Thursday, January 19, 2012

It’s about the people, not the game

The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach

Full disclosure: This novel forced me to acknowledge that I really had no idea what a shortstop was, beyond it being some sort of baseball position.  Because, WHY WOULD I KNOW?  So, that tells you something about me.

And I mention this because, for me, the very best works transcend what may be uninteresting subject matter.  For instance, while I am aggressively disinterested in the sport of wrestling and don’t read memoirs, John Irving’s memoir of his life in wrestling (Trying to Save Piggy Sneed) was brilliant.  I thought that The Art of Fielding was a fantastic debut novel, but it never transcended the baseball.  There’s a lot of baseball, and I’m a girl who doesn’t know what a shortstop is.

Fortunately, this is not a novel about baseball, it’s a novel about character.  Specifically, the tale revolves around an ensemble cast of five central characters.  The first two (surprise, surprise) meet on a baseball diamond.  The novel opens:
“Schwartz didn’t notice the kid during the game.  Or rather, he only noticed what everyone else did—that he was the smallest player on the field, a scrawny novelty of a shortstop, quick of foot but weak with the bat.  Only after the game ended, when the kid returned to the sun-scorched diamond to take extra grounders, did Schwartz see the grace that shaped Henry’s every move.”
On the day of their meeting, Henry Skrimshander is contemplating the end of his baseball career.  He’s graduated from his small South Dakota high school, and there’s no college on the horizon.  But Mike Schwartz sees the talent that others have missed.  And he takes action.  (“He knew how to motivate people, manipulate people, move them around; this was his only skill.")  With no authority, he promises Henry a place at Westish College, where he’s about to enter his sophomore year—and delivers on it.  By sheer force of will, he changes the course of Henry’s life.

At Westish, Henry meets the other major players…  “My name’s Owen Dunne.  I’ll be your gay mulatto roommate.”  And then there’s the college president, Guert Affenlight, and his 25-year-old daughter, Pella.  “When they spoke they spoke in monosyllables, more like characters in a Carver story than real live Affenlights.”

I’m concentrating on the characters more than the plot because while a whole lot happens, this truly is the very best kind of character-driven fiction.  These five are appealing, fallible, and so very human.  In the end, it’s not about the big game, it’s about lives, relationships, and coming of age—no matter your age.  Yeah, I could have done with a little less baseball, but even with all the sports, this book was a joy from start to finish.  And it augurs a career that many of us will be watching for years to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Naughty was never so nice

Smut: Stories
by Alan Bennett

I’m a fan of Alan Bennett’s wonderful plays, but my greatest affection is reserved for his charming novella The Uncommon Reader.  Coming in at a slight 160 pages, Smut is similar in length, but this book is made up of two brief stories.  In content, they have nothing in common with that earlier tale, but they exhibit the same trademark humor and warmth.  This is a writer it’s difficult not to like.  Therefore, it may be surprising to hear that Mr. Bennett is writing Smut.  These tales are about sex—at least in part.  And though it’s been years since I read them, these stories remind me of nothing so much as the “adult” stories of Roald Dahl. 

The first and longer of the two stories was my favorite.  “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” involves a middle-aged widow who supplements her income by acting out symptoms for medical students to diagnose.  There’s much more to it, of course, but half the pleasure here is in the discovery.  The other half of the pleasure is the loveable and very human Mrs. Donaldson.  And then the third half of the pleasure is the gentle humor.

I didn’t like the characters in “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes” quite as much, but they weren’t meant to be as likable.  The vain Graham Forbes has several secrets he’s keeping from his new wife, but it turns out she has an agenda of her own.

Despite Bennett’s natural sweetness, these stories really do discuss sexual matters in a very frank and adult manner.  Nonetheless, I wouldn’t describe them as graphic.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Uncommon Reader to anyone who’s ever loved a book.  I won’t be recommending Smut quite as unreservedly.  I think more open-minded readers will enjoy these stories the most.  But I enjoyed them immensely, and I do recommend them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thanks for the memories!

Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany
by Stephen Sondheim

The first volume of Stephen Sondheim’s collected lyrics and reflections was so spectacular, all I could hope for was that he could equal it—and that’s exactly what he’s done.  Look, I Made a Hat has all the strengths of the first volume.  It has the same gorgeous photographic spreads, and the book designer must have heard all the complaints about the difficult to read typeface of the lyrics in the last volume.  This book features black print that’s perfectly legible.

It should be no surprise to any reader that Stephen Sondheim is a master wordsmith.  His precise and slightly persnickety voice comes through loud and clear.  Sondheim’s “comments, amplifications, dogmas, harangues, digressions, anecdotes, and miscellany” are absolutely riveting, and his humor peeks through as he relates his stories.  And the man’s vocabulary is absolutely staggering!  I was delightedly looking up the occasional word as I read.  “Gallimaufry” anyone?  Steve, I’m happy to learn from you any day.

It could be argued that Mr. Sondheim’s most productive years were covered in Finishing the Hat.  Still, the five major musicals covered in this volume (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, Passion, and the many incarnations of Wise Guys) are some of his very finest.  In the first volume, I was so excited to read about the troubled production of Merrily We Roll Along.  In this volume is was the circuitous history of Wise Guys/Bounce/Road Show—a “saga in four acts, he calls it—that I was anxious to hear straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

There’s one more thing about this second volume that, in some ways, tops the first book for me.  Mr. Sondheim wrote about many of his most famous and classic shows in the first book, but there are a lot of resources with which to learn about those celebrated productions.  In this volume, he speaks of the musicals that were never to be, the movies, the television work, and other miscellaneous projects.  A lot has been written about Company, not so much about the unproduced musical Muscle, or the amazing television musical Evening Primrose.  In short, this is the only place you can really read about these almost mythological productions.  Yes, I’m a huge geek, but I’m not alone.  It’s thrilling!

I came of age during the years covered by this book.  I must have been 18 or 19 when I took the train to NY for the first time to see a Broadway show.  I vividly remember the sight of the giant’s enormous legs hanging over the side of the (then) Walter Beck Theater.  It was my very first Sondheim production on Broadway.  It was the first of many, and it was life-altering.  All I can say at this point is:  Thanks for the music and thanks for the memories!

Monday, January 16, 2012

VIDEO: Adam Johnson on The Orphan Master's Son

I am so pleased to be able to share this video of Adam Johnson's book launch for The Orphan Master's Son.  This was filmed on the book's release date, January 10th, at the wonderful Booksmith on Haight Street in San Francisco.  If you are not already aware of it, Adam is one of our local San Francisco talents, and it's a great pleasure to see the success he's already having with this novel.  It could not be more deserving!  (My review can be seen here.)  This book is going to be huge, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

So, the footage above consists of Adam's introductory remarks before he began reading from the novel.  Sorry about the early shakiness, it passes quickly.

The next two clips are Adam reading from the second half of the novel.  I have to admit that there's a gap of a couple of minutes between the first video and the second.  (I was changing batteries.)  This isn't that big a problem, however, because observant readers of the novel will notice that this isn't one continuous passage from the text.  Actually, he's cobbled together several different passages into one fairly linear narrative.  The missing moments shouldn't cause you a problem.

I know what you're thinking. You're wondering, What happened to video 4 of 7? Well, the audience clapped for so long after Adam finished reading that I just stopped filming after a minute and started again once the applause died down. So, that's nothing you need to see.

However the following three videos are the lively Q & A session after the reading. For those who are wondering about the truth behind the fiction, this is absolutely fascinating!  Adam talks about his research, his trip to North Korea, and more.

The other thing that makes these events such a privilege to attend is that the author's personality shines through as he answers questions. And Adam Johnson seems to be a sweet, thoughtful, gentle, and funny man. I've seen him at other Bay Area lit events, and have met him in passing before. Every time I see him he impresses me as a truly good guy.

