Monday, January 2, 2012

Ten Favorite Books of 2011

In the fall and early winter of 2010, I went through nearly twenty books in the short span of four months.  I understand that for many readers, this is common, almost normal.  A book a week?  Sure, easy.  And I wouldn’t bother mentioning this except I was also studying abroad, gallivanting around the UK, and consuming a copious amount of tube wine three to four nights a week.  I mean, I was busy.  Still, if there’s a pastime that I have time for, it’s reading. 

So it occurred to me, recently, while I was crying myself into a box of Kleenex—Finding Neverland; it gets me every time—that I should start blogging again.  And how better to get back into the swing of things, then to combine two of my favorite activities into one!  Reading and writing go together like a number of clichéd pairings, but that I could blog and also include books?  How.  Nice. 

Now I have blogged about books before, and writing about them is certainly not something I am unfamiliar with.  C’mon!  I spent half of my college life in ConVic—the English Department building on campus—and most of that time was spent hashing anthologies or novels or scripts until the texts actually bled onto tables and chairs.  Well, probably not bled, but I’m pretty sure that some of those pages lost letters and words.

Right, where was I going with this…oh, I’m blogging again!  And the let’s-try-this-again post is all about my favorite reads this year.  

Oofta.  A year.  

Clearly I won’t bore you with the details of every little thing I read this year, but I would certainly like to highlight ten or so that I very much enjoyed, will likely read again, and suggest you add to your own to-read list.

(Obviously it’s a countdown-style list.  Sure, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged about anything, but I’m still me; I’m still obsessed with ranking everything and everyone.)

(And while I’m talking about rankings: HOW THE HELL DID LISA WIN ANTM ALL STARS?  God.)

A few titles for you to check out that nearly made this oh-so-exclusive list of ten:
My Most Excellent Year, Steven Kluger
Damned, Chuck Palahniuk
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
Bossypants, Tina Fey 

I won’t go into much detail about these five titles, but I will quickly say that they weren’t far from cracking the elusive bracket of ten.  Foremost, Damned and Life of Pi would probably be on the list if not for two other titles by their respective authors also being up-the-top.  I was so happy to have finally read Martel’s modern classic and discover Palahniuk’s genius for the first time.  Life of Pi is perhaps the most perfect book—stylistically, plot, tone, etc—I’ve read.  It’s a thinker, to say the least, and is captivating to the very end.  Fey is just hilarious and Díaz’s Pulitzer winning novel has already been discussed by every reader alive. 

That leaves Kluger’s work. 

My Most Excellent Year was given to me just before my return flight from London by most excellent friend, Jenny Katz.  I’m not including it in the top ten because I technically read it last year.  Still, I don’t think I’ve highlighted it on here before, and it more than deserves mention.  As far as teen-reads go, this one is superb.  It’s just so damn current and accepting.  I would love to see middle schools everywhere posit this book as mandatory reading. 

 And with that, and not much more, I give you the 10 best books I read this year!

10. The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson
(You will quickly notice that many of the books on this list have been available for quite some time.  Cut me some slack!  The important this is that I’ve found them…even though most of you are probably thinking: “catch up, loser.”)

Like the figurines the title of Davidson’s novel harkens to, the prose of The Gargoyle is positively haunting.  I felt so chilled throughout reading this novel.  Davidson’s somewhat strange pacing and circular prose is never frustrating, but manages to snare the reader in a hold that lasts hours at a time.  Never have I been so appalled with and sympathetic toward a protagonist.

9. Little Bee, Chris Cleave

The first novel I remember reading with alternating POV is My Sister’s Keeper.  Maybe I’m missing a few, but Piccoult’s book is the first that springs to mind.  Well, was.  Now, I only think of Little Bee when I think about this style.  I was so taken by Cleave’s ability to alternate between Sarah and Little Bee, the novel’s two leading ladies, and how seamless he develops both.  If you were not a fan of Incendiary, like myself (snooze), I urge you to reconsider with Cleave’s latest. It’s a triumph.

