Despite (or maybe because of) the turmoil in publishing, you stubborn, snot-nosed, recalcitrant writers keep producing amazing work! Huzzah to you all.
This year I managed to read 85 books (yeah, number-geek keeps track of such things). Not all of them published in 2011, but a large chunk of those books were published in 2011. Anyway, here’s a bunch of that chunk. (Bunch of the Chunk is my new band name)
The Sister Brothers by Patrick deWitt: My favorite novel of the year. deWitt’s quirky, well-mannered western about Eli and Charlie Sister, a pair of assassin brothers (Charlie is much more drawn to the blood and violence than introspective Eli). The novel’s voice is pitch-perfect, and it’s about the unexpected humor and melancholy of the dusty road of existence.
Green River Killer: A true detective story by Jeff Jensen: A true crime/biography graphic novel. Yes, that’s what it is. Jensen is the son of the Seattle detective who spent decades working on the Green River Killer case. The book tells his father’s story, one in which his devoting to his family and to finding a serial killer gets all mixed up, particularly when he tries to find meaning in it all. Compelling book.
The End of Everything by Megan Abbott: She’s fast becoming a favorite author of mine. It’s Reagan-era 80s and thirteen year old Lizzie’s best friend has just gone missing. It’s a first person account (from Lizzie’s POV) and a memorable one…. (more here)
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson: This is Wilson’s first novel (he previously published the fantastic short story collection TUNNELING TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH), and it more than lives up to the promise of his stellar short fiction…. (more here)
Shock Value by Jason Zinoman: My favorite non-fiction book of the year. Zinoman details the move away from the goofy, safe horror films of the 50s and 60s to the mix of exploitation, confrontation, and art of the late 60s and 70s…. (more here)
Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine: The circus troup Tresulti (complete with strong man, aerialists, and more, including them once having a winged-man) travels a war-ravaged landscape, their shows equal parts beauty, wonder, menace, and unease…. (more here)
Swamplandia by Karen Russell: This novel has garnered considerable buzz, and I’m happy to say the buzz is warranted. Swamplandia is an alligator-wrestling theme park run by the Bigtree family. Ava, the 13 year old daughter, tells most of the tale, as the park and her family disintegrates around her…. (more here)
Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan: O’Nan further cements his status as one of our greatest living novelists. The story follows widowed, 80 year-old Emily Maxwell (the matriarch of his earlier novel, WISH YOU WERE HERE) through a year in her life, living alone in Pittsburgh…. (more here)
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: At 980 pages (in a smallish font), this is the epic’s epic. Murakami’s imagination is matched only by his ability to make the huge cast of characters come to life and make you care about what happens to them. Aomame and Tengo’s love story is big enough for the multiple worlds they inhabit within the novel.
You Think That’s Bad by Jim Shepard: My favorite short story collection of the year. Shepard’s genius is in the details; how he gives enough to the reader–never overwhelms us with info–to breathe life into his amazing characters…. (more here)
Most disappointing reads of 2011
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children