Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Best of 2011

The Top 14
As I sat down to make my list of favorite reads of 2011, I ended up with a top 14. Last year I lucked into a top 10, but I also read about twenty more books this year, so that makes sense. I don't like to set an arbitrary number of titles for my Best of the Year list, so here are my favorite reads of 2011 (all are books I read in 2011, but not all were originally published in 2011.)

14. The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan (my review)
A love story told through dictionary definitions sounded so interesting I had to try it, even as I doubted how it would work as a novel. It worked beautifully and brilliantly, and it was a surprisingly emotional read.

13. Untold Story by Monica Ali (my review)
Untold Story was one of the titles I was most excited to read in 2011, as I adore literary fiction about real people. Monica Ali's imagination of what life would like today if Princess Diana had faked her own death was a suspenseful, character-driven novel I could not put down.

12. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (my review)
Tatjana Soli's debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, was the first books I read in 2011. It transported me to Vietnam and offered a beautiful, harrowing depiction of both the country and the war through the eyes of photojournalist Helen Adams.

11. Repeat It Today With Tears by Anne Peile (my review)
Anne Peile's debut novel, Repeat It Today With Tears, was longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize, and I wish it would have made the shortlist. Peile puts a human, understandable spin on a daughter's half-consensual affair with her father (he didn't know she was his daughter, but she sought him out.) It was riveting and never veered toward the salaciousness this topic so easily could.

10. Small Wars by Sadie Jones (my review)
Small Wars snuck up on me, but ultmiately Sadie Jones wowed me with the patience she had to tell the story of Hal and Clara. The novel is set in the the 1950's British-occupied Cyprus, and seeing the varied perspectives of Hal, a major in the British army, and Clara, his young wife struggling in a foreign land, was fascinating and beautiful.

9. The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber (my review)
Ann Weisgarber's debut novel, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, is a powerful look at the life of Rachel and Isaac, African-American homesteaders who settled in South Dakota's Badlands in the early 1900's. It was a hard life, but Rachel was one of my favorite characters of 2011.

8. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman (my review)
Ellen Feldman made my Top 10 of 2010 for her historical novel, Scottsboro, and Next to Love is just as good. It's the story of three young friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, and how they deal with their men away during World War II, as well as the lingering impact of the war after it ends. It was a rare treat to see a novelist tackle both the war and its aftermath with the same characters, and Feldman told it beautifully.

7. The Privileges by Jonathan Dee (my review)
Jonathan Dee's Pulitzer-Prize finalist novel The Privileges is the story of Adam and Cynthia Morey. It opens with their wedding and follows them through four different times of their marriage. It's a fascinating family saga of their love and increasing privilege, and it has the wisdom and observation for a novel much longer than its 288 pages.

6. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (my review)
Tom Perrotta is my favorite author, and it's no surprise I adored his take on the Sudden Departure, when many people suddenly vanished. Perrotta focuses this novel on what happens after. How do those left behind cope emotionally, spiritually and in every day life?

5. The First Husband by Laura Dave (my review)
Laura Dave is another of my favorite authors, and her latest novel once again takes on the theme of modern romantic relationships and their complications. Dave has a gift for character development, and Annie and Griffin are no exception. It was a joy to see them fall in love and try to manage their lives and careers, Annie as a travel columnist and Griffin, a chef set to open his own restaurant in his hometown.

4. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (my review)
The Sense of an Ending won rightly this year's Booker Prize. The novella is a brilliant and moving take on time, memory, age and friendship. It's one I will re-read in 2012 and perhaps every year because it's breadth is particularly impressive given it's 176-page length.

3. The Sweet Relief of Missing Children by Sarah Braunstein (my review)
Sarah Braunstein's debut novel The Sweet Relief of Missing Children earned her a spot on last year's National Book Award 5 Under 35 list, and it's the best debut novel I read this year. I'm still in awe of both her writing and how she weaved seemingly disparate storylines and characters in this beautiful, haunting narrative.

2. We Had It So Good by Linda Grant (my review)
I'm still shocked Linda Grant's latest novel failed to make either the Booker or Orange Prize longlist because it is one of the year's best novels. The story of Stephen, a son of immigrants who was raised in Los Angeles. When he earns a Rhodes scholarship to England, his parents remain baffled why he would leave the country they worked so hard to make his home. It's a beautiful character-driven family novel about roots, marriage, and hard times. Grant's writing is beautiful, and I'm convinced she's among the best contemporary British novelists.

1. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (my review)
For those who read my blog it should be no surprise to see State of Wonder number one. It's the only book I rated six stars out of five. Patchettt completely blew me away this literary tale of adventure, love, life and friendship. She's a masterful writer and storyteller, and I've vowed to read her entire backlist in 2012.

Breaking down the Top 14
Last year, my top featured all female writers and all authors I'd read for the first time. I'm glad to see a bit more diversity in this year's list! My top 14 featured 4 men and 10 women. Five of the titles were from prize lists (and several others are possibilities for the upcoming National Book Critics Circle, the Orange Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize.) Four were debut novels. Three were authors I've read before, while 11 were new-to-me authors.

The year in reading
2011 was another incredible year of reading for me. With each year I focus more on reading, choosing books and discussing them through my blog, I get to know myself better as a reader and end up picking better books for me. Looking back on the 108 books I read in 2011, I rated 14 of them 5 stars (about 13%), which seems about right; 2 of those were re-reads (Note, not all of the 5-star reads made the Top 14 list.) I rated a whopping 34 of them 4.5 stars (about 31%), which shocked me. I rated 35 of them 4 stars (about 32%). Only 22 of the books I read were rated less than 4 stars (about 20%). I'd like that number to be lower, but with my emphasis on prize lists, many of those are titles I think are quite good, but I simply didn't care for them (i.e. The Tiger's Wife.)

Affiliate statistics
The three books I sold the most copies of through my affiliate links this year were The First Husband by Laura Dave (a title I posted both a Waiting on Wednesday and earned a spot in this top 14), State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (another title I posted both a Waiting on Wednesday and earned the top spot in my top 14), and In the Last (a book originally published in the 1960's, and one I only gave four stars to!) I sold three times as many Kindle books as print books through my Amazon links. I still have yet to sell a single item through IndieBound or The Book Depository, but I'm also not as diligent about placing links in reviews. To those who take the time to purchase books through my affiliate links, THANK YOU! This year, I made a total of $54.04 in Amazon credit, all of which was used to purchase more Kindle books to review here!

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. Ellen Feldman sounds like an amazing author if her books made your best of lists in 2010 and 2011. I'll add her books to my tbr list. The Lover's Dictionary and The Lotus Readers were great books. Happy New Year!

  2. What a fabulous array of books, Carrie! SO many of these are on my stacks...maybe I will get to them in 2012!

  3. Coming out of lurker-dom to tell you that your list is fantastic and filled with books on my TBR mountain. Makes me realize just how many great books I haven't gotten around to yet. So excited to read them and continue reading your blog throughout 2012! Happy New Year!

  4. I've had The Sweet Relief of Missing Children on my list since I saw your review. I asked for it for Christmas and didn't get it... I need to just break down and buy/read it already!! I also added Untold Story to my list. Meant to add that before.

  5. The Sense of an Ending seems to be popping up everywhere this week. Hmmm...maybe I need to listen to the internets?

    Happy New Year!!

  6. Well I'm writing down every one of your faves to put on my own wishlist. I have Repeat it Today With Tears sitting atop Mount TBR right now, so it's coming up soon!

  7. I'm thrilled to see The Personal History of Rachel DuPree on your list. Thank you so much for this and for your comment that Rachel is one of your favorite characters for 2011. This is a writer's dream and means more than I can say. (I'm trying not to gush!)

    I'm also thrilled to see Ellen Feldman's Next to Love on your list. The novel is one of my favorites, and so is Ellen. I met her at the 2009 Orange Award ceremony and my England editor had the two of us do an interview together. Since then, she and I have become friends. I greatly admire her all of her work and believe her to be a courageous writer who takes on difficult topics.

    Again, thank you! Happy New Year!

  8. Nice list! I enjoyed The Lover's Dictionary & The Privileges as well. Happy Reading in 2012!

  9. Great list! I had a big best of list this year too and I love seeing so much variety on your list. Many of these are ones I can't wait to read this year.

  10. I also ended up with 14 favorites, but chose downgraded 4 to "runner-ups" to get the perfect 10 :)

    I like the diversity of your list!

    Happy 2012 Carrie!

  11. So glad to see Small Wars on your list; it made mine, too. I loved The Lotus Eaters and Next to Love as well! Happy new year!

  12. We have such similar taste in books, but I was surprised to see titles I'd never heard of! They've been added to the top of my wish list :)

  13. There are lots of books I would like to read on your list -- The Leftovers, The Privileges, State of Wonder - but not to many that I have read. I did really like The Lover's Dictionary. Congratulations on a great reading year.

  14. I'm totally with you on State of Wonder! It was amazing, wasn't it? I'm adding several of these other ones to my TBR list for future. :)


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!