on hold at the library right now! Not too much longer I hope!

    Congratulations again, and here’s to a book-filled 2012!

    1. Rachel Post author

      Thanks, Greg! Ah yeah, Mistborn is great! I just read the 4th one (Alloy of Law) which was quite interesting! I also always recommend Goodreads to people because it is a fantastic way to keep a to-read list (I think I’m terribly addicted, as mine is 850 books long…), as well as a good place to check reviews (I especially like the ‘lists’ section to see what books I should read) and keep track of reading goals or just reading progress (if you say you’re reading a book and input your page number, it’ll tell you what percentage of the book you’ve read! kind of nifty). Mary just made an account on it too.

      I am nerdy in that way too! I have been using online accounts to do it but I’ve had to partially switch to lists because there’s no Yelp in Korea! Yeesh. Glad you got into Brandon Sanderson. He is firmly on my favorite authors list along with Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I will raise a glass to a book-filled 2012. 🙂

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