Friday, December 02, 2011

Notable, Best, Favorite . . . the Book Lists of 2011

Just in time for your holiday shopping, the end-of-year “best books” lists appear. For readers, the publication of these lists is as exciting as the announcement of the Academy Award nominees. (OK, maybe not quite.)  I am always eager to compare my past year’s reading with the lists (how many did I already read?) and use them to prioritize the coming year’s reading agenda.
My favorite list is the New York Times’ “Notable Books”, chosen by the Times’ Book Review editors, who are “guided by judgment, instinct and feel.” From the list, 50 titles of fiction and poetry and 50 of nonfiction, come the ten best (links are to the Times review):

11/22/63, Stephen King.
SWAMPLANDIA!, Karen Russell.
TEN THOUSAND SAINTS, Eleanor Henderson.

ARGUABLY, Essays, Christopher Hitchens. 
THE BOY IN THE MOON ,A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son, Ian Brown
MALCOLM X, A Life of Reinvention, Manning Marable
A WORLD ON FIRE Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War, Amanda Foreman

Proving that taste in books is subjective, the list from the editors of Publishers Weekly includes only one of the Times’ best. (Links are to the Publishers Weekly synopses and reviews.)

The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock
There but for the, Ali Smith
After the Apocalypse, Maureen McHugh

Bossypants, Tina Fey
Catherine the Great, Robert Massie'
Arguably,Christopher Hitchens
One Day I Will Write About This Place., Binyavanga Wainaina
Hemingway's Boat, Paul Hendrickson

Amazon selects and ranks its “Top 20”; here are the first ten:
  1. The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach
  2. 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
  3. What It Is Like to Go to War, Karl Marlantes (nonfiction)
  4.  In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larsen (nonfiction)
  5. The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides
  6.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor
  7.  Before I Go to Sleep, S.J. Watson
  8. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (nonfiction)
  9.  Lost in Shangri-La, Michael Zuckoff (nonfiction)
  10. The Tiger’s Wife, Tea Obreht
Finally, here are my picks for 2011 (the two marked with asterisks were published in 2010 and read early in 2011. Both were too good to leave off my list!)

*To the End of the Land, David Grossman
The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
The Magician King, Lev Grossman
There But For The, Ali Smith
Last Man in Tower, Aravind Adiga

*At Home, A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, Francis Fukuyama
The Memory Chalet, Tony Judt
The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, James Gleick
Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

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