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!

26 comments:

  1. The Night Circus is definitely on my list too.

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  2. I knew I could count on you on the "pro" side, Amanda!!!! :D

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  3. The only one of those books I've read is Atonement and I didn't care for the twist at the end - maybe because I didn't see it coming. I need to work on my list.

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  4. I've had a very mixed reaction to the books you've chosen. I enjoyed The Little Stranger and The Night Circus, but they wouldn't be on a favourites list. I'm afraid I recently abandoned the Van Booy. I'll have to try Lemon Cake one day soon :-)

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  5. You and I have such similar tastes, Andi! I've read every book on your list (and loved them all) with the exception of Aimee Bender's book which I avoided for the same reasons you approached it with caution (now I just may have to pick up a copy!!). I'm waiting to post my final "best of the year" list until the end of the month because there are some books coming up that I hope to love!!

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  6. Kathy, I think the experience was heightened by knowing about the twist. If I hadn't known, I might've just been pissed off.

    Jackie, looking forward to your thoughts on Lemon Cake if you get around to it. This was a listing of books to which I had a really visceral reaction. It was cerebral, too, but they just appealed to me on such a basic level, I loved them from the word go.

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  7. Wendy, I would most definitely recommend that you try Lemon Cake. I would LOVE to chat with you about it!!!

    I suspect given all the holiday madness, I MIGHT finish one or two more books, so I felt safe going ahead with my list. I'm so looking forward to your Best list for more recommendations. :)

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  8. The Night Circus will be on mine, too... I really need to read Little Stranger! I enjoyed the Van Booy, but I didn't love it quite as much as other people. And, I have wanted to read Lemon Cake forever!

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  9. Feeling feisty, today? ;)
    I agree totally with your #1 and #2 here. and I loved SVB's book (he's dreamy) and I loved Atonement. Have yet to read Night Circus but will and thought not on Lemon Cake but you may have me considering otherwise.

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  10. I loved Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake! You are so right when you wrote that Joseph's ability is memorable. I remember thinking about him months after I finished reading the book. I often wondered where "exactly" was he at. You know? Great post.

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  11. I just bought The Night Circus!! I'll save your review until after I read it, but I'm pretty excited :)

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  12. It sounds like you had a wonderful year of reading Andi!! I'm hoping to read The Night Circus next year and of course I want to read more by Waters. I hope that 2012 is another wonderful year in books for you :)

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  13. But... but... but... what if you read a new favorite tomorrow?? hee hee. Great list, I really disliked Atonement but everyone else seems to love it!

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  14. My response to the five.

    1. Hell yeah.
    2. Meh. (Still love Waters, tho.)
    3. Urgh.
    4. Hell no.
    5. Sitting on the shelf.

    And yes, I still owe you an email. I'm lagging.

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  15. The only one of these that I have read is the Simon Van Booy which I liked a lot and will try to read more from him.

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  16. Whooops. have also read Atonement but wasn't that fussed by it!

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  17. I have the Night Circus on my Christmas list, I really do hope someone buys it for me!

    And I've heard mixed reviews for The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake, but your review makes me want to read it.

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  18. Oh, this list and your reactions were wonderful! I also loved The Night Circus, and though many people panned it, I thought it was elegant and wonderful. The Little Stranger and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake are books that I own, and after reading your thoughts on them, they have moved up stack too! And Atonement! What can I say? That is my favorite book of all time, and I love the big cathartic cry that comes with turning the last page. That book blew me away. Great list Andi!

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  19. So glad you loved Atonement. It can be bitter to take at times but so worthwhile.

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  20. I would agree with Jackie in that I also had many mixed opinions. I remember that The Particular Sadness left me with much speculation, but I really did enjoy the story and the writing. I also enjoyed The Night Circus, but didn't love it. It's really great that you narrowed it down to a list that doesn't overwhelm where quality trumps quantity. Sometimes life gets in the way of reading and reading and reading, but it's just to be expected. Here's to a new year and new books!

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  21. Great choices! I really need to read The Night Circus.

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  22. I enjoyed very very much Vasn Booy's book as well, in fact chose it as my favorite ebook in fiction - I'll post all my 2011 recap soon. here is my review: http://wordsandpeace.com/2011/08/12/review-62-everything-beautiful-began-after/

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  23. I wasn't wild about The Night Circus, but all the others are on my TBR. I adored Tipping the Velvet when I read it (egads!) twelve years ago, but for some silly reason I haven't picked up any of her other books yet. I hope to get to at least some of these in 2012, until the Tournament of Books sidelines my reading, that is!

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  24. I bought Everything Beautiful Began After for the title (I'm a sucker for a good title!) and haven't read it yet... must remedy. Great list! Thanks for sharing.

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  25. I loved the Little Stranger, too, and am glad it made it on your list. I have the Morgenstern and can't wait to read it--it sounds like it is right up my alley. And I've also got the Van Booy, too. Atonement was one of my all time favorites!

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  26. Catching up on some email, I found this post that I had meant to comment on!

    I read The Night Circus in 2011, but didn't finish until earlier this month. I'm fairly certain it will be in the Top Ten (if not the Top Five) for 2012. Thanks for the recommendation! I probably never would've given it a second glance had it not been for your review.

    I'm so glad you wound up loving Atonement! It was my #1 read the year it came out. I loved it and want to read it again. I'll have to see if my library has it on audio.

    I've added The Little Stranger and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake to my 2012 TBR list. I loved The Night Watch (Waters) and am eager to try something else by her. A coworker raved about Bender's book and now you've convinced me to get a copy.

    Thanks, Andi!

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