What I Read In 2011

In the epic tradition of What I Read In 2009 and What I Read In 2010 comes … What I Read In 2011! “It’s what I wanted Transformers 3 to be if I’d only had a bigger special effects budget” says cult indie film director Michael Bay.

I read 59 books in 2011. Here are links to a number I reviewed.

1. Wit of the Staircase by Saradha Koirala – debut NZ poetry collection; I really liked the wry humour and linguistic play on show here
2. A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction, edited by Anna Caro and Juliet Buchanan – NZ speculative short story anthology, including my story “The Last Good Place”
3. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis – British memoir and meditation on grief
4. Grendel by John Gardner – US novella: the Beowulf story imagined from the monster’s point of view
5. Returning by Pat Whitaker – NZ science fiction novel – an intriguing mixture of SF and alternate history
6. Carry On, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse – British humour; a collection of Jeeves & Wooster short stories
7. Hemingway in Spain by David P. Reiter – Australian poetry collection centred on the titular author’s exploits in Spain
8. Dwarf Stars 2010, edited by Joshua Gage – annual anthology of short speculative poetry published by the Science Fiction Poetry Association
9. The Baron In The Trees by Italo Calvino – Italian novel in translation; like all the Calvino I have read, very good indeed
10. Reindeer People by Piers Vitebsky – another very good book – a nonfiction account of time spent with indigenous reindeer herders in Siberia from a British author of Russian descent
11. From Smoke to Mirrors : how New Zealand can replace fossil liquid fuels with locally-made renewable energy by 2040 by Kevin Cudby – nonfiction/transport/climate change – takes an optimistic view
12. Lives of the Poets by John Newton – well-written NZ poetry collection that failed to grab me initially, but got more interesting as it went along
13. The Topless Tower by Silvina Ocampo – Argentinean novella in translation, nominally YA
14.”The Spectrum Collection” edited by John Prescott – sampler of horror fiction and poetry from Dark Continents Publishing – NZ, Australian and US authors with some good horror stories and poems
15. Rock and Roll Never Forgets by Deborah Grabien – US rock’n’roll crime novel
16. Punctured Experimental by Iain Britton – NZ poetry chapbook, experimental but accessible
17. In Pursuit… by Joanna FitzPatrick – US biographical novel about Katherine Mansfield
18. The Teachings of Don B. by Donald Barthelme – miscellany from the great US fabulist including short fiction and comic strips; not as strong as I’d hoped, overall
19. in vitro by Laura Solomon – NZ poetry collection with a dark edge
20. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – classic French novel in translation
21. Island by Penelope Todd – NZ novel with historical and romance elements – I was nervous I wouldn’t like it given those elements, but I enjoyed it a lot
22. Cars at the End of an Era: Transport Issues in the New Zealand Greenhouse by John Robinson – NZ nonfiction/transport/climate change – takes a pessimistic view: a good counterbalance to #11 above
23. A Room With A View by E. M. Forster – classic British novel
24. Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett – Discworld novel – pretty good, but there is little new under the sun or above the tortoise after so many Discworld novels
25. The Best Of Kim Stanley Robinson – selected short stories and novellas of this great US science fiction writer. All the stories very good, many excellent
26. Trace Fossils by Mary Cresswell – NZ poetry collection, the first ‘serious’ poetry collection from Mary Cresswell – as with Janis Freegard’s poetry (see #36), I enjoy the combination of science and poetry
27. The Guild by Felicia Day (Omnibus edition of Issues 1-3) – US graphic novel by the multi-talented Ms Day. (Felicia Day and Joss Whedon have an interesting mentor/mentee professional relationship – he helped her develop as a writer and actor, she showed him the way to make web series work. When it comes to turning a TV or web series into a graphic novel, on the evidence of this vs #37, I would say that Felicia Day has a surer grasp on what works in the comics medium.)
28. The Corrosion Zone by Barbara Strang – NZ poetry collection in which I especially enjoyed the poems about Southland, where both the author and I grew up
29. He’ll Be OK by Celia Lashlie – NZ parenting manual for parents of teenage boys – slightly uneasy mix of research and anecdote, but reassuring overall!
30. Such A Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry – novel of India, written by this Indian novelist who emigrated to Canada. I found the characters fascinating but the plot improbable
31. Lan Yuan : The Garden of Enlightenment, ed. James Beattie – history of formal Chinese gardens and guide to Lan Yuan, the Chinese garden in Dunedin, New Zealand. I was captivated by Lan Yuan when I visited it for the first time this year, and found this short essay collection placing in context very interesting as well
