I’m succumbing to the “year-in-review” frenzy. Pepys did as much, I recall, so this is an old tradition. No doubt cavemen and women did the same.
A friend, Julie Levi, wrote asking for book recommendations, so I’ll begin with books.
I’ve read quite a few books this year, but I also started a great number and abandoned them. I’ve become increasingly particular, I notice. Life is so short!
This list, then, is not only of books I couldn’t put down, but the ones that lingered in my mind. They are the books I urge friends to read — and, given the season, some would make excellent gifts.
So, in no particular order:
State of Wonder, by Anne Patchett. Okay, I confess that I haven’t finished this novel yet, but it’s so finely-crafted I have no qualms about including it. It’s a contemporary novel with a mystery at its core. It would make an excellent gift for the literary reader in your life (such as yourself).
Italian Shoes, by Henning Mankell. Those of you who know Mankell will understand. The members of my book club adore him, and, now that I’ve read him, I do too. I’ve not read his mysteries, but my husband has read one and enjoyed it. It’s hard to describe his appeal because he’s a little bizarre.
The Reinvention of Love, by Helen Humphreys. I love everything Helen Humphreys writes. She’s one of my favourite historical authors. This spare — and just a bit strange — little novel, this twirl through the circle surrounding the French author Victor Hugo, will appeal to those who love French culture and finely crafted prose. (And don’t the two just seem to go together?)
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt. This poetic, outrageous, laugh-out-loud funny and gripping cowboy novel about a couple of hit-men swept through the international awards like a flu this fall. Of all the books on this list, I think this one would make the best gift, either for a man or woman, old or young — and if you buy it now, you can read yourself it first, because it isn’t long.
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin. If you’re looking for a delicious novel to sink into this winter by the fire: this is it.
A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Hip, smart, crackling with wit — and well deserving of the Pulitizer prize, in my opinion.
Wrecker, by Summer Wood. This was my shout-out novel of the year. I bought a copy just to pass around. If you live in a back-to-the-land community (or would like to), this novel will especially appeal. Summer Wood is a wonderful writer with great heart.
Room, by Emma Donoghue. The subject of this amazing novel scares some readers off. Persevere. Donoghue’s rendering of the voice of a young boy is simply magical, as is the ending.
The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. One of her best, I think. Haunting. Great for a stormy night. Prepare not to get much sleep!
Tilt, by Alan Cumyn. This is a book for the older teens on your list — but I suggest that you read it yourself. I adored Tilt. Alan Cumyn has created a wonderfully engrossing, charming coming-of-age story.
I should also mention that The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a tightly-plotted apocalyptic novel that you might want to read, if only to know what everyone is talking about. It’s well done and particularly well imagined — with disturbing echos of our “reality TV” world.
I’m going to simply list the rest of my list (without links and cover images): the day awaits!
Origami Dove, by Susan Musgrave. Wonderful.
Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson: a compulsively-readable biography about an eccentric hippy who never lost the faith. Read it!
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a memoir by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. Enchanting!
A New Leaf by Merilyn Simonds. This would be a fantastic gift for gardeners. I’m not even a gardener, but I relished every word.
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, by John Vaillant. Terrifying! And with a strong environmental message.
A Week at the Airport by Alain De Bottom. Simply delightful. Perfect travel book!
IMPOSSIBLE TO CLASSIFY:
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris. Oh, my goodness! Sedaris has done it again. This book is the perfect gift for anyone with a warped sense of humour. (That’s all of us, no?)
What are your “Best of the Best”?
Here are mine–both older history titles:
“Reveille in Washington” by Margaret Leech–1942 Pultizer Prize Winner for History about the Civil War era in Washington, DC.
“Black Lamb & Grey Falcon” by Rebecca West–a great travel tome of the author’s 1937 trip through Yugoslavia.
Thanks Sandra! I’ll be ordering most of these – Merry Christmas to me!!!
Two of my favorites from 2011 (newer and older) included:
The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
The Sojourner, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (this is difficult to find!)
Thank you, Kristin. Can you tell me a little about these books? (Just a little!) I think I’ve heard of The Sojourner.
The Sojourner is wonderful. It’s a story that takes place over the course of a farmer’s life. I think it was written in the 50s but I saw some striking present day parallels. It’s a beautifully written story.
The Warmth of Other Suns is about the migration of black citizens out of the South. It’s a difficult read at times, but very moving. The author did thousands of interviews (I think close to a decade of research, if I remember).
Both are winners!
Thank you, Kristin — I’ll have a look!
I always take Sandra’s recommendations seriously! I’ve read a few on the list above including State of Wonder and Brooklyn. That Helen Humphrey title is calling my name! She’s fantastic!
Thank you, Lee! What was your fav. book of 2011?
What a great list and I want to read all of them. Off I go to put in my orders! Thanks Sandra.
Note to others…I’ve NEVER been disappointed with a book that Sandra recommends!