Friday, December 30, 2011
Best Books of 2011
The following is a very eclectic end of the year list. I've covered quite a number of genres - an Austen classic, a non-fiction novel, a thriller, a Man Booker prize winner, a book of interrelated short stories, a modern fantasy novel that's the first in a series, a dystopian novel, a post 9-11 novel, a mystery set in the Tudor area and a Pulitzer prize winner. Funnily enough in 2009 my top ten consisted of only women authors. This year I see that I have eight male writers and only two females.
Here's my final list in random order:
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
This was the last book I finished in 2011. It's simply fascinating. It covers the years spent by the American ambassador and his family in Berlin during the years 1933-1937. If you want to know what it was like to live in this city during these nightmare years then this is the book to read. It's also a book where the saying 'one book leads to another' is so true. You'll want to read more on the years of the Third Reich and see movies about it as well. I finally saw the German film Sophie Scholl the other day because of this book and I'm looking forward to reading journalist William Shirer's memoirs.
This book for me is a pure work of art. It's beautifully written. A novel about memories, love, loss, loneliness, longing and managing to go on living after the one we love is gone. Heartbreaking and touching.
Rachman's debut novel transported me to a newspaper office in modern day Rome. Each chapter reads like a short story with each one focusing on a particular character. The dialogue is witty and sometimes funny and the scenarios are engaging with some unexpected twists. The book covers a wide array of themes such as life, death, love, ambition, loneliness. It's difficult to say which chapter I liked more because each one was riveting in its own way.
How can I not have this book on the list when I was completely captivated by the TV show and book? It's just magnificent stuff. The book transports readers to a world of magic, romance, adventure, ambition, love, murder, betrayal and revenge. The characters are fantastic and unforgettable. I'm now reading the second book in the series.
This was a reread for me. I first read the book in 2005 and I had a lukewarm response to it then. I think it helped that I knew the ending this time so I could just concentrate on the characters and their story. The author in a Time magazine interview, admits that: ” … in a funny sort of way, I almost wanted the mystery aspect to be taken away so that people could concentrate on other aspects of the book.” This proved to be true for me.
This will never be one of my favorite books however the Man Booker winner of 2011 was beautifully written. Plus it is probably the most discussed novel of the year. My review alone has generated over 8000 hits and over 70 comments.
I know many people were not thrilled that this was on the Booker shortlist but it's actually a very good book. On the surface it appears to be just a simple and predictable thriller that involves an expatriate in Moscow but it's not. It has a lot of depth and complexity underneath. It's about a man's moral compass that slowly spirals out of control.
I had always loved the story of Persuasion but had never read the novel. I finally had to read it for my book club in 2011 and not surprisingly it was a beautifully written book however I did wonder beforehand what we would actually have to talk about. We ended up having a wonderful discussion that covered so many different points not only from the book but about society and women's roles then and now.
The Pulitzer Prize winner of the year is one of the most innovative novels I've read. It's probably the only one with a whole chapter in Powerpoint. The book is made up of chapters that can stand alone as short stories and the narratives go back and forth in time mainly following the lives of Bennie and Sasha and the people that surround them. Bennie is a record producer and Sasha is his assistant. Viewpoints switch from first to third and even second person. This was a pretty cool book.
Another series I got hooked on this year were the Mathew Shardlake mysteries. I read three of them. They are all brilliantly plotted by Sansom who holds a PhD in History. The books are amazingly rich in historical flavor up to the miscroscopic details. Set in London during the Tudor era, Mathew Shardlake is a hunchback attorney who solves mysteries much in the same vein as Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose minus the Latin.
So there it is, the top ten of 2011. Mind you, ten out of only forty-two books read.