Best of 2011: Book Club Books Review

As we come to the end of the year, we’ll be spending some time listing the very best books from 2011. Click here to see everything we’ve covered for the year.

This year marks the first full calendar year for the Ultra Manly Book Club.  Looking back over all of the books we’ve done throughout the year, I think we had a great mixture of books.  Not everyone loved every book we read, but taking the group of books as a whole, we can safely say that everyone enjoyed the journey and read books they wouldn’t have on their own.

I asked a few of our members their thoughts/highlights on our year.  I was going to post the consensus picks for all of the sections, but as you’ll read below, consensus was not to be had.

Reminder of the books we’ve done for the year. (click for our reviews):

January: Ender’s Game
February: Round Ireland with a Fridge
March: Angel’s Game
April: Confederacy of Dunces
May: Gilead
June: Blind Descent
July: Break
August: 100 Years of Solitude
September: Hunger Games Trilogy
October: Matterhorn
November: Winter of our Discontent
December: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Favorite Book

Matterhorn – absolutely astounding account of the Vietnam war. Ultra manly, yet I definitely shed some tears. -APC

Confederacy of Dunces. The book was a perfect character-driven story that kept you laughing and wanting more. It developed well and ended well. One of the best stories I’ve read. -Dave

Although I enjoyed many of the books we dominated this past year, I am drawn to the ones that move fast and tell a compelling story. I still love Hunger Games. As far as entertainment goes, few books perform better. -Cory

While Ender’s Game is probably my favorite book of all time, I’ve read it many times before this year, so it would be cheating if I chose it. That’s why Matterhorn gets the nod. Entertaining, dramatic,well written, one of our best discussions, manly factor through the roof, changed my perspective on an important event in history. This book has it all. -Z$

Gilead. Ender’s Game is a close second–though they are very different. Ender’s Game was such an enjoyable read and entertaining, but Gilead was one of those books that connected with me on a very deep level. -Luke

Least Favorite Book:

Round Ireland – Boring, not super funny, and a generally uninteresting topic. There were a few good moments, but overall it was just not great. -APC

Angels Game. Melodramatic, poorly written, a bland and flat story. Granted, I read this [sequel] before I read the original, but it still was one of the worst books I’ve ever opened. -Dave

This is a tough one! Although we read some good ones, we read some stinkers too. I would say Water for Elephants, but due to the fact that we are denying that that book was every read (let alone mentioned) at iUMBC, that can’t possibly be my least favorite. I will say, there were 2 books that I started that I had no desire to finish. The first was Gilead (granted, I barely gave that one a chance), and the other was Book of the Dun Cow (in which every word was painful). But as far as the worst book that I read in its entirety: Round Ireland with a Fridge. I read it because my best friend recommended it and said it was good.. My best friend was wrong. -Cory

Round Ireland with a Fridge. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this one ever stood a chance. I can’t get into comedy books. So much of comedy is timing and tone, so I think it’s almost impossible to come across in a book. Round Ireland did nothing to dispel that notion. It feels like a poor man’s poor man’s Bill Bryson. -Z$

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Entertaining idea but very poorly executed. Luke

Favorite Character:

Ignatius J. Reilly – Confederacy of Dunces, (Honorable Mention: Finnick O’Dair – Hunger Games) – Ignatius is an absolutely hilarious character. Super idiotic, culturally lost and overly sensitive to everything. Finnick O’Dair is a close second – for all the character development Katniss lacked, Finnick goes from obnoxious sex addict to a loving, almost brotherly figure. But Ignatius wins out because he is a creation unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Genius creation. -APC

Ignatius from Confederacy. He was gaudy and overly dramatized to perfection. He is hilarious and well developed. -Dave

Easy one for me: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin from Ender’s Game. I love this book and I love this main character. He’s all that is man. -Cory

Ender. The Jason Bourne of 6th graders. -Z$

It’s gotta be Ignatius J. Reilly, right? Luke


Matterhorn – guns, explosions, AND tiger attacks!? -APC

Matterhorn. No explanation needed. -Dave

Tie between Ender’s Game and Hunger Games. I like games. -Cory

Matterhorn. Duh. -Z$

I’m going with Winter of our Discontent, because it is manly on a level of the things that every man has to struggle with in his life. Luke