32. Forty Stories by Donald Barthelme – US short story collection – again, not quite as good as I expected. Barthelme has written some wonderful stories, but the hit-rate in this collection was lower than I’d hoped
33. Mr Allbones’ Ferrets by Fiona Farrell – NZ novel, mainly set in the UK, which I reviewed for Landfall Review Online
34. One Was A Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming – US crime novel – she is one of my favourite crime novel, and this was a particularly good entry in the series
35. Immortal Love by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – Russian short stories in translation
36. Kingdom Animalia : The Escapades of Linnaeus by Janis Freegard – NZ poetry collection memorably organised around Linnaeus’ classification system
37. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 8: Last Gleaming by Joss Whedon – collecting the final five issues (#s 36-40) of Buffy Season 8, the continuation of the TV series in graphic novel form. This season has been patchy to say the least, but the final issue returns Buffy to her, and the series’, strengths
38. Genesis by Bernard Beckett – NZ YA science fiction novel – very interesting ideas, but the framing story didn’t work for me
39. On The Overgrown Path by David Herter – US novella with speculative elements; the central character is Czech composer Leoš Janáček
40. True Spirit: The Aussie Girl Who Took On The World by Jessica Watson – record of her non-stop solo round the world yacht voyage – at 16, she was the youngest person to do this. An impulse buy at an airport bookstore that I really enjoyed!
41. Guarding the Flame by Majella Cullinane – fine debut collection by this Irish poet now living in NZ
42. Unless by Carol Shields – Canadian novel; I enjoyed it, but others who have read more of her work said this was not among her best
43. Mediated by Thomas de Zengotita – nonfiction account, and at times jeremiad, about the effects of pervasive media on perception, self-image, childrearing and politics
44. Burn by Nevada Barr – US crime novel – a long way from being this normally excellent author’s best work, and probably the book I enjoyed least this year
45. The Coldest Place on Earth by Robert Thomson – narrative of one of the lesser-known Antarctic journeys, serviceably rather than excitingly told
46. The Day The Raids Came, edited by Valerie Morse – excellent collection of accounts by those caught up in the New Zealand police “terror” raids of October 2007 on Tuhoe and anarchist activists, a classic case of ‘have new anti-terrorist powers, will use them’
47. Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, edited by Penelope Todd – ebook anthology of love stories by NZ and international authors, including my story “Said Sheree”.
48. The Secret River by Kate Grenville – Australian historical novel of transportation, settlement, and conquest
49. The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin – slightly disappointing novel set in the Haninish universe by one of my favourite SF authors
50. The Carbon Challenge : New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme by Geoff Bertram and Simon Terry – NZ non-fiction; shows up how the Emissions Trading Scheme, supposedly set up to impose costs of greenhouse gas emitters, has ended up subsidising them instead
51. Portals by Robin Fry – NZ poetry collection – some lovely poems here, including this one.
52. Luuurve Is A Many Trousered Thing… by Louise Rennison – fiction/YA novel – a ‘read something completely different’ challenge for my book group – I enjoyed this more than I expected
53. The Cancellation of Clouds by P. S. Cottier – Australian poetry collection with a distinctively wry yet dark tone and very effective use of long stanzas and densely packed lines
54. Tongues of Ash by Keith Westwater – NZ poetry collection; a fine debut collection from my book-tour partner.
55. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente – US fantasy novel based on Russian folklore; you’ll have to wait till my Belletrista review to see what I thought of it 😉
56. Scott’s Last Biscuit by Sarah Moss – nonfiction/polar exploration and literature – liked the way it didn’t just focus on the obvious examples – disliked the heavy-handed explication of what writers many years distant from us “really” meant
57. Not Saying Goodbye At Gate 21 by Kathleen Jones – first poetry collection from the noted biographer. Some wonderful landscape and personal poetry here – the best of these poems are those that bring the two together.
58. Tales For Canterbury, edited by Anna Caro and Cassie Hart – a fine collection of short stories (and a poem) by NZ and international authors, raising funds for victims of the Canterbury earthquakes. Includes my original story “Sign of the Tui”.
59. The Comforter by Helen Lehndorf – a lovely debut poetry collection: warm, inviting poems and another great production job from Helen Rickerby’s Seraph Press.

