The Best of 2011

We asked readers and writers what they loved reading in 2011.

Tell us your favorites in the comments below. 

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Ismet Prcic, author of Shards

Widow by Michelle Latiolais

Brutal and honest and well-fucking-written.

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Matthew Gallaway, author of The Metropolis Case

Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones

I’ve loved many books in 2011, the most recent being Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones. Set in 1950s England, the story is narrated by a young boy who grows up with a joint disease that keeps him bed-ridden until he’s nine or ten, after which he attends a series of boarding schools for the disabled. Far from being depressing, however, the narrator views the world with an infectious sense of wonder, detail, and mischief, which along with the fact that he’s gay (not that he uses the term) makes for a completely illuminating read. In my experience, far too many books assume that children are asexual or heterosexual until proven otherwise, so it was amazing for me to read something that captures a sense of knowing that you’re different and presenting this difference with a sensual awareness/optimism that captures the excitement of what it means to be young and alive and filled with dreams.

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Michelle Lipinski, book editor

The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway

Matthew Gallaway’s novel stands out because it does something few novels do: it welcomes novices as well as old hands with the simple hook of an extremely well-executed and dramatic tale. One doesn’t have to know about New York, Paris, opera, or punk rock to see that the language is stunning, the prose is lyrical, and nothing is out of place. There is a distinct reality in Gallaway’s sometimes surreal story, a reality that contains a “painfully stretched-out sense of longing” (as Scott Timberg says in the New York Times) which rolls in and out of the intertwined stories like fog, touches upon some truth, then quickly burns off in the sun.

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Jane Lui, musician

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-Up by Robert Sabuda and Cinderella: A Pop-Up Fairy Tale by Matthew Reinhart

Honestly, if kids got their hands on these, the books would get ripped apart. To me, these are meant to be appreciated in detail by adults: engineers, hipsters, retired physicists, middle-aged Disneyland nerds, and your mom. Not only do the images pop, but they’ve made the pop-ups move with the motion of the turning pages. On the first page of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the pop-up hurricane turns in a circular motion as you open it. It’s fascinating and beautiful. Just please don’t give it to a child.

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Karl Wirsing, contributor to Trade Paperbacks and Communications Director at Rails to Trails Conservancy

The Wave by Susan Casey

In this participant/author exploration, Casey follows extreme surfer Laird Hamilton in his quest for the giants of the sea (waves 50 feet and taller, with the kind of power to skin a tree), alternating the narrative between his story and the greater threats of rogue waves–often related to climate change–in the ocean. It’s the kind of book where you think Casey has peaked with her stories and extremes by the first few chapters, yet she somehow manages to extend and accelerate the tension. She sometimes loses herself in the prose, tying herself in sensational knots as she attempts to capture the crushing force of these waves. But through it all the message is clear and riveting: Fear the waves, dude. They’re out there. They’re getting bigger. And they will mess you up.

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Laura West, PhD Candidate in the Georgetown University Department of Linguistics

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The average sentence I read in 2011 went something like this: “One might think that interactants’ insistence on the assertion of relative epistemic rights is an ugly contaminant of courses of action which otherwise are the essence of consensus building.” That’s why George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones was my best book of 2011; the fantasy is the perfect balance to the academic articles that threaten to strangle a student’s love of reading. That’s not to say A Game of Thrones lacks complexity. Martin can overwhelm with multiple characters and plots (and disappoint those who expect good to always triumph — he kills off more than a hero or two). Still, it’s impossible not to get sucked into each new storyline and twist in the saga. One caution to those who prefer PG-rated material: the books are full of rape, torture, blood and guts, though Queen Cersie does give fair warning in the first book: when you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die.

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Robert Repino, writer and book editor

God and Sex by Michael Coogan

This is an entertaining and informative rebuttal to both backward-looking fundamentalists and wishy-washy liberals.

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Jessa Lingel, librarian

Doc and Fluff by Pat Califia

It’s not every day you find a lesbian dystopian novel to keep you entertained with gore and biker gangs and the occasional lesbian sex scene.

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Matt Tanner, art director of Fiction Advocate

Boys and Girls Like You and Me by Aryn Kyle

I came to A Visit from the Goon Squad late and somewhat skeptically but was absolutely floor by it. Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is as majestic and mysterious as any of his other books. Still, my favorite book of the year was Aryn Kyle’s Boys and Girls Like You and Me, which I found by accident when I picked it up to see who designed the strange and wonderful cover (Evan Gaffney, it turns out). As a designer, I know full well that books don’t necessarily get the covers they deserve. So when I picked up Boys and Girls, I wasn’t expecting to be enticed by the first few line or to walk out of the store with the book. Nor was I expecting to discover a collection of beautiful, exquisitely brutal stories about young people–almost all female. I’m not sure I understand women any better, but I am more afraid of them than ever.

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Brian Hurley, editor of Fiction Advocate

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by Christopher Boucher

This book is a story and a game. The story is about a single father in rural Massachusetts hitting rock bottom after the death of his own father. The game is making sense of his metaphors, which are so cracked out that you fear for his sanity. He talks about his son and his Volkswagen Beetle as if they’re the same entity. He explains his father’s death by saying a Heart Attack Tree came along while his father was sitting inside an Invisible Pickup Truck and ripped all the stories out of his father’s chest. The metaphors end up making an eerie kind of sense, and you realize that the book is re-wiring the way look at the world.

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Michael Moats, author of “The Real Holden Caulfield” and editor/contributor at Trade Paperbacks

Arguably by Christopher Hitchens/Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

The best book I read in 2011 was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I think it’s one of the best books you can read, and I happened to read it this year. More on that here. But the best book I read from 2011 was Arguably by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens was known for being disagreeable, and Arguably has plenty of contrarianism in its 700-plus pages. But more than his combative side, this last collection before his death demonstrated Hitch’s passionate love of life, and the poetry, wine, history and debate with which he filled his own. More on that here. Finally, the best book I didn’t read from 2011 was either Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan or Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas. I will have to let you know in 2012.

– Brian Hurley and Michael Moats

2 Comments

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2 Responses to The Best of 2011

  1. Nice list. I’ve been meaning to read Casey and Boucher for a while now.

  2. Pingback: Best of Best of 2012 |

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