Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

LT Staff’s Favorite 2011 Reads

I asked everyone on the LT staff to put together a list of their favorite reads from 2011. Here’s what they came up with:


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Listened to this twice through in the car with my son. White simply never puts a foot wrong. The book is perfect.

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch. Engrossing door-stopper survey of Christianity—with a thousand years of Greek and Jewish civilization thrown in for context.

Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis. A highly enjoyable series of vignettes related to the Founders. Ellis lied about his war record, but he’s still worth reading.

What Happened at Vatican II by John W. O’Malley. Excellent overview of the council from a historical, rather than theological angle, demonstrating, against recent chatter, that “something” did indeed happen.

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. The only Card book I read in 2011, Xenocide isn’t as good as Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, but it’s still hugely enjoyable. The audiobook version is particularly engaging.


A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. Yes, I’m one of the people who didn’t get started on A Song of Ice and Fire until the HBO series came out. But then I got to read/devour all five right in a row, without waiting years for them to come out, like the rest of you. Who’s laughing now?

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I just love Ann Patchett.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Erin Morgenstern writes beautifully, and it’s a treat to enter her fantastical, magical world. (If you liked this, you should probably also read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and its sequel that came out this year, The Magician King).

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. There’s a reason this book is hitting so many “best of the year” lists. An unexpectedly wonderful, woven together story about baseball, college, love, and life.

Bossypants by Tina Fey. This is a book that will make you look like a crazy person laughing loudly to yourself if you read it in public.


I Was Told There’d be Cake: Essays by Sloane Crosley.

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.

In the Woods by Tana French.

Bossypants by Tina Fey.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.

Chris H.:

The Sugar King of Havana by John Paul Rathbone.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach.

Colossus by Michael A. Hiltzik.

The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Obsessive Consumption by Kate Bingaman-Burt.


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

Back to Our Future by David Sirota.

Decision Points by George W. Bush.

Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster.


Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff. Even when I read this in May I knew it would be on my Best of 2011 list. It’s an extremely well-written account of the loyalist diaspora, drawing on a massive amount of new archival research. Full review.

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips. As I wrote in my review, this novel “includes the text of a newly rediscovered Shakespeare play. Or it doesn’t. Either way, it’s a delightful examination of books and forgeries and Shakespeare scholarship, wrapped up in a meta-narrative and tied with a bow.” Full review.

Then Everything Changed by Jeff Greenfield. I absolutely devoured this set of fascinating alt-histories. What if a suicide bomber had killed JFK outside his house in December, 1960, before the electors had cast their ballots? What if RFK hadn’t been shot in June, 1968, just after winning the California primary? What if Gerald Ford had recovered from a crucial gaffe during a 1976 debate, and won reelection? Greenfield delves into some seriously wonderful political arcana. Full review.

Pym by Mat Johnson. A darkly satirical reimagining of Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Full review.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web by Michael Sims. From my review: “If you’ve ever enjoyed White’s masterpiece, or like to know the “story behind the book,” this is a title you should be sure to add to your shelves. It’s a keeper.” Full review.

NB: I always post a top ten fiction and a top ten non-fiction list on my blog on December 31, so check in there at the end of the year for the complete list.


A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks.

The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman.

What were your favorite 2011 reads? Come tell us here.

Labels: lists, reading, top five

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Reminder: Reading Flash-Mob in Portland!

If you’re in or around LibraryThing’s home base in Portland, Maine, we hope you’ll join LibraryThing and the Maine Humanities Council for a “Reading Flash Mob,” on Thursday December 15, to coincide with Portland’s annual downtown Merry Madness festival! We’ll convene outside Longfellow Books at 5:00 p.m. and read in public until around 6:30 p.m. (and then we’ll do some shopping or grab a bite to eat).

RSVP on the Facebook page, or just let us know here that you’re coming. We hope to see you there!

Labels: flash mob, maine, meet up

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

December Early Reviewers Batch!

The December 2011 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 89 books this month, and a grand total of 2,395 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, December 19th at 6 p.m. EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, and a bunch more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Gefen Publishing House HarperCollins Childrens Books Mulholland Books
Henry Holt and Company Taylor Trade Publishing Ballantine Books
Image Books William Morrow South Dakota State Historical Society Press
Fantastic Books Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Palgrave Macmillan
Dundurn Urban Romantics Hyperion and Voice
Sourcebooks Random House Crossed Genres Publications
Zondervan Amethyst Moon Publishing PublicAffairs
Riverhead Books Bethany House Chosen Books
Sunrise River Press Rovira i Virgili University Press Human Kinetics
SpaceStation Colt McFarland JournalStone
MSI Press BookViewCafe Prufrock Press
The Writer’s Coffee Shop Open Road Doubleday Books
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Dutton St. Martin’s Griffin
Del Rey HighBridge NTI Upstream
Demos Health

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Author Interview: Anthony Horowitz

We’ve got a special mid-month author interview with Anthony Horowitz, the author of the popular Alex Rider series of books as well as several popular UK television series and mini-series, including “Foyle’s War,” “Midsomer Murders,” and “Poirot.” Anthony’s latest work is The House of Silk, a new Sherlock Holmes adventure published last month by Mulholland Books.