What does that all add up to?

I read:

21 novels or novellas
15 poetry books – 14 collections and 1 anthology
12 nonfiction books
9 short story collections or anthologies
2 graphic novels


I was surprised to see that I’d read more novels than poetry collections, and that’s probably because it feels like poetry was the highlight of my reading this year, with short fiction close behind. The only novel I gave 5 stars out of 5 to on LibraryThing was Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees, though Kate Grenville’s The Secret River came close. Madame Bovary and Island were good too, and I enjoyed the ingenious storyline of Pat Whitaker’s Returning.

I finished the year with two excellent poetry collections, Kathleen Jones’ Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 and Helen Lehndorf’s The Comforter, and right from the first collection I read this year, Saradha Koirala’s The Wit of the Staircase, I’ve found poems that have excited, moved and challenged me. One thing I’m keen to do next year is read more Australian poetry, to build on David Reiter’s Hemingway in Spain and P. S. Cottier’s The Cancellation of Clouds, both of which I enjoyed, and each of which is somewhat different from what I’ve read recently by any New Zealand poet. Vive la difference!

Short story anthologies have been another highlight of 2011, with the two anthologies from Wellington’s own Random Static Press, A Foreign Country and Tales for Canterbury, and also the Slightly Peculiar Love Stories anthology from Dunedin’s Rosa Mira Books, being particular favourites – and not just because I had a story in each of them :-). New Zealand continues to produce outstanding short story writers, and in the latter two anthologies, which mix stories from New Zealand and overseas writers, the stories by New Zealand writers stand up very well.

Nonfiction highlights included The Reindeer People, A Grief Observed, The Day The Raids Came and Lan Yuan: The Garden of Enlightenment. And when it came to graphic novels, I think Felicia Day has grasped the essence of translating one visual medium into another in a way that Joss Whedon, for all his brilliance in other fields, has yet to master.

Yay for books! I think I might read some more of them in 2012.

What I Read In 2010

I read 57 books in 2011, five more than the 52 I managed in 2009. Just like last year, I hit a point in the final months of the year at which I could no longer summon up the concentration to read anything more complex than a web page or a newspaper article. Once I had met my final deadline for the year, my concentration returned, and I have happily got back into reading over the holidays.

Below is the list of what I read. Links are to reviews that appeared on my blog or in Belletrista, or to author interviews. Beneath that, I’ve selected my favourite reads of the year.

The List

1. The Temple Down The Road by Brian Matthews – nonfiction/history
2. Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson – novel/science fiction + historical
3. Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer – collection of linked stories/science fiction
4. Smiley’s People by John Le Carre – novel/thriller
5. Speak Softly, She Can Hear by Pam Lewis – novel/thriller
6. Sappho: A Garland, translated by Jim Powell – poetry collection with translator’s notes
7. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov – novella
8. Etymology by Bryan Walpert – poetry collection
9. Spinners by Anthony McCarten – novel
10. This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin – nonfiction – science/music
11. Ithaca Island Bay Leaves by Vana Manasiadis – poetry collection
12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 6: Retreat by Jane Espenson and others (graphic novel)
13. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute – novel
14. Selected Prose and Prose-Poems by Gabriela Mistral
15. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – novel/thriller
16. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson – novel/thriller
17. Cornelius & Co by John O’Connor – poetry collection (review below)
18. Alternate Means of Transport by Cynthia Macdonald – poetry collection
19. The Ice Museum : In Search of the Lost Land of Thule by Joanna Kavenna – nonfiction/travel
20. The Chanur Saga by C J Cherryh – novel/science fiction-space opera (This comprises books 1-3 of a 5-book series. the other 2 books are listed separately below.)
21. Leaving the Tableland by Kerry Popplewell – poetry collection
22. The Norse Atlantic Saga by Gwyn Jones – nonfiction/history+ geography
23. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson – novel/thriller
24. Chanur’s Homecoming by C J Cherryh – novel/science fiction-space opera
25. Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks – novel/science fiction-space opera
26 Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin – novel/historical with fantasy elements
27. Magnetic South by Sue Wootton – poetry collection
28. Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford – novel/Austenia
29. Ephraim’s Eyes by Bryan Walpert – short story collection
30. Spark by Emma Neale – poetry collection
31. Chanur’s Legacy by C. J. Cherryh – novel/science fiction-space opera
32. Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge – novel/historical fiction-political fiction
33. The Loneliness of The Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe – fiction/short stories
34. The Word Book by Kanai Mieko – fiction/short stories
35. Digging for Spain by Penelope Todd – nonfiction/memoir
36. Whoops! by John Lanchester – nonfiction/economics
37. Bartering Lines by Michael Steven – poetry collection
38. Daybook Fragments by Michael Steven – poetry collection
39. Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson – nonfiction/economics
40. ‘A Tingling Catch’: A Century of New Zealand Cricket Poems, edited by Mark Pirie – poetry/sport/anthology
41. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – fiction/novel
42. Lonely Planet: Greenland & The Arctic – nonfiction/travel
43. Heading North by Helen Rickerby – poetry/chapbook
44. There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – fiction/short stories
45. You And Me And Cancer Makes Three by John Irvine – poetry/chapbook
46. Out Of It by Michael O’Leary – fiction/novella
47. Capitol Offense by Mike Doogan – fiction/thriller
48. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 7: Twilight – graphic novel/horror
49. McGrotty and Ludmilla by Alasdair Gray – novella/satire
50. This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich – nonfiction/travel
51. Barefoot by Jennifer Compton – poetry/collection
52. After Dark by Haruki Murakami – fiction/novel
53. Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller by Kathleen Jones – nonfiction/biography
54. Elementals by A. S. Byatt – fiction/short stories
55. A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson – nonfiction/memoir/travel
56. The Game by Lee Pletzers – fiction/thriller
57. Time Traveller by Robin Fry – poetry/collection