If you haven't already picked up a copy of The Orphan Master's Son, seriously, go get it now. Even better, contact The Booksmith for a signed first edition!

NOTE:  Last week was an awesome one for lit events in San Francisco.  I also filmed some amazing footage of Tea Obreht reading from and discussing The Tiger's Wife (which made my top ten list for the year).  I'll be posting that footage to the blog next week.  Please check back!

The first great novel of 2012!

The Orphan Master's Son
by Adam Johnson

I read a lot.  I read a diverse cross-section of fiction.  And I am telling you that I have never read anything like Adam Johnson’s novel, The Orphan Master’s Son.  And I’ll cut to the chase here and tell you that it knocked my socks right off!

The novel is the story of Pak Jun Do, the eponymous orphan master’s son.  Jun Do spends the novel explaining to people that despite his orphan’s name and upbringing in an orphanage, that he is not an orphan.  Although he is not parented well, or for long. “All orphans are destined for the Army eventually.  But this was how Jun Do, at fourteen, became a tunnel soldier, trained in the art of zero-light combat."

This is merely the first chapter of Jun Do’s absolutely extraordinary life.  He’s a tremendously appealing character, who struggles to overcome the many challenges of his life with integrity and without complaint.  He literally doesn’t know there is an alternative to the harsh life he has experienced in North Korea. 

So, the novel revolves around a terrific central character, and the author has given him an epic and eventful story, but truthfully it’s the North Korean setting that makes this story so compelling.  The novel opens with the first of many propaganda bursts played from ubiquitous loudspeakers.  What it broadcasts is insane!
“In local news, Our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il was seen offering on-the-spot guidance to the engineers deepening the Taedong River channel.  While the Dear Leader lectured to the dredge operators, many doves were seen to spontaneously flock above him, hovering to provide our Reverend General some much needed shade on a hot day.”  
That is just the very tip of the iceberg.  Life in North Korea is like nothing I could imagine in my wildest dreams.  Well, nightmares.  Author Johnson spent years researching the peninsula, and actually had the rare opportunity to visit the country while writing this novel.  It is fascinating in a truly horrifying way.  I will never listen to news out of North Korea the same way again.

I could write more about Jun Do’s picaresque story, but the joy here is in watching it unfold.  The Orphan Master’s Son has been described as a literary novel, a romance, and a thriller.  It is all of those things and more.  Beneath the surface of the story, there is commentary not only on life in this oppressive realm, but in our own.  And it’s actually about the role that the stories we tell has on the direction of our lives.  It has humor, emotion, heart, and a hero you’ll root for.  This is a powerful novel and simply fantastic storytelling.  I highly recommend it for pretty much everyone.  This early in the year, I may just have read one of 2012’s best books.

NOTE:  I shot some great video of Adam Johnson speaking at the novel's book launch in San Francisco last week.  I wanted to get it posted earlier, but I've been having "technical difficulties" getting the footage uploaded.  Adam's discussion of the book, reading, and the Q & A is fascinating, so hopefully I'll be able to post it soon.  :-)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Not my cup of tea, but it might be yours

Island of Wings
by Karin Altenberg

My best friend and I jokingly rate books and films on their “Susan-friendliness,” and that’s nothing more than the completely subjective scale of my idiosyncratic likes and dislikes.  I should have known that Karin Altenberg’s debut novel, Island of Wings, wouldn’t be my cup of tea.  But that said, I don’t necessarily think that there’s a thing wrong with this novel.  It’s not my kind of story, but I think that it was skillfully and effectively told.

Perhaps most interestingly, the story here is heavily based on historical fact.  It is a fictionalized account of the life of Reverend Neil MacKenzie and his wife Lizzie.  MacKenzie, dealing with demons of his own, asks the Church of Scotland to “preach the Gospels in the most godforsaken place they could offer—he had suggested Newfoundland, where he was sure he could do a world of good.  In the end, the Society in Scotland for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge had asked him to go to St. Kilda—the furthest inhabited islands in Britannia.”

