Top Reads of 2011

For the first time in years, I am all over this holiday season.  I’ve decorated my house, found a gorgeous new wreath for front door, and hung the stockings.  We’ve watched the first half of It’s A Wonderful Life.  The tree has been up for almost 48 hours and the puppy has not knocked it down or eaten the ornaments or been electrocuted by the lights.

As this year winds itself down, I’m taking a look back at my top reading pleasures of 2011.  Here they are, in no particular order:












In making my list I made some discoveries:

1.  I’m growing up.  My preferences have become less highbrow (what I’m supposed to read) and more about what I enjoy.

2.  I read far fewer books in 2011 than I thought I did.  I spent more time engrossed in author interviews and great, long essays.

3.  I tend to read and re-read my favorite authors.  I need to give the lesser-knowns more of a chance.

4.  I don’t like fiction as much as I used to.  In fact, I’m reading a National Book Award winner now and I feel manipulated.

5.  The memoir is not dead.  In fact, it’s barely got it’s sea legs.  Peoples’ real lives, and how they choose to make them into art, are endlessly fascinating.

What did you discover about your reading self?  Have any favorite books to share?

38 thoughts on “Top Reads of 2011

  1. Erika Marks

    To be in the company of such incredible books has turned this kid into a puddle. Thank you, Teri. And I’ve been thinking of you because my mother is chomping at the bit to get me reading Alexandra Styron’s book which I have finally got in my hands–she inhaled it, loved it and I can’t wait to exchange notes. I meant to ask you what your final thoughts on Townie were–did I ask you already and forget your response? Sorry if I did. So excited to see Alan Heathcock’s VOLT on there–isn’t that one tremendous? Knee-shaking stuff, that good.

    Here’s to next year’s reading adventures–and finding some time in the midst of the holiday crunch to get a few more in before the ball drops!

    1. Teri

      VOLT was one of the best short story collections of the year. One of the first books I read on my iPad. (I say that like I’ve now read many on the iPad, which is so far from true.)

      I loved Alexandra Styron’s book because it’s about my favorite writer. It’s also very well written. Loved it.

  2. Sarah W

    Thanks for the additions to my ever-long list, Teri!

    I’ve been going back to old favorites lately–comfort reading for the cold weather, I guess.

    But this past month, I tried The Sweetness at the Bottom of the PIe (sort of Sherlock Holmes meets To Kill a Mockingbird), and Defending Jacob, which blew me away.

    Still not interested in vampires—I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

  3. macdougalstreetbaby

    I’m just now beginning to get our house decorated. If it weren’t for one of the kids who, very politely I might add, nudged me that Hanukkah was “just around the corner,” I probably would have let the holiday slip my consciousness.

    I love your lists. I love how much you read. I love how much you love to read. I will never be at your level but your passion is something I most definitely aspire to.

    Excellent question. I guess I’ve come to realize that no matter what I read I want to be swept away. I want to be emotionally transformed. If I’m not, I’m simply not interested. I’m almost done with GIRL WITH A DRAGON TATTOO and I have stayed in one spot the whole time. A friend said, “It’s a cultural thing” but I’m not buying it. One can be moved in subtle ways. Getting under someone’s skin is universal. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what genre you’ve produced. If you’ve got the thread, I’m yours.

  4. lizisilver

    What a great list of books. I’ve read only a few on there- must get to the rest. I’ll be referring back to this page frequently.

    But I’m confused- aren’t we in 2011?

    1. Teri

      Yes, and thank you Lizi. You win the prize for reminding me what year it is! ha! Also, your showing up here reminded me that I forgot one of my favorite books of the whole year — THE LACUNA — so I had to add it.

      What would I do without you?

      1. lizisilver

        Thank YOU for The Lacuna recommendation (which my mother and grandmother are now reading) and for getting me out of that strange Twilight Zone moment of hysteria (“what year are we in?! is everyone else in 2010?”). Merry merry, dear Teri.

      2. amyg

        (thus my, “…it’s been a long, long year.” it does feel like it has take twice as long as most trips around the sun.)

      3. Teri

        AmyG, I used “2010” in 4 different places in this post and had to go back (thank you Lizi) and correct them. 2011 was not the best, and I’m officially looking forward to 2012.

        Having said that, I traveled a ton and met many of you in 2011, so all was not lost! It’s been a year of learning, that’s for sure.

      4. amyg

        i know for a fact that the only way i got through this year without having a drink or shaving my eyebrows off is because of our group. i would write and you guys would talk me off the ledge. i should say this thanks at my place, but i’ll start where you’ve put together a lovely collection of books (seems fitting).

        (also, i’m with you on Lit and The kiss and would add Chronology of Water)

      5. Teri Post author

        I offer my thanks to you all, as well. 2011 has been the Year of the Ledge. This group kept me in the game when I could not write a single word. Bless you all.

        No. Really.

        2012 is going to be a whole other ball game, AmyG, I’m sure of it. See you at AWP.

        P.S. thanks for the reminder about The Chronology of Water. I’m ordering it this minute.

  5. Bobbi

    I am just now getting around to the blockbuster The Night Circus and it’s a creative tour de force. Not usually my thing but it’s great fun. Also just re-read Lisa Moore’s February set in my hometown and so filled with memories.

    1. Teri

      The Night Circus. You are 3rd person to mention this book to me — off I go to check out what it’s all about! Thank you, Bobbi.

      1. Averil Dean

        I tried The Night Circus but couldn’t get past the third person present tense thing. I still want to love it, though. Maybe I’ll give it another try.

      2. Laura Maylene

        Averil, it took me a little bit to get into, but then once I did I was hooked. I loved the way the author so convincingly created the circus world and its magic. Not sure I’d include it on my “Best of” reading list, but I did get sucked in and I’m glad I read it.