Big thanks to Drew-siph Tharp
8. The Magician King, Lev Grossman

If you have not started this series—just two books short for now—I think you’d best head to your local bookseller.  On the back cover of The Magician King, someone equates this series to be Harry Potter with a shot of whiskey.  If you prefer a darker, sexier, more dangerous Narnia: pick this up.  Fillory begs you to tag along.

Bonus Quote: Magic: it was what happened when the mind met the world, and the mind won for a change.”

7. The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly

Maybe I identified with David, maybe the “Crooked Man” is the most horrendous villain I’ve come across, maybe I cried my eyes out and was too emotionally invested in the story.  Whatever the case, holy crow’s feet did this book slap me across the face.  I believe it’s marketed to the young-reader, but I think Connolly’s work emotionally resonates just as well with adults.  Loss has never felt so compelling.

6. The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson 

This is the most recently released of the bunch.  I am not sure if Wilson has written other novels, but he is definitely an author I will be looking out for.  What struck me most about The Family Fang is how interested I was in the novel’s characters.  I positively adored Buster and Annie, even when I found the latter to be bratty and unfair.  Their relationships progression as siblings is so spot on.  I would not wait for paperback on this one.

5. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

I don’t think many will agree with this one.  I suppose folks will find it predictable and forgettable and pedestrian.  I prefer: magical.  I don’t have a soft-spot for circuses, but the world that Morgenstern develops is so utterly charming that I cannot imagine disliking a single detail of what is created on the page.  I found The Night Circus to be playful and engaging.  Sappy, right?

Bonus Quote:  “The most difficult thing to read is time.  Maybe because it changes so many things.”

4. Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel

Though not as glorified as The Life of Pi, this book is worth every minute you spend with it.  And, given its length, you’ll probably be begging for more of it.  I probably found Beatrice and Virgil more special because it was also the first book I shared with a certain little man.  But beyond my sentimentality, the novel is a heartbreaking look at loneliness and the impending disaster of a bottled-up life.  Also, how quote-worthy! 

“Those who carry a knife and a pear are never afraid of the dark.”

Here’s one I force myself to remember every so often: “If you are pitched into misery, remember that your days on this earth are counted and you might as well make the best of those you have left.”

3. Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk

So this was my first trip with Palahniuk. Comparable to no vacation I’ve ever been on, I imagine this would be the one trip to Mexico or Vegas that I’m probably glad to not remember.  Invisible Monsters stars a disfigured model and the women and men rebuilding her on a drug-riddled journey to rebirth.  I cannot tell you how happy I am to have this author in my life: cannot wait to backtrack through the rest of his work.

2. Skippy Dies, Paul Murray

Now, I think I have touched on this novel before, but I don’t want to sell it short.  Heads and tails above any coming-of-age tale of today, Skippy Dies is that perfect story of a not-so-perfect time.  I won’t belittle this novel by writing paragraphs of praise; it’s one of those works that just stands so well on its own.  Seriously: read this.

1. Mathilda Savitch, Victor Lodato

It’s no coincidence that the one novel that rocked my literary world this year is also the one I gave the most copies of this holiday season.  I fell in love with this girl, this poor little thing, and have not be released from her voice since this summer.  Every time I’m looking for something new, I search for Lodato.  Like Sherman Alexie, this man has me hooked, line and sinker.  I have heard people criticize this book because the main character doesn’t change, there’s no progression.  To those critics, I’d like to ask: how shallow is your understanding of an small child’s psyche?  Last time I checked, eleven-year-old children do not change overnight.  They experience, they learn, they forget, and they repeat. 

Mathilda is no exception.

Never have I been so enthralled with a child’s life: I cannot stress enough how highly I would recommend you pick this up right this second.

“Sometimes you can just say things and it’s like a bomb that blows all your clothes off and suddenly there you are naked. I don't know if it’s disgusting or beautiful.”

“Time is funny lately, nothing to do with clocks.” 

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  To Reads?  I can’t wait to hear them!

For now, I bid my little blog adieu with one little confession:

I’ve missed you. 

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