The novel, which is told somewhat episodically in eight parts between the years 1830 and 1843, has clearly been meticulously researched, and I found the author’s note at the end quite interesting.  The setting of the novel is a fascinating place with which I was completely unfamiliar.  When the couple arrives in 1830, the islanders are enjoying a happy subsistence, living exactly as their ancestors did centuries earlier.  It’s a very different, rather primitive way of life.  Altenberg does a great job of conveying the harsh beauty of this remote place, with special attention to the natural world.

What I personally had trouble with was the relationship at the heart of this novel, and the character of the Reverend.  Women didn’t have an easy time of it back then, and while I can’t say that this novel is completely joyless, it’s a harsh existence and utterly humorless.  Also, as a secular Jew, the whole idea of Christianity being forcefully foisted onto a disinterested people is distasteful to me in the extreme.  Reverend MacKenzie is not a sympathetic character and was simply not someone I wanted to spend 300 pages with.  Still, he was characterized well enough (and not as some kind of black and white monster, but as a very flawed human) to arouse strong feelings in me.

While Island of Wings ultimately wasn’t for me, I fully expect it to find its audience, and I am certainly open to reading Ms. Altenberg’s future work.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A review in 420 characters

420 Characters
by Lou Beach

These stories began as Facebook status updates, and each was limited to 420 characters—barely a paragraph.  So I began reading, and I was like, “What’s the point?”  Sure these brief stories were well-written, but there was no big picture.  Still, I kept reading, and discovered nurses named Ann O’Dyne, satires of Beatrix Potter, and openings like, “His shoot failed to open.”  They grew on me!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Now, this is a Winter I can get on board with!

The Demi-Monde: Winter
by Rod Rees

I started reading this novel on Christmas Day, and what a gift to me!  I enjoyed it way more than expected—to the point that I could barely drag myself away to celebrate with friends.  Why the limited expectations?  Well, I was unfamiliar with the author, but even more I was wary of a science fictiony-sounding premise.  The novel does indeed intersect the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and thriller, making it a bit difficult to pigeonhole, but it all comes together terrifically.

Unfortunately, if you try to summarize the plot to anyone, you’ll sound like a lunatic.  Early in the novel, a character explains the basic set-up to Ella Thomas, the novel’s protagonist:
“Asymmetric Warfare is the U.S. military’s name for all those messy little conflicts that our country keeps finding itself fighting in hellish places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.  They are wars without rules and without honor and, to be blunt, they are wars the U.S. Army isn’t particularly good at fighting.  When the U.S. military began to study its performance in Asymmetric Warfare Environments it discovered that its soldiers, especially its officers, weren’t effective because they had no appreciation of or understanding of what sort of war they would be fighting.  So in order to prepare them better, the U.S. Army InDoctrination and Training Command came up with the idea of creating a computer simulation that would let our combat personnel experience what was waiting for them in Peshawar and desperate places like it…  The Demi-Monde is the most sophisticated, the most complex and the most terrifying computer simulation ever devised.  It’s a simulation that recreates the visceral anxiety and fear of being in an… Asymmetric Warfare Environment.  To play the Demi-Monde you have to be hardwired into it and the hardwiring creates a full sensory bypass: you believe you are in the Demi-Monde.”
Oh, and one other little detail…  If you die in the Demi-Monde, you die in real life.  Ella has been recruited for a rescue mission.  She possesses unique skills and qualifications—and is desperate enough to risk her life—in order to save the daughter of the President of the United States, who has somehow been lost in the Demi-Monde.

