Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 Reading List

For a long time I've kept track of all the books I've read between January and December. This year I've categorized the 2011 list into favorites, both fiction and nonfiction, the classics, crime and mysteries, and those that failed to meet the expectations set by critics and book reviewers. 

My 2011 favorite fiction:

1. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a stunning book about how time affects our memories. Are our memories accurate or has time modified the truth? Tony Webster, now retired, reflects on his youth, his friendships and his actions, in particular to Veronica who is a difficult person to understand.  Barnes's writing is eloquent, giving the reader pause to reflect.  Winner of this year's Man Booker Prize, this is a must-reread book which I plan to do.  I found it absolutely wonderful and the best book I've read this year. 

2. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is the story of a young woman living in Manhattan in 1938 who rises from the secretarial pool to the upper echelons of society. Greenwich Village, the jazz age, New York at its most glamorous are depicted wonderfully. In less talented hands, this first-time author's excellent writing, characterizations and plot might have subjected the book to the "chick lit" pile.

3. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson is a delightful story. Better than I'd anticipated!

4. Room by Emma Donoghue is a haunting  story narrated by a child.

5. The Master Builders Singing Club by Louise Erdrich is a beautiful story of the life of a German immigrant living in North Dakota.

My 2011 favorite non-fiction:

1. Literary Brooklyn - The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life by Evan Hughes.  This terrific book combines my fondness for the borough and the city where I grew up and my love of books. This is one book I'll cherish. 

2. In the Garden of Beasts - Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. This close-up of Berlin in the 1930s conveys all the aspects of a spy novel with the terrifying aspect of its reality. 

3. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, published posthumously in 1964, is his classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s.  Although I was never a Hemingway fan, this book invites me to reconsider.
4. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. Did you know that Samuel Morse, aka the originator of the Morse Code, was primarily a painter?

5. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl. Even those who seldom, if ever, frequent haute cuisine restaurants will enjoy the author's adventures in some of New York City's best dining spots.

Mysteries and Crime

1. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo.  First, Stieg Larsson introduced Lisabeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, to the world; now there's Swedish writer Jo Nesbo whose compelling crime dramas feature Detective Harry Hole. (The list of Scandinavian crime writers also includes Henning Mankell who's on my 2012 to-read list.)

2. Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom is a hypnotic thriller by a Swedish journalist and an ex-criminal who combine their talents in a masterful tale.
3. Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva. Since my trip to Moscow in 2010, anything Russian catches my attention.  This book had me reliving the wariness I felt as I wandered around the streets of Moscow streets and boarded the crowded Metro. A good thriller!

4. The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer is the second installment in The Tourist spy series about Milo Weaver, who works in an undercover CIA agency called Tourists. (Don't confuse the book with the movie of the same name.  No relation.)

2011 Books that failed to meet my expectations:

1. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

2. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

3. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
4. 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

5. The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

Classics read this year:

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
2. The Dubliners by James Joyce

3. O Pioneers by Willa Cather
4. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

And all the rest:
1. The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard

2. The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin

3. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

4. The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

5. Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

6. The Empty Family by Colm Toibin

7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

8. Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy

9. The Monster of Florence, A True Story by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
10. My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City by various authors
11. On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
12. Strangers by Anita Brookner
13. Talk Show by Dick Cavett

14. When Will There be Good News by Kate Atkinson

Please feel free to add comments or your list of favorites read this year.


  1. Wonderful! I'm happy to see that Henning Mankell is on your list for 2012 - I just read your blog about Swedish writers (don't know how I missed it) and I was going to mention Mankell. He is terrific.

    I totally agree with you about Freedom - a huge disappointment. So much hoopla for so little.

    I will be sure to add some of your books to my list for 2012.

  2. What an impressive list! Will add some to my list for 2012 which also includes all the books from 2011 which I intended to read but didn't! Thanks!

  3. I just finished reading "The Sense of an Ending." From your comments and various reviews, I knew I would either love it or just not get it. To my great pleasure and relief, I found it one of the best books I've read in a very long time. Thanks for recommending it!