Most surprising:

100 Years of Solitude – wasn’t expecting to like this book, but it was one of my favorites this year. The Buendia family is a hoot – bizarre and eccentric, and somewhat incestual. Four generations of hilarious characters makes for a great story. -APC

Gillead. I trudged through 200 pages of this book wondering when the pace would pick up and become more exciting. After discussing my trouble and realizing that I was expecting something from the book that it couldn’t deliver I started over, slowly, contemplatively. The book became less entertaining, more pensive and teaching, definitely a worthy read. -Dave

I really enjoyed Angel’s Game (and the prequel Shadow of the Wind). I read the summaries and expected a book as boring as Book of the Dun Cow, but instead was met with a surprisingly intense and fast-paced story. -Cory

Gilead. I had to force my way through this entire book. I hated it until the very last page. But once I finished it and put it down, I saw it through other eyes. A sweet story about a father and a son. So glad I finished it. Close second, Confederacy of Dunces. HATED it until the last third completely redeemed the entire book. -Z$

100 Years of Solitude. I really thought it was going to be amazing and excellent because I’d heard so much about it, but in the end I really didn’t end up connecting with it that much. It was ok, but I was surprised I didn’t love it. Luke

New Revelations:

A new found respect for Vietnam veterans. Matterhorn is an incredible book, and I’ve never truly realized what the young men in Vietnam experienced. The horrors of battle, the general confusion and misguided tactics, but most of all the psychological trauma they went through in the bush. -APC

We read a great range of books, from overly plot-driven to overtly literary. We read fiction and non, humor and serious. Though I didn’t enjoy every book I found every conversation worthwhile and engaging. The book club delivered new insight into books that I would not have chosen to pick up. -Dave

After the first couple of iUMBC’s I attended over a year ago, I had a literary-identity-crisis. By that time I had discovered my love for reading good novels, but I loved them for what they were in my life: entertainment. At the first couple of book clubs I recognized that some people didn’t read books in the same manner that I had. With their schooling and background, they couldn’t help but read books on a deeper philosophical level. That’s just how they roll. I, on the other hand, read for entertainment. The first couple of books I attempted to speak about as some others did. That didn’t work. It came to a head with Hunger Games. As a few of our members attempted to undress this incredibly entertaining book, I decided to bust out the domination! How could they not like this book?!? There’s a reason why it has sold millions of copies and a major motion picture is soon-to-be released. I had discovered my role: The voice of the typical man. Now I fight for the sports-loving, Chuck-Norris emulating, steak-eating average man.
Bring on 2012. -Cory

I’m not sure I learned anything grand except for the overall worthiness of reading books I wouldn’t normally read and finishing books that have a good reputation. My horizon’s have expanded in a way I wouldn’t of thought possible at the beginning of the year. Books I used to enjoy just because it was a spy book, aren’t as entertaining any more. I find I like a little more meat to my stories now. Certainly not all books are worth finishing, but books with great reputations earned them somehow. Those are the ones I force myself to finish. I’ve changed my mind about a book too many times towards the end, not to finish books now. -Z$

As I look back over the list, I am proud of the variety of books we have read. I would never have read such an eclectic mix on my own. Book club is one of my favorite nights each month and I always enjoy our discussions. -Luke

So here’s to a great 2011, in which we read some good books and some bad, but mostly just had a blast. Hopefully you have a group of men that you’re talking about these books with as well. Because, while a male book group may not be a culturally accepted phenomenon yet, it’s a hell a lot of fun.

The guys here at the Ultra Manly Book Club wish you a very manly 2012, we can’t wait to dive into what we have in store!

About zach

Staring out across the hazy mountain range on his latest summitting of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Zach saw with a clearness he had not yet seen. "People should tremble at the very sound of my name", he thought. And it was so. "I should master the manly arts of the world, such as barehanded hunting and blacksmithing". And it was so. "People should call me Z$". And it was so.

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