Okay, that is not the premise of what I typically read, but this book grabbed me almost immediately.  Without being “literary” in any way, the novel is very well written.  Rees isn’t merely setting his novel, he is world-building.  And doing so very, very effectively.  (In addition to the descriptions within the novel, I was fascinated by the maps scattered throughout.)  Elements of the Demi-Monde are based on Nazi Germany, but the world that Rees has created is so much richer and more complex than just that.  The novel is both political and philosophical, and Rees plays around a lot with language.  In fact, at the back of the book there’s a complete glossary of words like UnFunDaMentalism, HerEticalism, HimPerialism, ill-ucination, and the like.  At first, I thought the author was just having fun and being clever, but soon enough the use of language became highly Orwellian.  After all, it was Orwell who said, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”  It’s all so entertaining and so smart.

And we haven’t even discussed the characters yet.  Ella is terrific character to build the novel around, but is actually one of several major characters.  The bulk of this novel takes place in the virtual reality of the Demi-Monde, which is peopled with 30 million “dupes,” basically artificial intelligences.  And they are so convincingly rendered that the reader experiences the same cognitive dissonance that Ella does in distinguishing exactly who and what is real.  The relationships depicted encompass the entire spectrum from love to hate and everything in between.  Race, religion, nationality, and yes, reality, all cause conflict with countless lives on the line.  But do dupe lives even matter?

You’ve probably gathered by now that this is a complicated 500+ page novel, and it is only the first of a quadrilogy.  There is a story arc in this first novel, but there really is no resolution.  It ends on multiple cliff-hangers.  This is the sort of thing I generally hate, but I was so caught up in this fast-moving epic that really I’m just looking forward to the next installment and pleased that there will be three more volumes to look forward to.  Hooray for trying something a bit outside my comfort zone!  What a great find!  My New Year’s resolution: resist ordering a copy of the sequel from England.  It’s going to be hard.

NOTE:  Click on the link attached to the author's name above to visit the very cool Demi-Monde website!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Susan's Top 10 Books of 2011

Now, in a normal year, paring down a top 10 list is a torturous process for me.  This year, it was just ridiculous.  Oddly enough, in some ways, having to be so ruthless with the cuts made it easier.  What I've compiled below is a very idiosyncratic list.  I'll tell you right now, from an objective viewpoint, these are not necessarily the best books I read this year.  There were a lot of highly acclaimed novels that I read and loved that surely deserve to be on this list more.  A few examples:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides was the 11th book on my short list.  I thought it was fantastic.  But it didn't effect me as strongly as some of theses others that I did choose. 

And I wrote a review of The Art of Fielding, the acclaimed novel by Chad Harbach, the other night.  I read the book months ago, but reflecting on the book in order to finally write the review, I realized more than ever how much I'd enjoyed reading it, and what an accomplished debut it is.

And I read Haruki Murakami's massive and impressive 1Q84 this year!  And I enjoyed it so much!  The language, especially, was just unbelievable.  I still want to carry the tome around and make people listen to me read from it.  But truthfully...  It was just a little too much work to make my top 10 list.

So, what did make the cut?  And how did I choose?  Well, simply put, these are the books that I felt that I had the strongest response to.  Perhaps I can explain that a little better in the notes that accompany each pick.  What you'll notice is that about half of these books are on every mainstream reviewers' list, and about half of them are on no one's.  That seems like a good balance to me.  But the single most interesting thing about this collection of titles?  Seven of the ten are debut novels.  Me and the NYT, we're simpatico, yo.  (And we are.  Three of their five fiction picks overlap my own.)

As is my tradition, only the #1 pick is ranked.  The rest are in no particular order.  And without stalling any further, here are my top ten books of 2011:

