Monday, December 19, 2011

Andi's 2011 Favoritest Books Throwdown

That's right y'all! Choosing favorite books this year was a RUMBLE!!! While this is one of my slimmest years in terms of the number of books completed, it has been one of the best quality reading years I'VE EVER HAD. A couple of things:

1. I challenged myself to read more literary fiction (whatever the hell that is) because I generally find it pleasing and "filling."

2. I let my mood dictate my choices about 98% of the time.

I've actually done a couple of drafts of my "favorites" list for 2011. The first one was ridiculously long. I percolated over the weekend, and the books that remain are the clear winners. The five novels that float to the top are the ones from which I can still name characters, or remember quotes, or pull scenes from memory. These are the most memorable of memorable, the strongest fighters in a small pool of strong contenders.

When I was choosing, I thought maybe I should do a list of favorite books published in 2011; or maybe I should pick a list of backlist gems and discuss those separately. With such a small group of books read for the year, I thought that would ultimately be silly. And I just wanted to highlight the best of a bunch of really good books. Some are current, some are backlist, some are somewhere in the middle. They're all amazing.

While I've read plenty of not-so-flattering opinions of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, it was a clear winner for me. I first saw it listed on NetGalley, and the NetGalley gods turned me down TWICE! It was then that I turned to hot pursuit, e-mailed the publisher directly, and I received a beautiful pre-publication copy. I think this was just the universe's way of bestowing a print copy on me. As much as I love e-books, this is a book I want to OWN! And caress. And re-read. 

The Night Circus is one of those books that took me away from my everyday life. It made me feel warm and fuzzy, it made me feel awe. It made me feel like reading felt when I was a kid and the whole room around me melted away and I was hurtled into the author's dreamworld. Read my review HERE.

I read Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger completely on a lark. After not having such great luck with Affinity (it remains unread), a friend from graduate school was kind enough to mail her slightly cat-chewed copy of Stranger. I typically get antsy if it takes me *too* long to read a book. Certainly, there's no specific measure of *too* long, but with all kinds of stuff to do, generally I get bored with a book after a week. This one--not so! I dragged it out and dragged it out and then RACED through the last bit. I just love, love, loved it. I loved the stuffy atmosphere, the unreliable characters, the gothic creepiness of it all. And it genuinely freaked me out in parts. If a book can freak me out AND it's written in a sumptuous, literary style, I melt like butter in the author's hands. Read my review HERE.

I could not help but choose The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. I came to this one under the influence of my personal Tournament of Books reading challenge. I had serious doubts going into this one that it would be fluffy and cliched, but what I found was such a surprisingly touching book. It was the characters who really owned my opinion of this one. I will never in my life forget Rose and her brother Joseph. I'll never forget Joseph's "ability." It was such a poignant metaphor for teenage awkwardness, depression, and pain. It blew the top of my head off in its simplicity and power. Read my review HERE.

After reading review after review of Ian McEwan's Atonement, I finally bit the bullet and picked it up this year. I already knew about some sort of twist at the end, and I had the surprise figured out long before it came, but even when it did come, I still cried. Big smooshy, mascara-streaking tears. My only previous experience with McEwan was the slim, On Chesil Beach, but I had a similarly involved reaction to that little novel. McEwan has such a thorough, believable way with words, Atonement had me enthralled from beginning to end. Read my review HERE.

And last, but most certainly not least, the first novel by one of my favorite writers and one I consider to be extremely underappreciated and underdiscussed...Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy. Previously known for his short stories, Simon hit it out of the park with this first novel. Really and truly. What began as a love story had a HUGE wrench thrown into it about midway through. This particular plot point changed everything in the novel, and it killed me as a reader. In a good way. You have to read this novel to really appreciate what I'm dancing around, but just  trust me that Simon Van Booy has literary GUTS. It was a bold move and it made for a bold and spectacular novel. Read my review HERE.

In closing, I have to thank you all for following along during what has been an eventful year in reading and in life. Professional life encroaches on my passion for reading more often than I'd like, but I have a blast blogging and discussing my picks with you all. Thank you for giving your time to stop by and comment and for participating in my reading life year after year. 

Cheers to more in 2012!

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