Monday, December 5, 2011

Best books of 2011

Another year, another couple of hundred books. These were the best of my year.

Fiction, realistic and historical

Some of the better voices I encountered this year, in short pieces as well as novels, intended for grown-ups.

You Know When the Men Are Gone (2011) by Siobhan Fallon
I found this collection of realistic contemporary stories set at Fort Hood through my library’s ebook interface, and I was immediately transported into the lives of Army wives. The scene where the wives watch their husband shipping out, and count the dangerous number of women among them, is still chilling even upon many recollections.

Salvage the Bones (2011) by Jesmyn West
I read some buzz about this one coming out of a preview and preordered this as well as West’s first novel, Where the Line Bleeds. She captures the American gulf coast in all its strangeness, and the Hurricane Katrina setting which is the linchpin to the plot point is dizzingly evocative. But I was surprised as anyone when it took the National Book Award, frankly.

Rules of Civility (2011) by Amor Towles
Another book I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. Set in the very late 1930s, among a milieu shifting from boarding houses to the upper crust, it’s giddy and surprisingly resonant for contemporary American historical fiction.

Aga plus sagas

You know I love my British authors, and feel I should be able to buy anything, in this digital age. The good news is that many more U.S. editions DO seem to be appearing…

Comfort and Joy (2010) by India Knight
A Christmas story which revisits the characters from My Life on a Plate and exposes all of our worst anxieties about the Christmas season. Well worth the international postage (though it was more of a New Year’s read for me…)

The London Train (2011) by Tessa Hadley
Intersecting stories from London and Cardiff explore the lonlieness and disconnection of modern life. I said it before, I think Hadley is almost up to the caliber of Margaret Drabble with the left-leaning social realism.

Homecoming (2011) by Cathy Kelly
This book, about a famous actress who resorts to coming back to Dublin after acting as “the other woman” in another actor’s long-standing marriage, is so terrifically warm and fuzzy, I knew Kelly was channeling Maeve Binchy. I enjoy her long and absorbing novels, but this one, set in appealing Georgian square peopled by warm eccentrics, was a particular treat.

Dystopian YA

Sometimes, it seems like the world can’t get any worse. And then you read a dystopian novel…

Awaken (2011) by Katie Kacvinsky
A world where there are no schools and all interaction is done via computers seems like a frighteningly possible, if not inevitable, outcome of the shift to online learning.

Bumped (2011) by Megan McCafferty
When a virus renders adults infertile, the pressure to conceive makes demi-celebrities of fecund teens who “preg” for profit. McCafferty should win some sort of prize for the inventive slang alone.

Realistic YA

Sometimes, the dystopian is a bit dark…

Small Town Sinners (2011) by Melissa Walker
A realistic story about a small town girl realizing that things aren’t quite as black and white as her preacher father’s fundamentalist doctrines would have her believe. The fascinating backdrop of church theatrics makes this one a go-to title for teens looking for relatable characters grappling with burgeoning issues of identity.

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) (2011) by Sarah Mlynowski
A hysterical book for older teens about misadventures of two best friends when they are left “home alone” for their senior year.

A Shore Thing (2011) by Nicole Polizzi / Valerie Frankel
Don’t hate on Snooki – she was smart enough to snag the brilliant Frankel as her ghostwriter, so the book is actually rather adorable. We’ll call it realistic, even it is about a rather limited milieu.

Versatility plus

I have to give it to Marcus Sedgewick, the guy can cross genres handily, and it's all awesome.

Revolver (2010) by Marcus Sedgewick
A breakneck historical drama set in an Alaskan mining camp that will keep any reader on the edge of their seat, with not one but two clever twists. I will be recommending this to boys FOREVER.

White Crow (2011) by Marcus Sedgewick
An amazingly menacing story about an English town tumbling into the sea, two girls who might be friends or enemies, and a legacy of evil surrounding a very dark place. Incredibly atmospheric.

Hip hop hurray

A couple of splendid books from some heavy hitters.

Decoded (2010) by Jay-Z
It’s not biography as much as exploded liner notes. If you can’t get enough, there’s a standalone book app in addition to the really nice enhanced ebook version. And Sean Carter, forever the entrepreneur, has added three tracks to the “paperback release.” You’ll be humming, it’s inevitable.

Playground (2011) by 50 Cent, Laura Moser, Lizzi Akana
Curtis Jackson writes about contemporary middle schoolers with some real understanding of what it is to be bullied, and to bully in turn. The language is strong, but otherwise quite diverting.

On the digital realm

Not technical, more sociological.

How to Leave Twitter (2011) by Grace Dent
I agree one hundred percent: without twitter, life is like slogging through molasses. Dent captures perfectly all there is to love and hate about the microblogging platform in her typically hysterical, but deadpan, way.

The Filter Bubble (2011) by Eli Pariser
Explores how customized display filters are actually creating very local and personal version of online experiences, as well as the ramifications for media consumption where we have become accustomed to our own niche.

I re-read a lot of Agatha Christie, plenty of recent YA, and all of JoJo Moyes. Here's to another year with lots of time with books.

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