1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - I started hearing the buzz about this book months and months before it was published.  Months before the galley was in my hands.  And I believed it.  I passed it on, forcing other reviewing friends to read the title before I'd ever picked it up myself.  But when I finally did, wow.  Magic.  I've known that this would be my top pick of the year since I was about midway through the book, and when I've tried to explain how I feel about this book, I tell people, "This book didn't entertain me; it made me happier to be alive."  It's true.  You can tell me that it needed more character development, or that debut novelist Morgenstern is still learning her craft, but I don't care.  What an imagination!  What beauty!  It made me happier to be alive.  And that's not just rare in books, it's rare in almost everything.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - Okay, this is the pick on my list that I'm most uncomfortable with, so I may as well get this over with first.  It's arguably insane to list this book rather than Eugenides, Harbach, Murakami, or any number of other serious literary novelists I read this year.  This debut is not a brilliant literary work.  But it is probably the most out and out fun I've had reading any book in years.  It's an homage to my formative years, and it was just a nostalgic blast!  Shoot me; I think reading should be fun.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes - Okay, I'm regaining a semblance of literary street cred with this pick of this year's Man Booker Prize winner.  It will be no surprise that this novella is beautifully written, but what really elevated it above other major literary works I read this year was that kick in the stomach that the novella's end evinced.  Wow.  I did not see that coming.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell - I didn't love this debut novel when I started reading it.  It's told in three parts, and I had a fairly mixed reaction to part one.  It wasn't what I expected.  It was a lot sadder, for starters.  But things picked up a lot in part two.  By part three, you couldn't have pried the book from my hands.  by the end, I was won over completely by this quirky story full of humor and pathos.  It is truly unlike anything I've read in recent memory.  But more than anything, I loved the language, which was beautifully crafted and unexpected at every turn.  This book has been highly polarizing among readers, who seem to have a love it or hate it response.  Clearly I'm in the "love it" camp, but this won't be the only polarizing choice on my list.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht - I'm right on the bandwagon with this one.  Early in the year, this became one of the most acclaimed debut novels in recent memory, and the young author something of a wunderkind.  All hype aside, I thought this was a gorgeous, beautifully-written book.  Unlike some readers I know, I'm not turned off by a little magical realism.  In fact, in my book it's a plus.

I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive by Steve Earle - I was not familiar with Renaissance man Steve Earle in his incarnations as a musician, playwright, political activist, or actor.  And the description of this novel's plot--dealing as it does with junkies, dealers, prostitutes, and the ghost of Hank Williams on a Texas Skid Row in the early 60--was distinctly weird and unappealing.  I'm pretty sure I only picked it up because it was so short.  Well, thank goodness I'm lazy!  This was surely the surprise of the year.  It was heart-warming, bittersweet, and uplifting.  I loved it.

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard - This was another short debut novel to which I brought absolutely no expectations.  It was also a book I read in the first week of the new year, in a single day.  This is what I remember most about the experience of reading it:  By the time I finished, I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin if I couldn't discuss it with someone--immediately!  (This is a very rare response.  And a problem; the novel had not yet been published.)  This book has been compared to Eugenides' debut, The Virgin Suicides, and it is likely that had I read that novel, this one would not have affected me so powerfully.  But I haven't, and it did.  I thought the strange first person plural voice and structure of the novel was fascinating, effective, and beautiful.

11/22/63 by Stephen King - As I wrote in my review of this book, it's amazing and awesome that Mr. King is still finding inventive ways to tell new stories at this stage of his career.  This was just great storytelling pure entertainment.  And there are few authors as adept at character development.  All of his characters wind up feeling like friends--especially when you spend nearly 900 pages with them.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett - Two of my favorite literary genres are thrillers and literary fiction.  It is incredibly rare to find the two blended in the manner that Ann Patchett did with this book.  Really, this was like my dream novel, and unlike some others, I thought she did an amazing job pulling it off.

The Submission by Amy Waldman - This one sneaked up on me.  If you had asked me at the time I read it, I would not have expected it to make my top 10 list.  This is one of the most provocative novels I've read in years.  It made me angry.  It was totally fictional, but so realistically (and yet still somehow satirically) depicted that I fumed for weeks over an imaginary situation.  This one is really going to stick with me for a long time, and that counts for something.

So, for better or worse, those were my top 10 for 2011.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel like sharing your own list?  I'd love to get the year started with a good discussion!

What DID Susan read last year?