You’ve written that you “paused for at least half a second” before agreeing to write a new Sherlock Holmes novel. What made you hesitate, and how did you
overcome the hesitation?

I had two concerns. The first was that, with so much Sherlock Holmes around—the Robert Downey Jr. films and the very successful TV series on BBC—I might be seen as jumping on a bandwagon. Also, I have my doubts about this rash of prequels, sequels and add-ons that are appearing. Are they just a cynical way to sell books? I agreed only because I love Sherlock Holmes and couldn’t resist the idea of moving into 221b Baker Street for a short while. I knew I could write a good book. I knew I would enjoy writing it. In short, I couldn’t resist it.

What sort of research or preparation did you do before you started writing?

I began by re-reading the entire canon, which didn’t take long. There are only 56 short stories and four novellas. I have to say that it was great to have an excuse to immerse myself once again in Sherlock Holmes. I then read a couple of books about nineteenth century London which helped me decide on some of the locations. The plot for The House of Silk came very quickly. I actually started writing it a week after I signed the contract … the prologue and chapter one, anyway. That was how I found my voice.

Did you find any aspect of writing The House of Silk particularly challenging (or particularly easy)?

The biggest challenge was to stretch the very elegant but fragile structures of the original Doyle novels to the 95,000 words demanded by my editors. I overcame this by effectively writing two short novels‐The Man in the Flat Cap and The House of Silk‐and intertwining them. I never use the word “easy” about writing but I have to say that I loved writing the book and that an awful lot of it seemed to fall into my lap. It took four months‐half the time of an Alex Rider novel.

What do you think it is about Holmes and Watson that makes them such wonderfully lasting characters?

It’s their interdependence. Doyle’s genius was to create a character who is cold, aloof, irritating, an occasional drug addict, a man who never reads fiction and knows nothing about philosophy or politics … and to partner him with a warm, affable, civilized, intelligent and totally loyal doctor. We read the books for the atmosphere and for the mysteries but above all because this is the greatest friendship in literature.

Do you have a favorite Sherlock Holmes story? If so, which, and why?

My favourite story is “The Dying Detective” (which takes place three days before The House of Silk begins). It’s a chamber piece. There’s no detection and no actual crime. But it’s a great duel of wits with a memorable villain and a startling denouement.

Read the full interview.

Labels: author interview, authors

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Reminder: SantaThing Signup Closes Soon!

Quick reminder: signup for SantaThing 2011 closes at 4 p.m. EST tomorrow, Thursday December 1!

Go here to sign up, or feel free to browse the list of Santas and make suggestions!

Also see the Talk thread where generous LTers are sponsoring others so that they can participate in SantaThing this year.

Labels: santathing

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

November Bonus Batch!

The November 2011 Bonus Batch batch of Early Reviewer books is up! It features 225 copies of 9 titles from Putnam/Riverhead, including works by Dave Barry, Shalom Auslander, Sara Paretsky, Walter Mosley, and more!

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, December 5th at 6 p.m. EST.

Eligiblity: This bonus batch is U.S. only.

Labels: bonus batch, early reviewers, LTER

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Reading Flash-Mob!

If you’re in or around LibraryThing’s home base in Portland, Maine, we hope you’ll join LibraryThing and the Maine Humanities Council for a “Reading Flash Mob,” on Thursday December 15, to coincide with Portland’s annual downtown Merry Madness festival! We’ll convene outside Longfellow Books at 5:00 p.m. and read in public until around 6:30 p.m. (and then we’ll do some shopping or grab a bite to eat).

RSVP on the Facebook page, or just let us know here that you’re coming. We hope to see you there!

Labels: flash mob, maine, meet up

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

November Author Interviews!

This month’s State of the Thing, LibraryThing’s monthly newsletter of features, author interviews and various forms of bookish delight, should have made its way to your inbox by now. You can also read it online.

We had a whole host of author interviews this month:

I talked to author Dava Sobel about her latest book, A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos, published by Walker & Company.

You’ve done something quite unconventional with this book, putting a two-act play right in the center. How did this idea come about?

