In the spirit of top ten lists, I present to you the best books I read in 2011. Please note I did not say published in 2011. Most are recent titles and if you haven’t read them, well, maybe you should. I’ll present a brief “honorable mention” list at the end, which will include more mass market books than the rest of the list.
10. Faithful Place by Tana French (2010) – Another fine entry in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Not quite as good as The Likeness, but still a terrific read. French knows how to create discomforting environments and the grungy housing development featured here is no exception.
9. Shades of Gray – Jasper Fforde (2009) – An intriguing new series from the man who brought us Nursery Crimes and Thursday Next. Set in a future world, one’s professional and personal fate is determined by one’s ability to see color. The ability to keep track of your spoon is also useful.
8. The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly (2006) – I listened to this as an audio book and invented household chores so I could finish the story of a twelve-year-old British boy who discovers a hole between worlds when a German plane crashes into his garden during World War II. During his quest, young David encounters the Woodsman, seven dwarves and faces his nemesis, the Crooked Man.
7. The Snowman – Jo Nesbo – (2011 in translation) The 7th entry in the Harry Hole series provided my entree to this Norwegian series. I can’t wait to read more. Harry is the rockingist detective in fiction. Dude listens to Franz Ferdinand. Nuff said.
6. Packing for Mars – Mary Roach (2010) – She survives a ride in the “Vomit Comet” and asks the questions no-one else will. Sure she covers the effect of bone loss and mental health of future voyagers to Mars, but also the problem of weight of fecal matter and all with her trademark blend of humor and serious science.
5. The Box – Gunter Grass – I blogged on this book earlier this year.
4. A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (2010) There’s been a lot of talk in some circles about what a “Post-Modern” novel will look like. This probably isn’t it, but with an entirely readable and understandable chapter written in Powerpoint, non-linear narrative it breaks with tradition. In case you find that off putting – don’t. This is also a wonderfully written book with enjoyable characters and a cohesive story.
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (2010) A tremendous work of non-fiction, one that recognizes both and incredible life story, a woman who unknowingly changed the entire medical field, and the challenge researchers take in tracking down such stories. Clear some time for this book. Once you start it, you won’t want to put it down, unless it is to think about medical ethics, race relations, financial benefits or any of the myriad topics brought together in this one volume.
2. The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games – 2008, Catching Fire 2009 & Mocking Jay 2009) – This series shows how grown up Young Adult really is. In twenty, or perhaps even ten years, these will be part of the school curriculum. For those who argue these books where teens fight to the death to win food for their provinces are too violent for young adult, all I can say is these books are way better than Lord of the Flies, which was violent and cruel. The Hunger Games takes place in a cruel world, but Katniss, Peeta and Cinna represent different types of goodness that cannot be defeated.
1. Skippy Dies – Paul Murray (2010) – I love a book that makes me laugh out loud. As the title tells you, Skippy Dies, but the joy is in the journey Murray takes his readers on as we untangle the steps that led to Skippy’s death. The boarding school boys may well be inmates at an asylum and the none of the adults will take home the Teacher of the Year prize but they all leap off the page with a joie de vivre that will make your own life a little brighter.
PS – Here’s the honorable mention list: A Man in Uniform – Kate Taylor, The Apprentice – Tess Gerritsen, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs, Bossypants – Tina Fey, and Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries.