Best Fiction of 2011
I’m always fascinated by the compilations of best books of the year released in December by various newspapers, journals and retailers. I look to see if my favorites made any of the lists, and to get ideas for the next best read.
I decided to compile the 2011 best lists from the New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Book Page, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to see which titles are mentioned the most. This blog entry will focus on fiction, and I will do another entry about non-fiction.
Several fiction titles stand out as among the best of 2011, according to these lists. Only one book made all seven compilations -- The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Middlesex.
Three titles were mentioned six times:
- The Tiger’s Wife by first-time novelist Tea Obreht also received the 2011 Orange Prize, and was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award. However, it failed to make the Kirkus best books of 2011 list.
- IQ84 by Haruki Murakami originally was published in three volumes in Japan in 2009–10. The book, which is a tribute to George Orwell’s 1984 and features alternative realities, failed to make the Publishers Weekly best list.
- Night Circus, set in Victorian England, is the first novel written by Erin Mortgenstern and already has a movie deal. It is a finalist for the 2011 Guardian First Book Award. The only list this book didn’t make was the one by the New York Times.
Three books were mentioned five times:
- Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips, who has written several novels, including the well-reviewed This Song is You in 2009.
- State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, whose book Bel Canto won the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award in 2002.
- The Submission by debut author Amy Waldman deals with events following the 9/11 attack in New York City.
Two books made the cut four times:
- The Art of Fielding by first-time novelist Chad Harbuch was named Amazon’s best novel of the year. It is one of my favorite books of 2011.
- The Leftovers by veteran author and screenwriter Tom Perrotta, best known for Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher
Books mentioned three times include:
- Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
- Cain by Jose Saramago
- Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
- Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
- Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
- Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
- Paris Wife by Paula McLain
- Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes,
- Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman
- Zone One by Colson Whitehead.
Books mentioned two times include:
- Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
- Call by Michael Grant
- Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy
- Empty Family: Stories by Colm Toibin
- Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
- Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen
- Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
- Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
- Magician King by Lev Grossman
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
- Moment in the Sun by John Sayles
- My New American Life by Francine Prose
- Open City by Teju Cole
- Pale King: An Unfinished Novel by David Foster Wallace
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
- Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz
- Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
- Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
- Stranger’s Child by Allan Hollinghurst
- Swamplandia! By Karen Russell
- This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
- Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
- We the Animals by Justin Torres
- West of Here by Jonathan Evison
- Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
Notable omission: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, which won the 2011 National Book Award, was mentioned by only the Library Journal. This is not unusual. The 2010 National Book Award winner, Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, was conspicuously absent from the 2010 best lists.
My favorites that made the cut included The Art of Fielding, Night Circus, Tiger’s Wife, Marriage Plot, State of Wonder, Caleb’s Crossing, The Paris Wife, Rules of Civility and Sisters Brothers.
I hope this gives you a lot of ideas for new books to read. Were any of your favorite books mentioned? If you want to see these best of 2011 lists, I posted links on our Readers’ Services web page, which you can find by clicking here. I also compiled a list of the Fiction and Reference Staffs' favorite books of 2011, where you also can find on our Readers' Services web page, or you can pick up a booklet at the Reference Desk.
Films At Your Library: The Complete Jean Vigo
During his tragically short life Jean Vigo (1905-1934) became one of the most influential filmmakers of the 1930's. Vigo, the son of a militant anarchist strangled in his prison cell, grew up mostly on the run or in boarding school under a false name. He eventually fell into filmmaking, but died in 1934 at the age of 29 from tuberculosis. I recently spent some time working through Criterion's recently released Complete Jean Vigo. Complete works sound daunting, but given Vigo's short life, the collection consists of 2 shorts (A Propos de Nice & Taris), a 40 minute film (Zero de Conduite), and one full length feature (L'Atalante).
Vigo was a prankster with a camera. The films never take themselves too seriously, though somehow always manage to be subversive. The boarding school boys of Zero de Conduite are never up to any good. In L'Atalante the cabin boy and Jules play tricks on one another and cheat at checkers. Perhaps the playfulness that weaves in and out of harsh realism is what makes Vigo such an influential figure in what would eventually become the French New Wave.
While at the Art Institute of Chicago I happened to catch a photo gallery of Ralph Meatyard, an American photographer best known for his eerily beautiful black and white photographs of dolls and children wearing masks. For Meatyard, "dolls represented a physical human presence, whether employed in a scene alongside people or instead of people. He used masks to universalize his sitters rather than make portraits of individuals." Vigo also portrays these things- a grotesque costume parade in A Propos de Nice, a creepy puppet in L'Atalante.
But Vigo also evokes these human sentiments through swimmers flailing underwater, girls dancing on balconies, sailor tattoos, simple magic tricks, and mischief. The images stick with you. Camera tricks that might seem archaic by today's standards produce a sense of light wonder in the hands of Vigo. This is true whether its the juvenile humor of women's clothing quickly stripped away through a series of film dissolves in A Propos de Nice, the swimmer Tarvis shooting out of the water through reverse filming, or the dreamlike slow-motion insurrectionist pillow fight in Zero de Conduite.
