Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top Ten Books of 2011

I'm a big end-of-the-year list kind of guy, and I enjoyed doing my own book and movie lists last year. I'm back at it this year, and since I'll be squeezing in a few more movies this year, I'll start with my top ten books of 2011. I read 42 books this year, down from 49 in 2010. I read more YA last year, which tends to go faster for me. The books on my list weren't necessarily published in 2011, just books I read this year.

10. The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers: Published in 1946, this is the oldest book on my list. Frankie Addams dreams of escaping her Southern hometown, going away with her brother and his fiance. McCullers nails the Southern gothic thing. Hell, she may have created it for all I know. I am certain Harper Lee was a fan of this book, as there are many similarities to her own Southern coming-of-age book.

9. Half a Life, Darin Strauss: This is one of two nonfiction books on the list. Strauss struck and killed a girl with his car when he was 18. He writes unblinkingly about the next half of his life, his reaction to the tragedy and his struggle to accept happiness again in his life.

8. Red Hook Road, Ayelet Waldman: Newlyweds Becca and John die on their wedding day, and the remaining members of their families must find meaning with the rest of their lives. Heavy stuff, to be sure, but Waldman is able to find beauty in tragedy.

7. the imperfectionists, Tom Rachman: This book tells the story of the rise and fall of an English newspaper in Italy. Within the larger story of the dying paper, Rachman gives us the lives of the people who are affected by its demise.

6. The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach: This one had me with the northeastern Wisconsin setting, the description of which brought back more than a few pleasant memories. Much of the book centers around a baseball team, but this book, like all great books, is about so much more than what is presented on the surface. A passing knowledge of Moby Dick makes this book even more impressive.

5. The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings: Matt King is an out-of-the-loop husband and father who must step up after a tragedy. I have to admit, I read this one after hearing about the movie. I knew I'd see the movie, so I wanted to read the book first. I didn't have many expectations, but I really enjoyed the book. Hemmings has a sparse writing style, much more direct than your typical literary fiction, a style I quite like.

4. Townie, Andre Dubus III: This is the second nonfiction book on the list, and it's a powerhouse. This book shows the evolution of a man, from fear and anger to some kind of understanding. Ultimately, it's about Dubus coming to terms with his father, coming to understand, perhaps not fully, but enough. Sometimes that's the best we can do.

3. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer: The beautiful story of Oskar Schell, a young boy learning to live after losing his dad on 9/11. Some may find this one overly sentimental, but if it's well done, and Safran Foer is a master, I'm a sucker for sentimental.

2. The Financial Lives of the Poets, Jess Walter: Matt Prior's life is a mess. He loses his job, he can't pay the mortgage, and to top it off, his marriage is crumbling. What's a guy to do? Matt has a unique idea to solve his problems, if he doesn't get himself killed. Walter uses one man's personal descent as a metaphor for the times.

1. a visit from the goon squad, Jennifer Egan: This is a brilliant book. Don't take my word for it, Egan won a little something called the Pulitzer Prize for this baby. Egan masterfully uses multiple characters, weaving their stories together to create a transcendent whole. I don't want to give anything away, but at one point Egan uses the power point format, and if for no other reason, you should read this book just to see how she pulled it off. 

Let me know what think of my choices. I'd love to hear what other people enjoyed reading this year in the comments, might give me some ideas for 2011. Your top book, top 3, 5, 10, whatever works for you.


  1. No mention of Haruki Murakami and 1Q84? I'm shocked.

  2. I've read none of these! Since I got a kobo for Christmas, I am definitely picking a few of your favorites to put in my book queue. BTW, I am developing my top five book list right now.

  3. Michael: 1Q84 is on my list for 2012-waiting to get it from the library. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

    dbs: looking forward to your list.

  4. I haven't read any of these, either! I think I gave "Extremely Loud" a shot a few years back and wasn't in the right frame of mind. I'll have to give it a shot. Egan's book sounds good too.

  5. I am disappointed in myself. I stopped keeping track of my books this year. I was listing them on my blog, but I ran out of oomphf.

    anyway, I haven't overlapped with much of your list, but I did love A Visit From The Good Squad. It was excellent.

    One I read this year is A Perfect Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. Totally unforgettable depiction of India in 1960s and 70s.

  6. I'm glad I'm not the only one who hasn't read any of these. I keep hearing about the Goon Squad, I definitely need to check that out. I'm looking forward to adding several of these to my new Kindle that I'm totally addicted to already. :)

    Happy New Year to you and your family, Tim!

  7. I read reviews of a few of these, but I haven't read any. Thanks for this.

  8. Well, I'm a sad case. I got around to Egan's book only. And I'm with you-- it's terrific. I saw her at a writer's conference this summer and it was quite interesting to hear her story about the process of writing Goon Squad.

    Foer's book is on my list. Thanks for this, Tim!

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  10. I am impressed you had time to read 42 books! I enjoy reading and need to put it closer to the top of my large list of priorities. I have seen/heard reviews of some of these books. Looking at your list it appears we have similar taste. A visit from the goon squad is going on my list! I will now be following you around the internet. Happy New Year and enjoy some reading for me.