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.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
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.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
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.

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
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.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
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.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
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.

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
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.

Persuasion by Jane Austen
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.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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.

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
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.


  1. I've wanted to read In The Garden of Beasts for so long! I think i'll just have to order it for my nook (the library hold list is soooo long!). I own The Goon Squard, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Up and Never Let Me Go, but I haven't read any of them. Perhaps in 2012. Loved Game of Thrones such as you did. I'm not normally a huge fantasy fan, but that was a great book.

  2. Goon Squad made it to my list. I loved it. I also loved Persuasion but read it many years ago. I've some of the others you list on my TBR shelf.

  3. It seems like Goon Squad is very popular. I'm glad you had so many great books on your list- I really want to read Erik Larson, too!

  4. Another nice list! I loved The Imperfectionists and I so want to read In the Garden of Beasts. It sounds just my cup of tea. I've got Sansom's espionage thriller Winter in Madrid on my list, but might have to add the other series to the [fathomless] TBR.

  5. I too have read about 42 books! And among the 10 here, I've read 5... actually, still listening to the audio book of Goon Squad. I'm sure the reading and listening exp. are quite different though. I've History of Love in my TBR pile, may read it in 2012. Thanks for posting your favorites. Happy Reading in the New Year!

  6. The Sense of an Ending made my list, too. I just finished it a few days ago and had several questions. Stopped over here to read your wonderful post/ comments thread... thanks so much!

  7. I haven't read any of these! So thanks so much for the suggestions. Looking forward to your reviews in 2012!

  8. Mrs. B,

    Twitter might be too limited for me to say everything in 140 characters. ;) For the books into films, the ones I mentioned are all in various stages of development with no release date set yet. Midnight's Children is a good one since the author and the director have appeared at Toronto FIlm Fest talking about the work, so, it must be something more solid that it will be produced. As I Lay Dying is another good one too since, I'm embarrassed to admit, I haven't read any Faulkner.

    However, with the 2 Reading Challenges I've signed up, I need to get those going first. So, maybe we'll see, the Spring could be a good time for our read-along. What do you think? And, your choice: Faulkner or Rushdie?

  9. Hi, Mrs B! Happy new year to you!

    I'm glad to see Snowdrops in your list. It's very enjoyable, no? But I get what you mean when a lot of people were disappointed with it. I guess they were expecting an all-out thriller like Child 44.

    I'm curious about the C. J. Samson books. I'll check them out the next time I'm at a bookstore.

  10. Lovely list! Extremely Loud made my list of favorites for 2011 and several of yours are on my TBR pile.

  11. I completely agree with you on Game of Thrones and Never Let Me Go - two of my favorite reads from 2011.

    Happy new year, Mrs. B! :)

  12. Very cool list. Persuasion was also part of my best of 2011. Extremely Loud, Game of Thrones and Never let Me Go made my top the year I read it. Have Vist from the Goon Squad in the TBR. Lot's in common :)

  13. Hi, Mrs. B! I'm back.:) We've read quite a few similar books this year, particularly The Imperfectionists, Game of Thrones, Goon Squad, and Never Let Me Go. Unfortunately, though I loved them, they didn't make my best list this year. GRR Martin's 3rd book did, though.

    Oh, and it was fascinating to read your review of Sense of an Ending, including the comments. Though I didn't really read everything as I was afraid it'd spoil it too much for me. Happy New Year!

  14. Interesting list! I loved Never Let Me Go, but Snowdrops was one of my worst reads of 2011. Most of the rest are on my TBR pile. Game of Thrones interests me - it isn't a book that appeals, but so many people love it I feel I should give it a try. Have a wonderful 2012!


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