Happy New Year, Readers!  Please forgive the radio silence of late.  I sincerely hope you all had wonderful holiday seasons.  This seems like an ideal time to thank you all for coming around.  I'm looking forward to another good year together!

Wow, December was a weak blogging month for me, but I'm giving myself a pass.  It was a prolific year, and frankly, there's been a lot of stuff going on on my end--and probably yours too.  It's that kind of month.  Plus, while I haven't been posting them to the blog--yet--I've been making a concerted effort to catch up on review writing.  So, hopefully, I'll get back with the program as we enter the new year.

So, about the books...  In 2010, I read 78 or 79 books, and it was a record year for me.  100 books felt like an unobtainable goal.  Therefore, I'm at a loss to explain this, but I read nearly 150 books this year!  I have 148 listed right now, but to be honest, I didn't really keep a faithful list this year, and those are the books I was able to confirm having read after looking at what's in my Kindle and iPod,  what I've reviewed, and what I can remember.  I'm surely missing a few, and perhaps I'll add them later.  This list is plenty long enough.

So, for those who are incurably curious, here's the complete list:

  1. The Vault – Boyd Morrison
  2. Aftertime – Sophie Littlefield
  3. This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper
  4. One of Our Thursday’s is Missing – Jasper Fforde
  5. The Red Garden – Alice Hoffman
  6. I Think I Love You – Alison Pearson
  7. Faking Life – Jason Pinter
  8. Gideon’s Sword – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
  9. Swamplandia! – Karen Russell
  10. Blogging for Dummies – Susannah Gardner & Shane Birley
  11. A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness
  12. Pandemonium – Warren Fahy
  13. The Weird Sisters – Eleanor Brown
  14. Storm Front – Jim Butcher
  15. The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht
  16. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson
  17. Spiral – Paul McEuen
  18. The Peach Keeper – Sarah Addison Allen
  19. Devil’s Plaything – Matt Richtel
  20. The Devil Colony – James Rollins
  21. The Devil’s Elixir – Raymond Khoury
  22. Guilt by Association – Marcia Clark
  23. The Ninth Wife – Amy Stolls
  24. The Tragedy of Arthur – Arthur Phillips
  25. A Tale of Two Castles – Gail Carson Levine
  26. The
    Inner Circle
    – Brad Meltzer
  27. The Sixth Man – David Baldacci
  28. The Girl in the Garden – Kamala Nair
  29. Skipped Parts – Tim Sandlin
  30. Long Gone – Alafair Burke
  31. The Door to Lost Pages – Claude Lalumiere
  32. The School of Night – Louis Bayard
  33. Bossypants – Tina Fey
  34. The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes – Marcus Sakey
  35. Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid – Wendy Williams
  36. Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx – James Rollins
  37. A Little Bit Wicked – Kristen Chenoweth
  38. Let the Great World Spin – Colum McCann
  39. Arcadia: The Complete
  40. Love You More – Lisa Gardiner
  41. Sweet Jiminy – Kristin Gore
  42. I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive – Steve Earle
  43. Bellwether – Connie Willis
  44. The Informationist – Taylor Stevens
  45. Skinny – Diana Spechler
  46. Mr. Poppers Penguins – Richard & Florence Atwater
  47. The Uncertain Places – Lisa Goldstein
  48. Blood of the Reich – William Dietrich
  49. The Map of Time – Felix J. Palma
  50. State of Wonder – Ann Patchett
  51. The Woodcutter – Reginald Hill
  52. Before I Go to Sleep – S. J. Watson
  53. A Bad Day For Scandal – Sophie Littlefield
  54. The Fates Will Find Their Way – Hannah Pittard
  55. Still Missing – Chevy Stevens
  56. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Haruki Murakami
  57. Charlie All Night – Jennifer Cruisie
  58. Then Came You – Jennifer Weiner
  59. Rebirth – Sophie Littlefield
  60. Killing Kate – Julie Kramer
  61. Jaws – Peter Benchley
