Well, this is probably one of the more cruel jokes to play on someone, I think. Actually, when Heather posted in my comments that she wanted me to pick my favorite book of the year, I thought I knew which one it would be, but then all of the other books started crying out to me that I was being unfair and that they had just as many wonderfully redeeming qualities about them.
It’s like when I am asked what my favorite song of all time is. Totally not possible to narrow it down to just one. There are favorite songs from all stages of my life and from all kinds of genres. Heather, how am I supposed to do this?!
The most recently finished books are obviously the freshest in my mind. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins was devoured in a matter of 3-4 days (well, to be honest, it was mostly at night… ungodly hours of the night) and so they certainly stand out most vividly but that could be due to the fact that I am ruminating on them still. Fast paced, tension-filled, frenzied and enough plot twists to tie you into a gordian knot, they were definitely something I could not put down. Literally. My arm became permanently stuck in the holding up the book/iPad position and I had to have it broken and rebroken in three places to be able to finally put down the books. Okay, so less than literally but “figuratively” just doesn’t seem strong enough. I mean, I did eventually put the books down but usually not to go to the bathroom — that’s obviously great reading time, and not while riding in the car — I made my husband drive while I read — and definitely not when lying in bed when I should have been sleeping. Definitely not then. I did finally put them down when my eyes would not stay opened anymore and the words began jumping all over the page and when even whilst lying on my side with one eye opened it became too hard to continue. Yes, it was really that riveting. I stayed up unti 4 a.m. twice reading these books. I loved these books. They were like Lost and Firefly and Man.Woman.Wild and True Grit and The Gladiator and The Truman Show and The Bachelorette (and what’s strange is that I mean that in the good way which even I don’t fully understand) all rolled into one amazing plot. The end left me a little bummed because Collins maintained a frenetic pace throughout the books and then… they ended. Like dandelion fluff being blown into a gentle breeze. There is something good about that, I think, because it’s the most realistic ending possible for such broken people in the chrysalis of a new nation but it didn’t satiate my natural desire for an equal-to-the-pace-of-the-book enthralling ending.
The Hunger Games also mark the first series that I have read mostly on Kindle for the iPad. I bought the first book and then obviously I needed the second and third post-haste so I was forced to get them on Kindle because patience, while a virtue, isn’t one of mine when it comes to books that I need yesterday. My verdict? I prefer paper. [here comes my ode to paper] Sorry trees. Thank you trees, my beautiful tall and slender majestic lovelies. I just love you so much that I want to hold you in my hands and turn your lovely pages and immortalize you by mentally ingesting the words you bear once you are cut into shreds, sodden, bleached and rendered into beautiful foldable sheets. Thank you trees. Thank you Dunder Mifflin. Thank you book binders. Thank you Gutenberg. Thank you John Muir. Thank you God. Amen. [end of ode to paper]
The second to last book (counting the Hunger Games trilogy as one) to read of 2011 was The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. This book was stunningly beautiful. While it took me a few chapters to get into it and it is certainly a book that challenges you; mind, body and soul, I most certainly did get into it and it is a truly beautiful gem of a book. Like both of the main characters, the book itself is like a desert flower. Stark in its beauty. So beautiful it hurts. And you know it has to hurt because it wouldn’t be truly beautiful if it didn’t somehow cost something. This book is heady. There is no question about that. And it strikes you from the beginning that it might not be the type of book that is bent on making you smile. But even though it is perhaps not the most cheerful of books, this book will make you smile (after you cry) in your soul. This book will over and over again challenge you to see the beauty of the small things. I recently heard a Christmas sermon about needing to not despise the small things — small gatherings on Christmas day, small wilderness dwelling tribes, small obediences and small babies in small stables in small towns on small planets. This book magnifies the small things. Movements. Sounds. Pin drops. Thoughts. Breaths. As I said, stark beauty.
One of the more gripping books that I read recently was The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. This book has always been one of my Mom’s favorite books. She has talked about it since I was small. I always knew I needed to read that book. Never got around to it. Finally got around to it this Fall and I know why it is one of my Mom’s favorite books. It’s beautiful, humbling and life-changing. A different kind of beautiful. A gritty, ugly, horrible, iridescent, crystalline, resplendent beauty through sorrow. It’s just another way of showing, in real life, that the truest beauty is borne out of pain and sorrow and suffering. That the most strikingly small and insignificant can be the greatest reason for praise. Something as small as a flea (though not small in numbers) was reason to praise the King of Kings who makes all things work according to His good pleasure.
Back in the early Summer I read the entire Mitford series by Jan Karon beginning to end. It was lovely. It was like vacation. Like Summer. Like readable comfort food. The books are a treasure. The characters became so real. I missed them terribly when I was finished with them. I thought about moving to North Carolina and finding a lovely little cottage and never moving back to reality. I would say that the Mitford series is probably on the exact opposite of the scale than The Hunger Games when it comes to tempo. You can’t get much further apart before the book on the meandering end of the scale drops off into something too boring to read. Having said that, Mitford is anything but boring. While The Hunger Games is clearly a movie. Mitford is a beloved 12 year T.V. series that you do not want to ever be canceled.
The last book of 2011 that vies for my favorite of the year has to be The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Maryanne Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It’s sort of unfair for me to include this in the 2011 list because I read it once in 2010 and then again a few months later in 2011. But it was just as lovely the second time through. I absolutely adored this book. It made me laugh and cry and fall in love with a place. I suddenly found myself googling small chapels made entirely of glass on remote English Channel Islands that I’d never heard of before reading the book. I felt the wind in my hair and smelled the sea. Perhaps I loved this book so much because the main character reminded me so much of a friend of mine and her personality is nothing short of lovable in her self-deprecating humor and her temper. This book is pure joy to read even though, once again, it is a joy that is forged in the fires of evil. This book is the best book to read if you are thinking of joining or starting a book club. It was our first book club read this year and I’m so glad that we read it.
And now we come down to choosing… the part that I once thought was going to be easy and now I find is very difficult indeed. Which one out of all of them (these and the ones from the whole list for the year) was my favorite? I am not even going to include the few non-fiction books I read in the running. It’s not fair. It’s apples and oranges. Cats and dogs. (For you cat and dog people, you will know that this is just like apples and oranges for some of us). When it all comes down to it. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is my favorite of the year. It’s intellectually challenging. It’s heart wrenching. It’s tender. Beautiful. Painful. It moved me deeply. So my hats off and my thanks to Muriel Barbery for creating such a masterful piece of art that I believe is weaved into the human fabric of the greatest tapestry of them all, made by the creator of all the intricate movements of the world.