My original idea was to write the play. Well into that process—after I’d written and re-written the play several times—my editor, George Gibson, suggested writing a book around the play. I had already accumulated a cache of background information through my research, and he urged me to put that to use. The process of writing the nonfiction narrative produced many good effects: I stopped worrying about what Copernicus might say to me for putting words in his mouth. Also I was able to re-write the play yet again, with a new-found freedom to let the characters rip.

What was it about the idea of a play that drew you to use a dramatic recreation, rather than some other method, to recreate the collaboration between Copernicus and Rheticus?

Since February 1973, when I first learned of their meeting, I have wanted to write a play that would imagine their conversation—how Rheticus convinced Copernicus to do what he’d avoided doing for a lifetime (i.e. publish his book). Everyone knows their meeting took place, but no one knows what they said to each other. The situation seemed ripe for imagination.

Read the rest of our interview with Dava Sobel.

Our second interview this month was with Ken Jennings about Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks, published by Scribner.

So what is it about maps, anyway? Why are so many people so fascinated by them?

Maps are an extremely elegant solution to one of the most difficult problems ever to face human beings: finding our way through a big, complicated world that we only see firsthand in tiny bits and pieces.

For a map geek, seeing a map of a territory is an empowering act, and maybe even an armchair adventure, if you can project yourself into the map and imagine yourself exploring its contours. But the same map that empowers one person can totally frustrate and confuse another—it’s a matter of how good our spatial and navigational senses are. The good news is that those are senses that can quickly be improved through practice, researchers now know.

If you could visit one of the weird/out-of-the-way places you highlight in the book, which would it be?

I was fascinated by what I read about Baarle-Hertog, a small town on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. A series of crazy treaties and land swaps between two 12th-century dukes have led to a bizarrely baroque international border there. Twenty-something tiny little bits of Belgium sit smack in the middle of Dutch territory, and many of those have, in turn, even tinier bits of the Netherlands inside them. (The smallest such parcel is well under an acre—a tiny Dutch cow pasture in the middle of a Belgian housing development.) Many houses straddle the border, so residents choose their citizenship based on which side their front door faces, and have been known to move the front door every time tax laws change. When bars close early on the Dutch side of the border, owners can move their tables over to the Belgian side and keep serving.

Read the rest of our interview with Ken Jennings.

I also interviewed Robert K. Massie about his new biography, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House), a very popular Early Reviewers pick in September.

Most of your books have dealt with Russian history in some way: how did you first become interested in the subject?

My interest in Russian history evolved from a circumstance in my own family. My first child, my son, Robert Massie Jr., was born with hemophilia. I had a history background from my studies at Yale and Oxford, and I knew a little bit—a very little bit—about the Tsarevich Alexis, the only son and heir to Nicholas II, the last tsar, or emperor, of Russia. Alexis had hemophilia, passed down to him through his mother, a grandaughter of Queen Victoria. This boy’s illness led to the involvement of Rasputin as a healer … and the terrible intertwined sequence of family and political events which led to the fall of the monarchy and the Russian Revolution. Nothing had ever been written about this family and these events from this perspective and I decided to do it. That was forty-seven years ago. My first book, Nicholas and Alexandra, was the result.

Tell us about the research process for this book: how long did it
take? Where did it take you?

Catherine the Great has taken me eight years to write. Over all the years, I have been to Russia twenty times, from the Baltic to the Black Sea to the Urals and Siberia.

Read the rest of our interview with Robert Massie.

Last but not least (and very appropriately for this month, we thought), I talked with Hugh Nissenson about his new novel The Pilgrim, published this month by Sourcebooks Landmark.

Your books are set in an impressive variety of time periods. What drew you to seventeenth-century England/New England?

Aside from a life-long passion for the language of Shakespeare and the King James translation of the Bible, I had no serious prior interest in the period. But some seven years ago, in that state of suspension which precedes the birth of a new novel, I took down from my bookshelf a dog-eared copy of Myths and Legends of New England, by Diana Ross McCain. I re-read a brief essay about the hanging of an Englishman by his fellow settlers at Wessagusset, which was an abortive early settlement near Plymouth in New England. The story stayed with me. I began reading about the Puritans in England and their creation in 1620 of the Plymouth colony. I discovered that the incident at Wessagusset really happened. The starving Englishman who was hanged had stolen some seed corn from local Indians who forced the settlers to execute him for his crime. I became fascinated by historic figures like Miles Standish and Governor Bradford, and fictional characters began accreting in my imagination as well. The novel was taking shape.

More specifically, how did you decide to make the Wessagusset settlement the centerpiece of your narrator’s experience in Massachusetts?