L'Atalante (1934) is a romance movie like no other. It beautifully explores the fragility of new love. Jean, the new husband is the captain of a barge and brings his new wife Juliette along on a trip that also functions as a sort of honeymoon. The animosity between the newlyweds grows as life's responsibilities and each other's shortcomings drive them further apart. Jean is practical while Juliette yearns for adventure. The more they grow apart the deeper they eventually realize how much they need one another. They keep each other afloat, making the canal setting a wonderful metaphor.
For fans of foreign language classics and French New Wave, the complete Jean Vigo is not to be missed. Thanks to Criterion, these films have been beautifully restored so that a new generation of film lovers can enjoy these classic works.
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Merry Christmas Reads
I admit it: I’m a sucker for Christmas books. As Readers’ Advisors at CMPLD, we read our share of “serious” literary fiction throughout the year – but I give myself a free pass during the month of December to read only “shiny, happy” books. I thought I would share some of my favorites.
If you’ve read any of the Pink Carnation Regency series by Willig, you’ll know that you’re in for a treat. And if you haven’t, don’t worry – you can easily get the drift of this book without having read any others. Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh -- often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation -- has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be trouble. When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French, the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? Is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella's and Turnip's hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding? Witty and fun, this book will leave you laughing and wishing for more.
P.S. Lauren Willig is coming to Aspen Drive Library in February! Come and meet her then!
This eighth book in Karon’s popular Mitford series takes us to Christmas in the small North Carolina town of Mitford, where you will find one of the most endearing cast of characters you’re likely to encounter in contemporary fiction. Father Tim, protagonist of the novels, has always lived what he calls "the life of the mind" and has never really learned to savor the work of his hands. When he finds a derelict nativity scene that has suffered the indignities of time and neglect, he imagines the excitement in the eyes of his wife, Cynthia, and decides to undertake the daunting task of restoring it. As Father Tim begins his journey, readers are given a seat at Mitford’s holiday table and treated to a magical tale about the true Christmas spirit. The book is a wonderful, faith-restoring reflection on the holiday season.
The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
Baldacci has departed from the thriller genre several times in recent years, and this sweet novella is a pleasant diversion. In homage to the lost experience of train travel, he sets his story on a cross-country train from Washington, D.C. to L.A. Banned from flying on airplanes after a hostile incident at an airport security checkpoint, main character Tom Langdon is forced to take a cross-country train to meet his girlfriend for Christmas. As he begins talking to the passengers and staff aboard the train, he meets an eccentric older woman who seems to be a regular rider, a young couple preparing to marry on the train, and a former Catholic priest. To Tom's shock, the former love of his life, Eleanor, is also aboard the train. Sparks fly between them, bringing up old feelings along with the unresolved issues from their relationship. Tom realizes this might be his second chance with Eleanor, but a series of unexpected events may derail his plans. Plot summary copyright 2002 Booklist Reviews
Next on my December reading list:
An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
The Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts
Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Bring Me Home for Christmas by Robyn Carr
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The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt
Charlie and Eli Sisters lead the dangerous, lonely life of hired killers in the 1850s Old West. Their horrified mother insists they should not bother coming home until they find a new line of work.
Charlie, the older, tougher brother, encountered bloodshed at a young age when he shot and killed his violent father to save his mother. He does not hesitate to use his gun when people get in his way. Eli, the younger, more sensitive brother, is growing weary of being a gunslinger and longs for love.
Eli’s unhappiness grows when the brothers are ordered by their boss, known as “The Commadore’’, to find and kill a prospector named Herman Kermit Warm. Their travels take them from Oregon to the gold-struck town of San Francisco, and then on to Warm’s claim in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Finding Herman Kermit Warm will change the Sisters Brothers’ lives forever.
Author Patrick Dewitt’s novel provides the reader memorable characters and comic observations. He offers a fresh spin on the classic western, and somehow manages to create empathy for the two hit men. The book was nominated for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for fiction. Check our catalog
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbauch
The poet Gertrude Stein wrote that "a rose is a rose is a rose.'' But in Victorian England, a rose, depending on its color, conveyed hidden messages. A red rose meant love, while a yellow rose had several meanings, including infidelity. This symbolic language comes to life in a heart-wrenching story that examines whether love and happiness are possible after years of isolation and despair.
Victoria Jones is a troubled young woman who spent most of her childhood in a series of foster homes. She doesn’t know how to love and hates to be touched. Her last chance to belong to a family comes at the age of 8, when a woman named Elizabeth takes her into her home. Elizabeth slowly gets Victoria to trust her, and teaches the young girl the hidden meaning of flowers. But when a fire breaks out, Victoria is taken away and deemed unadoptable. As she spends the next few years in group homes, her volatility and mistrust guarantee her loneliness.
Victoria becomes emancipated from the foster-care system on her 18th birthday. With no money, no home, no family and no high school diploma, Victoria relies on the one thing she knows: flowers. She ends up sleeping in a park, where she creates a flower garden. She makes a beautiful arrangement for a florist, who hires her to help in the shop. Victoria soon is sought out by clients for her talents at arranging just the right flowers, based on their meanings.
While Victoria finds peace in her work, she is haunted by a past in which she was incapable of receiving and giving love. When a young flower farmer reaches out to her, she must decide if she can risk the pain of rejection yet again. The author, who draws upon her own experience as a foster mother, has created a wonderful, compelling story that I couldn’t put down. Check our catalog.