In no particular order, these are my five favorite books that I read during 2011:
1. The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
This was one of the first books I read in 2011. I happened upon it while browsing at Borders one afternoon (with a 40% off coupon in my hot little hand). I picked up a paperback copy for just a few dollars, not knowing anything about it. I think this book is an important read, especially for women. The book is about relying on our intuition to help us know when to be scared: if we feel uncomfortable, there's probably a good reason for that. He also talks about how our bodies can take over when things go crazy. I definitely related to this perspective: I've only had to call 911 once in my life. I was eating breakfast with my dad at my parents' house while I was in college when he passed out. Before that had even occurred, my brain was saying to me "If something happens, you just get up, walk around the table, pick up the phone, and dial 911." Sure enough, it did, and I followed those exact steps. Thankfully, my dad's condition wasn't very serious, but I'm very glad my body took over and told me just what to do. This book was filled with stories like that and I found it fascinating.
2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
3. The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman
This book was a random find on a clearance shelf at Half Price Books (which is my very favorite place to shop for books). My favorite aspect of this book is that it pointed out to me the importance of the relationship between Wal-Mart and its suppliers. It had never occurred to me to think about what it might be like for a company that makes products (toothpaste, canned soup, hand towels, whatever) that are subsequently sold by Wal-Mart. It turns out, one of the reasons Wal-Mart has such an effect on our economy and our lives is because of its extraordinary purchasing power among its vendors. The author relates the anecdote about how, many years ago, people always purchased deodorant in boxes. The deodorant itself was still in the plastic tube we know today, but the tube was enclosed by a box when you brought it home from the store. Wal-Mart didn't like that - the boxes didn't really affect the consumers use and appreciation of the product, they cost money to produce and added transportation costs, as well as taking up more space on Wal-Mart's store shelves. So, Wal-Mart encouraged its vendors to ditch the boxes and now they're gone. And they're not just gone at Wal-Mart - I can't think of any place in the world where you would find deodorant sold in a box. In my mind, that's an example of Wal-Mart using its power for good and not evil. Though the author (and I) recognizes some important differences even between Wal-Mart and its next closest competitors, I thought this book was a fascinating look at how retail exists in the early 21st century.
4. Reflections on the Revolution in Europe by Christopher Caldwell
5. Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball
Wishing you all great reads in 2012!