Best Of The Best

I’ll admit, I’m one day late (or maybe even a couple of days late) to be presenting anyone with the best of the ‘best of 2011’ lists, but I’ll do it anyway for those of you, like me, still catching up to the fact that we’ve entered another year.

So, in no particular order and without revealing my collating strategies, here are some of the notable books of 2011, drawn from lists as diverse (but not limited to) Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, Goodreads, BookPage and The Guardian.

The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides
The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht
1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
State of Wonder – Ann Patchett
The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach
The Sisters Brothers – Patrick Dewitt
The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Divergent – Veronica Roth
Stephen King 11/22/63
Swamplandia! – Karen Russell

Pitting myself against these list picks produces interesting results. I read The Marriage Plot and really didn’t like it; though I’ll concede Eugenides can write a pretty sentence and often touch upon authentic sentiment, I found the book unwieldy, rambling and frankly, a little pointless. The reason I should find this so damning is that Eugenides could have written the book of my generation, those graduating from college into a tough economic climate where it’s much more common to stay ‘lost’ and ‘unsure’ and to take multiple gap years than it is to settle down to marriage or buckle down to work (or buckle down to marriage and settle down to work – whichever sounds most true to you…). Perhaps it’s unfair to expect Eugenides to give me an answer to the existential questions permeating post-grad life, but to be honest, it would have been nice.

The Night Circus
is absolutely on my list. I am relishing the prospect of reading something that sounds like a perfect melding of Romeo and Juliet and Harry Potter, and I find myself recommending the book to friends without having read it myself. Best of all, it’s been characterized as a ‘literary/fantasy’ text, and the combination of those two would be enough to have me hopping to an overpriced bookstore if I didn’t already own an e-copy.

The Language of Flowers will always remain a favorite of mine. It’s not that the book necessarily stays with you in some dramatic, life-altering kind of way. Rather, I was impressed with this book because it could have been kitschy and sentimental and it never, for a moment, was. Plus, the language of flowers gimmick was absolute genius, and I commend Diffenbaugh for having managed to marry it to such emotionally deep and complex subject matter.

State of Wonder was another book I didn’t like and the lists did. I just couldn’t connect to the protagonist, and the whole thing felt rather removed from our world in the way fantasy usually works – but in this case to the detriment of the novel instead of it’s benefit. I’ll admit though, Patchett’s exploration of the future of female fertility was fascinating.

I’m tempted to sign off and stop rambling, but I can’t without saying a word about Dewitt’s The Sisters Brothers. An absolute find of a book. Cowboy noir is not my thing, but Dewitt has crafted a text that (so I hear), plays with generic convention at every turn, and finishes by offering something anyone can enjoy. His narrator, Eli, is funny and strangely adorable, in the way that poisonous snakes can be.

If I were to squeeze another book rec. in there, it would probably be Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, which really is as special as they say it is, but I have the sense that book will do the work of continuing to be a sensation all on it’s own…

Happy New Year everyone! and happy reading…

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