2011 Favorites: Books

I must admit that I am a sucker for “Year In Review” posts and articles. I enjoy reflecting on what’s happened and though I know a calendar year is a somewhat arbitrary unit, it still works out pretty well as a timeframe to reflect upon.

Many people will right “Best of 2011” lists for many things, but claiming something is “best” suggests that you’ve made a pretty serious survey of what was produced this year. I certainly can’t claim that sort of coverage at all, so I’m going to keep my lists as “Favorites”.

For books, it was a pretty good year for me. I finished 40, which is up from my 2009 high of 37. I was also pretty pleased with the quality of the books I read this year. Very few clunkers – which is something I attribute to paying more attention to book bloggers’ I trust reviews and recommendations. So, good job you guys, keep up the good work.

My favorites:

When The Killing's Done

When The Killing’s Done, by T.C. Boyle. This story of the struggle between two factions trying to control the animal populations on the fragile ecosystem of the Channel Islands off California was far and away my most memorable book this year. Part adventure story, part policy debate, Boyle doesn’t give anyone an easy out from a messy situation and doesn’t dictate who’s right and who’s wrong, leaving that up for the reader to ponder. (Original Review)

The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood. This is the very rare sequel that I think surpasses the original. Set in the same terrible about-to-collapse society as her stellar book Oryx & Crake, this story follows the survival of two women before, during and after a bio-apocalypse. This book is more human than its predecessor, (which did a phenomenally terrifying job of world-building and destroying) and populated with characters that I ended up caring about. At times thoughtful and at times action-packed, it’s a great great read. (Original Review)

The Leftovers by Tom Perotta

The Leftovers, by Tom Perotta. I expected to enjoy Perotta’s take of suburban life after the occurrence of a Rapture-like event. I thought it was going to be a snarky skewering of holier-than-thou right wingers, but was surprised to find it a thoughtful and occasionally moving examination of loss, grief and the mechanisms we all use to “move on” after tragedy. Don’t get me wrong, it was still clever and wry, but I didn’t expect the depth I found within it. (Original review)

If there are three books this good awaiting me in 2012, it will be a great year.

How about you? What were your favorites?


8 thoughts on “2011 Favorites: Books

  1. I just finished a very interesting book called You Gotta Have Wa! by Robert Whiting. It’s about Japanese baseball and the differences between theirs and American baseball (or, besobaru, as they say). Unfortunately it was published in 1989, and I am kind of dying to know how things have changed since then. The author wrote another book in the mid 2000s about Ichiro and Japanese players coming over here and I suppose more about both sides of baseball again, but I haven’t gotten my hands on that one yet.

    That was #22 for the year for me, I read a lot of good ones. LA Confidential and My Dark Places by James Ellroy, Waiting For Snow In Havana by Carlos Eire (I was surprised that was just this year I read that!), The Brothers Karamazov (which was so long I could have easily reached my goal of 24 otherwise, but it was excellent anyway!)…I don’t read a whole lot of brand new books though. I guess the Dexter series are the most current ones I’ve read recently.
    Congrats on 40! Maybe if I didn’t spend so much time on the internet I could read 40, although I never did before the internet when I was reading a lot and had nothing else to do and no social life! I guess I am just a slow reader.

    • cranky — I think Brothers Karamozov has to count for two or three books!

      I haven’t ever read any Ellroy, but I bet that I would like his books. One of the reasons I was able to get to 40 was because of listening to audiobooks during my commute. We just recently moved labs and my commute is shorter, which is great — except that I get less “reading” in. :)

  2. I’ve read a TON of books this year, but many of them weren’t ambitious at all, just junk food mysteries and romance. Getting the Nook means I get a lot of books free or cheap and so I can devour them, plus I still buy in dead-tree and borrow from the library.

    They’ve all sort of mushed together into one big literary pile — it’s over 100, easily, maybe 150. Of my “assigned” reading, I liked 80% of the Hugo nominees for Best Novel.

    • lurker — I always look at the Hugo, Nebula and Edgar Awards for good source material. I also had a good number of thrillers/mysteries which rarely rise to what I think of as “serious” books (I guess a serious book is one that I end up thinking about long after I’ve finished it) — but I like them and they’re almost always a fun “break”.

  3. That’s a hard one to answer. My reading gets split between academic books that I won’t say I liked, but enjoyed on a different level, whether it was for their ideas, or a fresh look at an old subject; and the books I read for pleasure, which are mostly fantasies and mysteries/thrillers. Richard Brilliant’s My Laocoon: Alternative Claims in the Interpretation of Artworks,/i> would fall into the former category; Arnaldur Indriason’s Voices and Sajay Patel’s Ramayana: Divine Loophole fall into the latter. I liked all of these books, but for diverse reasons: the first for its take on the way we look at a classical work of art, the second because it was an excellent mystery, perfect for reading at Christmas, and the third because of its wonderful illustrations and its interpretation of an Indian epic which is both playful and yet captures the character of this work, which explains why so many people in India love it.

    I have all of your choices on my library reserve list, Steve. Unfortunately, they are so popular, I probably won’t get these books until spring!

    • HG — yes, it’s definitely true that Favorites can come in all sorts of flavors. (Though I will admit that my academic material never ever rises to “favorite” — “Principles of Clinical Pharmacology”?? essential? yes. Favorite? no.)

      I also reads “Voices” this year and really liked it. And in reference to my comment to Lurkertype above WAS one of the mysteries that stayed with me after I finished reading it. It gave such a great sense of “place” and personality and was incredibly creepy. Like really creepy. I should read the next one soon. I’ve been trying not to OD on Indriason… :)

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