I saw the Wessagusset hanging as a commentary on one of our nation’s foundation myths. Moreover, it was emblematic of the conflict between the Puritans’ passion to create the Kingdom of Heaven on earth in the wilderness of the New World and their inevitable complicity with evil. I soon realized that the novel had to be narrated by its protagonist who struggles throughout the book with the ramifications of this conflict.

Read the rest of our interview with Hugh Nissenson.

Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.

If you don’t get State of the Thing, you can add it in your email preferences. You also have to have an email address listed.

Labels: author interview, state of the thing

Monday, November 21st, 2011

SantaThing 2011: Play secret Santa to a book lover!

It’s time to announce the fifth annual SantaThing!

What is SantaThing, you ask? SantaThing is Secret Santa for LibraryThing members. Go ahead and sign up now.

The idea is simple. You pay into the SantaThing system—this year $10, $15, $20, $25 or $30. You play Santa to a LibraryThing member we pick for you*, and choose books for them, based on their LibraryThing library and a short description. Someone else (secret!) does the same for you. LibraryThing does the ordering, and you get the joy of giving AND receiving books!

You can sign up as many times as you like. You can sign up for yourself or for someone else. If you sign up for someone without a LibraryThing account, make sure to mention what kinds of books they’d like, so their Secret Santa can choose wisely.

Even if you don’t want to be a Santa, you can help by suggesting books for others.

A peppermint twist to the plot. Like just about every year, we’ve decided to make some tweaks to the SantaThing process. For the first time we’re allowing members to choose how much they pay in. Choose to pay $15, for example, and someone will pick $15 worth of books for you. Choose $30, and someone will pick $30 worth of books for you.

If you choose the $10, $15, $20, or $25 options, you can choose to have your books picked and sent from Powell’s Books, Harvard Book Store or BookDepository ships to the most number of countries (see the full list), and they have free shipping on orders of any size!**

If you select the $30 option, you can also choose to have your books come from or its national subsidiaries (, .ca, .de, .fr). Restricting Amazon to the $30 option was necessary because LibraryThing can’t otherwise get free shipping unless the gift totals $25 or more.***

Note that you don’t need to factor in shipping. There’s also no profit “cushion” built into this for us, although we expect under-orders to pay for situations where the shipping isn’t free. We do this for fun, not money.

Important dates:

  • Sign-ups close Thursday, December 1 at 4pm Eastern time. Once the sign-up closes, you’ll be able to use the same page to pick for your Santa.
  • Picking closes Thursday, December 8th at 4pm Eastern time. As soon as the picking ends, the ordering begins, and we’ll get all the books out to you as soon as we can. There’s no guarantee that we’ll have books to you by December 25th, but we’re going to do our best!

Go sign up to become a Secret Santa now!

Questions? Ask them in this Talk topic.

*We match members based on the contents of their catalog, thereby matching you with a Secret Santa you share tastes with. In theory. No guarantees.
**All the time! Go check them out—their prices are often as low as other online booksellers, and the free worldwide shipping with no minimum order is the absolute icing on the cake.
***The problem is that Amazon’s free shipping starts at $25, especially since they won’t let us use our Prime account. We considered making everyone pay $30 and then “splitting” the order—so everyone would get and give to two people (see the Talk thread debating what to do). But there were obstacles. $15 is a lousy target on Amazon, and if the total of the gifts was below $25, we’d end up paying full price for it. Abby came up with the solution—$30 for Amazon, $10-30 for everyone else.

Labels: santathing, secret santa

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Boston Meetup Recap & Pics

The Boston meetup on Saturday was a grand time of book shopping, food, and LT discussions! The day started off with brunch at at Trident Booksellers and Cafe on Newbury Street, then a stop at Raven Used Books’ Newbury Street shop before we headed over to the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair for a look around.

During the afternoon we visited the Brattle Book Shop and Commonwealth Books, and then we trekked out to Cambridge and visited Harvard Bookstore and the Raven location on JFK Street. We convened at the Hong Kong for dinner to cap off a long but delightful day (Tim and _Zoe_ even shared a Peking duck).

We very much enjoyed being able to put faces to LibraryThing usernames, and were so pleased that folks were willing to travel so far: we had a good contingent from the Boston area and Western Massachusetts, _Zoe_ came up from New York, and norabelle414 wins the distance prize; she came up from D.C. for the meetup! We hope to do more meetups like this one, so if you’re interested in future events, join the LibraryThing Gatherings and Meetup group, or stay tuned to the blog for future announcements!

For more pictures from the weekend, see the gallery (or add your own by tagging your images “Boston 2011″ and “meetup”).

Labels: meet up