Friday, December 30, 2011

What were your favorite books of 2011?

Sometimes, my favorite books are the ones I never would have chosen myself. Take Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure.”

When my book club picked the novel last year, I gritted my teeth and began reading out of duty, not desire. But I ended up loving Hardy’s indictment of Victorian society and his colorful, flawed characters, especially Arabella Donn, a tarty barmaid who would fit in perfectly on several current reality TV series.

So, my humble advice: Try some books in this new year that aren’t your typical picks. To get you started, I’m listing a few books I particularly enjoyed in 2011:

“Zeitoun,” by Dave Eggers. In this nonfiction work, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American and father of four, chooses to ride out Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to protect his house and business. Equipped with a canoe, he paddles flooded streets, rescuing people and feeding stranded pets – until he’s mistaken for a terrorist and imprisoned.

This spectacular piece of reporting makes our government look pretty awful. The New York Times has predicted that in 50 years, “when people want to know what happened to this once-great city during a shameful episode of our history, they will still be talking about a family named Zeitoun.”

“Bossypants,” by Tina Fey. A memoir by one of America’s finest comedians, complete with dorky childhood photos. Plus, you get Fey’s “A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter,” already an Internet classic. It begins: “First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither the Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.”

“Black Swan Green,” by David Mitchell. Known best for experimental novels like “Cloud Atlas,” Mitchell offers a semiautobiographical coming-of-age story in this rich, poignant novel. Thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, who lives in England in the early 1980s, must endure an adolescence made particularly miserable by his stammer, which, he says, “makes me shrivel up like a plastic wrapper in a fire.”

“When Parents Text,” by Sophia Fraioli and Lauren Kaelin. This collection of texts sent by parents to their teenaged and young-adult children is sometimes touching, always hilarious.Two examples:

Mom: My fingers are saying words. This is amazing.
Dad: You could poop in your pants in the yankee candle store and no one would know.

On that intriguing thought, I’ll end. Happy New Year, and happy reading.

What was your favorite read of 2011, and why? Leave a comment here and let me know.


Anonymous said...

Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken."

And NC Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers' "Like Shining From Shook Foil." Technically a 2010 book but I read it this year.

Diana de said...

I bought Stephen King's 11/22/63 for my flight home for Christmas. I haven't been that engrossed in a book since Harry Potter's 7th book came out! As only King can do, he mixes the magic of time travel, history (the 60s!) with a hint of romance. It's 800+ pages but you never know as you read it. Highly recommended!!

Anonymous said...

"The Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles. Best book I've read in a long time.

Sharon Starks

Anonymous said...

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. The best book I have read in years.

Anonymous said...

I could not put down The Help.

Michael Lambert said...

I loved Unbroken too but I also thoroughly enjoyed In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson

Pam Kelley said...

These are all great suggestions. I've heard raves about "Unbroken" from several people. Must put that one on my list.
And I had the pleasure of hearing Isabel Wilkerson talk about "The Warmth of Other Suns" in Charlotte last month.
I haven't read Erik Larson's "Garden of the Beasts," but I loved his "Devil in the White City."

Frazer Dobson said...

Great post, Pam, and thanks so much for including a Workman book :). I completely agree with the reader who loved 11/22/63. I'm a King fan from way back, and this is his best, most engrossing novel in years. I also have to shout out my favorite YA novel of the year, Patrick Ness's stunning, heartbreaking A Monster Calls. Thanks for all you've done to help your local booksellers!

Nancy said...

Thanks for your suggestions, Pam. "Zeitoun" is on my short list. I am also planning to turn back to some classics thus year, particularly Lydia Davis' new translation of "Madame Bovary" and some newly translated Russian novels. I read a lot this year, and Emma Donaghue's "Room" was most haunting. I also especially enjoyed Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir, "Blood, Bones, and Butter."

Nancy said...

One more mention: although I am only half way through its more than 1400 pages, I can't put down "1Q84."

Anonymous said...

What is it about Charlotte and mystery writers? Patricia Cornwell covered night cops for the Observer, and Kathy Reichs teaches anthropology at UNCC. Now comes H. D. "De" Kirkpatrick, seasoned forensic psychologist and rookie novelist. "Alienation of Affection" moves neither too fast -- allowing us to get to know the idiosyncratic protagonists -- nor too slow -- avoiding over-long lecture breaks on the horrific damage done by the repressed memory movement. Kirkpatrick's first book is entertaining, engaging and wise. I'm looking forward to his just-out "Trafficking Death." -- Lew Powell