Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of 2011

I challenged myself to read 125 books in 2011.  I started out with a lowball figure, which I upgraded to 100 by spring.  Then, over the summer, I decided I could make it to 125.  And, as of December 22, I made it.

That's a lot of books.  Rather than talk about all of them, I thought I'd tell you about the 12 I liked best.  In no particular order, and bearing in mind I read them in 2011, not that they were published this year:

1. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (read on audio).  I liked how the book got into the mind of a teenager with depression.  Without turning her into a martyr or a specimen of human perfection the world suffers for the loss of, it tells the story of a girl who's angry, hurt, and who sees no other way out of her problems.  I was happy with the book for existing, giving some teenagers a chance to empathize with those they might otherwise drive to feel they have no other choice, as well.

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (read on audio).  I loved this book not only for its effective use of the epistolary literary device, but because it was a light and heartwarming read where I expected a deep, depressing read.  It's ultimately about the warmth and friendship people can find when they reach out for others through a shared love of books, and the theme had some resonance for me.

3. UR by Stephen King (read on audio). I've heard a lot of complaints about the silliness of the idea of a haunted pink Kindle, but I enjoyed it.  I liked the Dark Tower references, this fleshing-out of a world we know so little about.  I like it when Stephen King steps away from the creepy, scary stuff, and just tells us about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

4. Sleight of Hand by Peter S. Beagle. I liked the flexibility shown in this collection of short stories.  There was a great variety on display in this collection, and Peter Beagle writes each expertly.  Writing this up, I wish I'd picked up a copy so I could go back and revisit some of the stories.

5. When You Were Mine by Elizabeth Noble. I got an ARC through Goodreads' First Reads program, but I would've bought a copy, anyway.  I probably wouldn't have read it as promptly as I did, though, so thank goodness for First Reads.  I found it poignant and touching and lovely.  This is not a traditional chick lit romance, which is exactly what I liked about it.  There are logical consequences and hard choices, and it's not the happily ever after one expects from a book with a pastel cover.

6. Late Eclipses and One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire (books 4 and 5 of the Toby Daye series). There are precious few books I run out to pick up the week they come out, and there's a good reason these make that exclusive list.  I love the bread crumbs the author drops throughout these books, I love knowing that the writer knows where the series is going, and I'm in love with the world she's created.  The universe Toby inhabits is filled with fascinating and bizarre people, and the references to fairy tales is done with a light touch.  I recommended this series to a Goodreads member who asked for books like the TV show Grimm, but honestly, I use any excuse to recommend these I can find. They're awesome, and they keep getting better.

7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (read on audio). This is the only nonfiction entry on the list, but that isn't the only notable thing about it.  This book shows the average non-scientist why the legal rights of who our body parts belong to matters.  It presents a lot of history of medical science of the last 50 years in a way that's both memorable and easy to understand.  And it shows an awareness of racial issues that I didn't expect.  More than an informative read, this book was also fascinating and enjoyable to read.

8. The Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin (Matthew Swift #1). I hadn't expected to like this book as much as I did.  I expected a paint-by-numbers urban fantasy with perhaps a bit more narrative wandering than usual.  It is, after all, 613 pages, almost twice as long as most of its cousins on the UF shelf.  Instead, I got a gripping story set in a fascinating and textured world, with a protagonist who was both maddening and irresistible.  I couldn't get through it fast enough, once I'd started.

9. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I love the texture of Zafon's Barcelona of the early 1900's.  The tone is gothic and creepy, and his protagonists are inevitably in over their heads but keep chewing on the mysteries set before them, anyway.  I loved The Shadow of the Wind, and this one lived up to the high expectations I had as a result.  The language, even translated from the original Spanish, is lovely and flowing and adds up to a tale unlike any I've read lately, delightfully told.

10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It starts off as a mystery novel with a twist: the protagonist, Christopher John Francis Boone, has autism.  The mystery is solved about halfway through, creating more questions and setting Christopher off well beyond the comfort zone of his routines and what he knows about the world.  The book does an excellent job of getting into the head of a boy with autism, illustrating the thought processes that make some people with that particular diagnosis speak or act the way they do.  Christopher's actions always make perfectly rational, logical sense to him, while the adults around him are left scratching their heads.  I loved the insight this book offered, I enjoyed the story, and I loved Christopher and his unique storytelling voice.

11. Duma Key by Stephen King (read on audio). Again, it's not the creepiness of the story that I enjoyed, though I still refuse to walk through my apartment in the dark thanks to one of the scenes in this book.  It's that King takes a perfectly ordinary human being, shakes him up, takes him out of his comfort zone, and lets us see how he copes.  This seemed like a response to the terrible collision King was involved in years ago.  If only wonderful works could come of such awful things every time.

12. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (read on audio). I loved the original J. M. Barrie story, and I'd been reluctant to pick up these modern prequels.  My fears turned out to be unfounded.  This is faithful to the source material, with much of the same sense of fun and freedom.  It didn't detract one little bit, but served as an excellent companion.  As my nieces and nephews grow into the recommended age group for this book, they can expect to receive copies as presents.

What were some of the best books you read in 2011?


  1. I love anything by Caros Ruiz Zafon, especially The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game! I'm so glad you enjoyed them too.

  2. Every once in a while, our reading tastes intersect. ;)