  62. The Sherlockian – Graham Moore
  63. The Help – Kathryn Stockett
  64. You’re Next – Gregg Hurwitz
  65. The Forgotten Waltz – Anne Enright
  66. The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss
  67. 22 Britannia Road
    – Amanda Hodgkinson
  68. The Stranger’s Child – Alan Hollinghurst
  69. Mr. Fox – Helen Oyeyemi
  70. Zone One – Colson Whitehead
  71. The Litigators – John Grisham
  72. Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl
  73. There But For The – Ali Smith
  74. Micro – Michael Crichton & Richard Preston
  75. Native Tongue – Carl Hiaasen
  76. The Prague Cemetery – Umberto Eco
  77. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
  78. A Thousand Lives – Julia Scheeres
  79. Too Much Stuff – Don Bruns
  80. Why Read Moby Dick – Nathaniel Philbrick
  81. 11/22/63 – Stephen King
  82. 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
  83. When She Woke – Hillary Jordan
  84. Countdown – Mira Grant
  85. Replay – Ken Grimwood
  86. I’ve Got Your Number – Sophie Kinsella
  87. City of Thieves – David Benioff
  88. Lightning Rods – Helen DeWitt
  89. 1222 – Ann Holt
  90. The Time in Between – Maria Duenas
  91. Look, I Made a Hat – Stephen Sondheim
  92. The Family Fang – Kevin Wilson
  93. I Married You For Happiness – Lily Tuck
  94. The Revisionists – Thomas Mullen
  95. Death Match – Lincoln Child
  96. The Callahan Chronicles – Spider Robinson
  97. The Invention of Hugo Cabret –Brian Selznick
  98. The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides
  99. Matched – Ali Condie
  100. Tension City – Jim Lehrer
  101. The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
  102. Reamde – Neal Stephenson
  103. The Visible Man – Chuck Klosterman
  104. The Dovekeepers – Alice Hoffman
  105. Heft – Liz Moore
  106. The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh
  107. Eyes Wide Open – Andrew Gross
  108. Sanctus – Simon Toyne
  109. Sacre Bleu – Christopher Moore
  110. Why We Broke Up – Daniel Handler
  111. Sister – Rosamund Lipton
  112. Darkness, My Old Friend – Lisa Unger
  113. Only Time Will Tell – Jeffrey Archer
  114. The Black Stiletto – Raymond Benson
  115. Birds of Paradise – Diana Abu-Jaber
  116. The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach
  117. The Submission – Amy Waldman
  118. One Day – David Nicholls
  119. The Leftovers – Tom Perotta
  120. The Magician King – Lev Grossman
  121. The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
  122. Cold Vengeance – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
  123. The Winters in Bloom – Lisa Tucker
  124. The Griff – Christopher Moore
  125. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
  126. Machine Man – Max Barry
  127. LA Mental – Neil McMahon
  128. Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman
  129. The Twelfth Enchantment – David Liss
  130. Bed – David Whitehouse
  131. Girls in White Dresses – Jennifer Close
  132. Luminarium – Alex Shakar
  133. Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carole Birch
  134. Crossed – Ali Condie
  135. Beauty Queens – Libba Bray
  136. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
  137. Fever Dream – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
  138. The Accident – Linwood Barclay
  139. Dominance – Will Lavender
  140. Sleeping Beauty – Elle Lothlorien
  141. The Gunslinger – Stephen King
  142. 420 Characters – Lou Beach
  143. We the Animals – Justin Torres
  144. The Demi-Monde: Winter – Rod Rees
  145. Smut: Stories – Alan Bennett
  146. Island of Wings – Karin Altenberg
  147. From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant – Alex Gilvarry
  148. The Whisperer – Donato Carrisi

Over 100 of the books above were published in 2011, but there is a generous smattering of 2012 titles in the list as well.  And, yes, I am still working to catch up on the reviews.

Plus, I'll finally be posting my 2011 top 10 list next.  Meanwhile, 2012 is already off to a great reading start!