My Favorite Books of 2011

2011 was an interesting year for reading for me. My publishing company published its first two novels, The Samaritan and Dancing with Gravity, so I’ve learned a lot by being on the flip side of the publishing world. This fall I’ve spent quite a bit of time helping a few authors who didn’t quite get selected to Blank Slate Press, and even more time reading and rereading our newest author’s manuscript (due for publication in Spring 2011) and Fred Venturini’s new manuscript (he wrote The Samaritan).

But I also found time to read fiction by other publishing companies, of course. Here are my favorites of 2011 with brief summaries:

1. Replay by Ken Grimwood. An old man dies, and his consciousness travels back in time to his college self. Then it happens again.

2. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. An old man is retrofitted with a new body in the future and gets to live a second life.

3. The Sacred Band by David Anthony Durham. The triumphant third book of the Acacia trilogy.

4. The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Harry Potter in college (complete with sex and cursing).

5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. An alien race invades Earth and forces the lucky few survivors to be their space janitors. (Just kidding. It’s about African American servitude in the south in the 1960s.)

6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. A young woman collects teeth for a demon.

7. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. A collection of connected short stories, many of them music-related.

8. Q by Evan J. Mandery. Just before marrying the love of his life, a man is visited by his future self and told not to marry the woman.

What are a few of your favorite books of 2011?


12 Responses to “My Favorite Books of 2011”

  1. Jess says:

    The Hunger Games (I recognize this came out before last year, but that’s when I read it.)
    At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
    Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

  2. Katie says:

    Jamey, it seems like a lot of the books you read last year have a common thread of redoing the past or altering the future. Why do you think that is? Also, I’d heard mixed things about A Visit from the Goon Squad, so I’m glad to hear that you liked it. I might give it a try after all!

    Books I loved for 2011:

    “Room” by Emma Donoghue. I feel like we’ve talked about this in your blog comments before. Am I hallucinating? It would have been really easy for this book to be a gimmicky mess, but I thought it was really well done. I finished the last third of it in a single gulp one night when I should have been getting some much needed sleep!

    “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. This book presented some really thought-provoking ideas about ownership and rights to your own body, and the unbalanced way such matters are handled.

    “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. Yes, it came out in 1986. And yes, I’m just now getting around to reading it. But it was EXCELLENT! It follows the tale of Offred, (literally, she is the handmaid “Of Fred”) and about how the lives and rights of most people, but especially women, were stripped away at the onset of a totalitarian state. Most women are unable to bear children due to nuclear radiation, but those who can are both held in a special regard/contempt, but also held hostage and forced to give themselves to the leaders of the state to bear their children, which are promptly taken from them and raised by the leader’s wife. This is a masterpiece that tells about what happens when Offred is offered a look beyond her normal routine, and the consequences of those actions. The last time I was this captivated by a book was The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which also very female-focused.

    “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell, and its follow-up, “Children of God”. I found The Sparrow through Jamey’s top 10 list last year, and decided to give it a shot. I struggled with it for a while, but was sad when the journey was over. I read another unrelated book to clear my mind, and then found myself drawn back to the characters, so I read Children of God. They were both these kind of magnificent pieces driven by a haunted, hollow man who has lost his entire identity based on what he thought would be the most enriching and self-affirming experience of his life.

    Other notable books:

    “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

    “The Hunger Games”

    “The World According to Garp”—my all time favorite book. I read it every year, so it’s kind of cheating to put it on here, but I’m doing it anyway. John Irving can weave a tale like no other, and create the most intriguing characters in the process. I tip my hat to you, sir.

    “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand and “Half-Broke Horses” by Jeanette Walls. Anytime I start to think that I have it rough, I’ll just read one of these again!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Katie–What a great list! I loved the Handmaid’s Tale when I read it a few years ago. Margaret Atwood is on Twitter if you want to tell her how much you liked it. 🙂

      2012 will be the Year of the Hunger Games at the box office. It’s going to be huge.

      Also, interesting choice for your favorite John Irving book. I greatly enjoyed it too. In fact, I remember really loving it. I also really loved A Widow for One Year.

      • Katie says:

        I agree, A Widow for One Year is great! Even though the story is completely different and it doesn’t have any of the same characters as Garp, I almost felt like it was a follow-up book in a way, since the tone and scope of the book felt very similar to Garp, at least for me. I was a little disappointed with The Fourth Hand, and I’m trying to get up the courage to tackle the mammoth Until I Find You (I scored the hardback version at a used book store for $6!). I’ve read some of his older works as well, and have been pretty enthralled by most of them.

        I know it sounds stupid, but whenever I find myself going through a transition period (moving, new job, etc.), I always read Garp. I guess I find it comforting to go back to the same characters and plot that I know so well, like old friends. Does anyone else do this?

        • Jamey Stegmaier says:

          Definitely let me know what you think of Until I Find You. It’s on my list.

          I always return to a book called The Lost Legends of New Jersey by Frederick Reiken. It’s been a while, though.

  3. CookieMonster says:

    house of leaves by mark danielewski. i normally would try to explain why i liked it but i’m still not sure if i even do like it.. either way, i literally cannot stop thinking about it. its several narratives (presented in a variety of ways, some simple and some elaborate) about a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside and what ramifications of this physical impossibility ensue. it’s hauntingly poignant, smart, and sometimes funny. i highly recommend it especially if you want to challenge your thoughts of your current reality… but definitely have a dictionary on hand. the format of the book is presented in a very academic way with appendices and an obscene amount of footnotes. it can get very disorienting and claustrophobic at times. i don’t think i’ve ever read a book that so vividly captures a mood or feeling like this book does. danielewski is a brilliant writer.

    Bret Easton Ellis (author of American Psycho, another great book) said of House of Leaves, “A great novel. A phenomenal debut. Thrillingly alive, sublimely creepy, distressingly scary, breathtakingly intelligent– it renders most other fiction meaningless.”

    thats a pretty bold statement but i challenge anyone who reads this to not only question the meaning in other fiction or even life in general, but to question meaning itself…

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Nelsy–Thanks for your recommendations. I’ve never read House of Leaves, but a friend of mine has raved about it for years. Your review makes me want to read it even more.

      • CookieMonster says:

        who is nelsy? she sounds like she is probably really sexy, cool, and smart.. but yeah, you should definitely read that! i’ve never heard of the magicians but even from your one sentence i need to read that.

        • Jamey Stegmaier says:

          I’m reading the follow-up to The Magicians right now…both books seem to be on the same level of awesomeness.

          Also, I should point out that the author of Q (the last book on the list) e-mailed me after I published this post to thank me for the mention. It’s that type of extra effort that I really, really admire about authors. Very cool.

  4. CookieMonster says:

    that is so awesome. i’m jealous! i’ve been trying for months to think of something cool to say to christopher moore (my fav author) on his facebook page, but all the stuff i think of just isn’t good enough

  5. […] name is John Scalzi. I discovered Scalzi’s breakout novel, Old Man’s War, back in 2011. It was my second favorite book that year.  I hope you read it. If you didn’t, go read it. It’s on Amazon for $8. You could get […]

  6. […] made my favorite book list of 2011, then the sequel, The Magician King, made my favorites list in 2012. Then I waited for 2 […]

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