After a rather lackluster year of reading in 2010, I'm excited to be back with a full top 10 list culled from the books I read in 2011. I really enjoyed just about every book I read last year (with the exception of Ulysses, now known as the only book I've ever broken up with before finishing), and it was incredibly difficult to pare the list down to the 10 best. But without further ado, my top 10 books of 2011:
1) The Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kostova
You may know this author from her previous tome, The Historian. The Swan Thieves retains the same dark sense of foreboding and mystery, and verging ever so slightly and somehow realistically into the paranormal. The story centers around a psychiatrist who becomes obsessed with solving the mystery as to why his patient attacked a painting of Leda and the swan.
2) Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
I honestly never expected to enjoy a book about a WWII POW as much as I loved this book. Louis Zamperini's life seems made for fiction--an Olympic athlete, dashing WWII pilot, and subsequently POW in a ghastly Japanese prison camp. This book is a riveting page turner, and you'll never think of rice the same way again.
3) The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
I read this book at an especially timely moment in my life, as I was just coming to terms with the fact that I was facing infertility and would be unable to have a baby without intervention, so that may be why it struck such a nerve with me. This book is set in a sort of parallel world where women are farmed out to families to procreate due to a pollutant that has rendered the majority of the population sterile. It is a beautifully written story of love and survival.
4) The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
If I had read this book as a teenager, I would have been desperately in love with the main character, Holden Caulfield. Holden is a prep school student in the 50s who is saddled with a number of neuroses and a caustic wit. He wanders the streets of New York and is generally a tragically hilarious mess for the duration of the book, and I dare you not to remember how painfully difficult it is to be a teenager, no matter what the decade.
5) A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
I read the first three of the Song of Ice and Fire series upon which the television series, Game of Thrones was based, and I found that it really enhanced my understanding and appreciation for the story. The books are somewhere between Lord of the Rings and a Philippa Gregory novel. The central plot is loosely based on The War of the Roses in England between the Yorks and the Lancasters, but you don't have to have any knowledge of British history to enjoy the battles of swords, wits and lust that keep the pages turning.
6) The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly
I've mentioned before my love for exploring the darker side of fairytales, and this novel is exactly that. In WWII England, a young boy relocates with his family to the English countryside, and when he discovers a mysterious book in his room he discovers a mysterious portal into a fairytale world made up of the creatures found in the book and his own imagination. In order to return home he must evade the deliciously creepy Crooked Man, a number of horrible villains, and journey to the King where he can find the way home through The Book of Lost Things.
7) Beloved, Toni Morrison
Let 2011 be known as the year I finally gave Toni Morrison a chance and fell madly in love. Sethe is an ex-slave who endured horrific experiences to gain her freedom, and is now living with her family who is haunted by the ghost of her first baby who died in infancy and whose tombstone is engraved simply with the word "Beloved". Eventually the haunting seems to take a corporeal form and Sethe must face her past as it threatens to destroy her present.
8) The Trial, Franz Kafka
On a day that starts out like any other, protagonist Josef K. is arrested and accused of a crime--the twist being, no one ever tells him what he is actually meant to have done. Throughout the book he attempts to defend himself against an undisclosed to us or him accusation, and we are thrust with him into a world of nightmarish confusion, uncertainty and fear. It is impossible to ever know whether or not Josef K. is guilty, but you will find yourself rooting for him and contemplating the ridiculousness of our own legal system.
9) The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs
I'm not religious in the least and agnostic at best, but I still find myself fascinated with the study and exploration of religion. So when I discovered this book about an agnostic Jew who decides to spend an entire year living strictly by all of the rules set forth in the Bible, I was hooked. It's at times touching, hilarious, and entertaining. It makes no attempt to mock the Bible or religion and by the end of the book, the author describes the new respect he has gained toward religion, but it's also incredibly funny to read about his endeavors to comply with each and every rule in the Bible from the most well known to the most obscure.
10) The Road, Cormac McCarthy
I pretty much love any novel set in a dystopian universe, and The Road does not disappoint. It follows and unnamed man and his son who are on a journey south following an unnamed disaster that has virtually leveled the world. The prose is clear and unembellished and you can't help but feel as though you too are journeying down a grey and dusty post-apocalyptic road, relying on your wits to survive.
13 Rue Therese, Elena Mauli Shapiro
Mockingjay/Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
Sarah's Key, Tatiana de Rosnay