My Favourite Reads of 2010

The list above comes from my account on the social cataloguing site LibraryThing, where I keep track of what I read each year.


I gave just two of the 57 books above 5 stars out of 5: historical novel Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, and short story collection There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, which I reviewed for Belletrista.

Just behind those was Kalpa Imperial by Argentine author Angelica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula Le Guin. It’s a collection of closely-linked stories which hovers between sf and fantasy, and it’s excellent. Other notable fiction reads of the year included Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (a.k.a. the Lisbeth Salander books), which gripped me even as I wondered how books with so many structural issues could be so gripping, and C. J. Cherryh’s 5-volume Chanur Saga, which I re-read with as much pleasure as I’d had reading it for the first time twenty or so years ago. It’s space opera done right.


I read a lot of good nonfiction this year. Two of the books I enjoyed most were about Greenland, a place which fascinates me but which I am never likely to visit. I read The Lonely Planet Guide To Greenland with rapt attention alongside This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland, by Gretel Ehrlich. I also very much enjoyed This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitan, Kathleen Jones’ excellent new biography Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller, and Penelope Todd’s writer’s memoir Digging for Spain.


The two books of poetry by individual authors I most enjoyed in 2010 were Jennifer Compton’s collection Barefoot and Sappho: A Garland, translated and introduced by Jim Powell. Other favourite poetry collections for the year included Magnetic South by Sue Wootton, Spark by Emma Neale, and Ithaca Island Bay Leaves by Vana Manasiadis.

As for anthologies, cricket poetry anthology A Tingling Catch, edited by Mark Pirie, was a highlight of the year.

And now, onwards to 2011’s reading!


In my holidays, I discovered LibraryThing, which is a cross between a user-generated personal library cataloguing tool and a social networking site for book lovers. I then spent far too much time adding listings for books I own (or, in a few cases, don’t own but have read). The worrying aspect of this is that I have 59 books listed in my library after my late-night efforts; many people have well upwards of 1000. You can list up to 200 books before having to pay to join, so I’ll stealthily approach this limit and then decide whether I want to take my relationship with LibraryThing to the next level.

Every LT user gets a profile, and if you’re an author, you can also have an author page. Since authors write books, and LT users enjoy and even buy books, creating an author profile makes sense to me – even if, with a name like Tim Jones, I will forever be embroiled in the toils of disambiguation.

Once you’ve loaded some of your books, there’s plenty more to do – tagging the books, loading covers, giving ratings, and writing reviews (which seems to be one of the most pressing needs). And there’s groups to be joined – “New Zealand Thingamabrarians”, for example – and many wondrous highways and byways of literature to explore.

This is the sort of thing that only appeals to a certain personality type. But I have that personality type. You may have guessed that by now.