  6. schietree

    The only one of these I’ve read is Madame Bovary, but it’s one of my favourites. So rich and evocative…2011 has been big reads year, so I haven’t finished many. Swann’s Way, and The Tale of Genji. That last one has been eyeopening – I had no idea high court 11th century Japan was quite so enamored of poetry and literary references – if you couldn’t strike the right tone with a careful quote, you were considered a total bumpkin. It’s a fun look into an almost completely alien world, and one of the first novels ever written (and by a woman too)

    1. Teri

      What is it with the starting books and not finishing them? I feel like I started a hundred books (no exaggeration) this year and couldn’t get going with most of them. I blame it on my lack of attention span —- it can’t be the books. Or can it? 😉

      1. schietree

        I ask myself that every time, and have this vague sense of guilt about sending books back to the library half-read. But on the other hand, life is sometimes too short for something that doesn’t sing to us.

  7. Lyra

    I read far less than I thought as well, but I’ve done far more writing.
    If I learned anything this year it’s about my writing, that it shouldn’t try to be something it’s not. I suppose that same lesson applies to myself.

    I love seeing Erika’s book up there. So cool.

    1. Teri

      Okay, my sister, let me tell you this. I’m currently reading 2 NBA finalists. Not impressed by either. They both feel so contrived.

      One is using (overusing?) a literary device that works, I think, for a short story, but for a whole book is tedious. So fucking tedious. And it’s more like a novella than a novel. I see the art in it, but the art is overwhelming the story to the point that I feel like banging the book against my own head.

      The other. Oh the other, I swear I’m going to finish it, but I feel so manipulated and banged over the head by her “message” that I want to throw it out the window.

      1. Deb

        Ooo, I want to know which ones! Email me, please. I really enjoyed The Tigers Wife. Am almost finished with The Sojourn and I was thinking that other book must be one heck of a book to beat it. But I’m thinking you’re talking about yet another one of them. Would love to hear your take.

  8. lisahgolden

    Wow! I want to second what MSB said. Your passion for reading is inspirational. I’ll have to check Goodreads to see what I’ve read this year, but I can tell you that my most recent favorite was a middle grades book titled Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. It was a delight.

    1. Teri

      Thank you, Lisa. I wish I felt the least bit inspirational. I mostly just feel like an inadequate, frantic, distracted reader.

  9. Averil Dean

    You have wonderful taste, Teri. Seeing Erika’s book up there does my heart good.

    I learned that the books that used to intimidate me are surprisingly easy to enjoy. This year I’ve read Lolita, The Humbling, The Sense of an Ending, Room, The Kiss, The Road. Now I realize that authors win awards because their work is exceptional–meaning, exceptionally interesting or enjoyable. I used to avoid anything with an award on the cover because I thought it meant the work was going to be too highbrow for the likes of me.

    1. Teri

      LOLITA may well be one of the most perfect books ever. I bow to Nabokov’s talent. I hate that people don’t read it because they think it’s about an old man’s sexual obsession with young Lolita, but it is so so so so much more. Kind of like SOPHIE’S CHOICE is not really just all about the Holocaust, but it’s hard to convince people.

      I’m dying to read THE SENSE OF AN ENDING. What’s your take on it?

      1. Averil Dean

        I absolutely loved it, read it almost in one sitting. It was tight and austere, very English. The character unravels the whole mystery as far as the facts go, but utterly fails to make the connections about the deeper truths of the story. It was beautifully done. I’m going to read some more of Barnes’ work very soon.

        I agree with you about Lolita. The richness of that book is like nothing I’ve ever read.

  10. Oma

    I have read so many books this year I’ve amazed myself. Taking care of someone who knows their life is ending is such a reflective time. I have read everything this year, anything I could get my hands on, books I would usually pass on, I read because it was close at hand. One book I really loved was The Night Inspector by FrederickBusch. I love bios, historical bios in particular. This book is fiction, but the characters it pulls together are amazing.

    1. Teri

      I’ve had THE NIGHT INSPECTOR on my shelf for years and have yet to pick it up and read it. My husband loved it. And now you too! I’ll have to read it one of these days for sure….

  11. Laura Maylene

    A friend lent me THE NIGHT CIRCUS, which I just finished, and I’m still seeing in black-and-white stripes. Side note: Does anyone else feel guilty reading the explosive best sellers? I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes I feel like the breakout books are the ones that don’t actually need my attention, and I should spend more of my time seeking out the little gems that are still partially underground.

    More likely, I probably just need to relax for once in my life.

  12. Catherine

    Peace to you and your family too Teri. I still haven’t even located Christmas decorations in this house.

    This year I’ve read more fiction than ever, even some poetry after a long spell (John Siddique’s Full Blood – I interviewed him about his nude calendar appearance in The View from Here litmag). I went on hols for the first time in years and loved T.C. Boyle’s The Women, Robin Black’s If I Loved You I would Tell You So. I’ve also read some Grace Paley and lots of lesser known short story writers. I think now is an exciting time for fiction readers (and writers). I’d like to read Volt and Erika’s book, plus Laura’s !

  13. Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

    All decorated here, and most of my shopping is done. Now, I need to take care of those nagging things I’ve neglected for months. As we speak, the hired handyman is here to fix my broken doorknob, lazy Susan, light, blinds, etc., etc., etc.

    I didn’t do nearly as much reading this past year as usual. I’d like to blame it on being busy with my own writing, but I’d be lying. I’m guessing I only read about a dozen books this year. And I don’t keep lists, but I’m glad to say Little Gale Gumbo was among them. I also loved The Glass Castle and Just Kids.

    Interesting that two of those three were memoir, since I generally prefer fiction. Maybe my tastes are changing too?

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