On Dec. 8th, I asked readers to join me in recommending books – the BEST book, actually – that they had read in 2011. Many offered suggestions in the comments section and on Facebook, so I thought I would recap and give everyone the complete list. This way, if you’re doing some last minute shopping for gifts, you’ll have an idea of what to buy. Or, if you see something here that you would like to read, but don’t receive it as a gift 😦 then you may buy it yourself or borrow it from the library.
I still say that the best book I read this year is Betty Jane Hegerat’s The Boy. But I will add that I also read another exceptional novel written by one of the contributors below. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about it or who wrote it, because it’s an unpublished manuscript looking for a home. I hope to be able to report during 2012 that this novel will be published. It deserves to be published:
So, without further ado, here’s the list…
Victoria Bell: One of the best books I read this year was the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I heard her read an excerpt from it a couple of years ago and I’d wanted to get my hands on it ever since. The writing is fantastic, the non-linear structure amazing and so complex (it includes a PowerPoint presentation!), and I’ve been recommending it to everyone who calls themselves a reader.
Karen Bass: I’m looking at what I’ve read so far and have a few titles I’d recommend… Victim’s Rights by Norah McClintock – this is #3 in a series and should be read after the other two. I love the whole Ryan Dooley series. Dooley is a complex and fascinating teen character, and this hard-hitting series will appeal to adults who love a mystery, not just teens.
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova – I liked this second novel better than her first, Still Alice. It was an uplifting but not simplistic story, often humourous, with a heroine you couldn’t help but want to be friends with.
Half-blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. It was nominated for a lot of prizes and won the Giller. Sometimes I can’t figure out why a given book won, but not in this case. Evocative with richly drawn characters, and a driving narrative that made me want to read straight through.
Darcie Friesen Hossack: ONE BOOK?!!! Gah.
Fine then. Come, Thou Tortoise (Jessica Grant) was a title that kept popping up until I finally bought the eBook for my new KOBO. I had no idea what to expect. Hadn’t read reviews. It wasn’t personally recommended. The title just wouldn’t let me forget it. And it was the best reading surprise of my year!
Dolly Dennis: I received Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Olive Kitteridge, published by Random House Trade Paperback/New York in 2009 for my birthday and it has never left me. Very rarely do books have the wow factor for me but this one did. I re-read it again this year as I am currently working on a short story collection and wanted to find a new structure. It is an unforgettable novel in stories. I am drawn by writing that is emotionally charged, original and relatable. Her writing is equisite, and when I turned the final page, I needed a moment to think about what I had just read. I will probably re-read it again. There were some decent books out there by Alberta writers but none moved me except Lee Kvern’s The Matter with Sylvie. It was emotionally charged and as I had stated I’m drawn by that kind of writing.
Hazel Hutchins: You only get an answer if I get to cheat and list more than one….
The Master & Margarita, The Double Hook (how did I get to be 59 years old without having read either!!!), anything by Jhumpa Lahiri, Mennonites Don’t Dance and Source of the River if you are a Canadian history buff. I’m a cheater! I’m a cheater! But at least I left out some I would have LIKED to mention. ha ah aha ha ha ha aha h
Carrie Mumford: Great post! I’ve loved reading everyone’s comments. My fav book of 2011 was The Hunger Games. I read a ton of great literary fiction and non-fiction, but this YA book was the one that kept me awake for several nights in a row. Even if you don’t read YA, I’d recommend it! The author (Suzanne Collins) manages to do something magical with that book!
Carin Makuz: Off the top of my head, I will say that one of the most surprising [in a brilliant way] was Betty Jane Heggerat’s THE BOY. I had zero expectations, didn’t know what it was about and was totally absorbed. Amazing story, well told, and so cleverly structured/presented. So sorry it didn’t make Canada Reads.
Betty Jane Hegerat: Always so hard to pick The One. So I tend to go with the most recent one that blew me away. Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues. Gorgeous writing, authentic and totally captivating voice. What this woman knows about jazz and the human heart! Loved it.
Caroline Woodward: Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey http://petercareybooks.com/
There is a reason Australian Peter Carey (a New Yorker for 20 years though) has won the Booker Prize twice. His imaginative scope, brilliant language, deftly infused, amazing research of the 1700′s in England, France and America…he absolutely inhabits the characters and their time and place on the earth. Brainy, funny, amazing writer.
Anne Sorbie: I want to tell you about two extraordinarily well written books that I highly recommend!
The first is a collection of nine short stories by Michael Christie. The title: The Beggar’s Garden.
I bought this book in February while at the Galiano Lit. Festival. To be honest, I brought the book home and put it in my read later pile. I thought…oh well, another book about Vancouver’s east end. Au-contrer. The stories are incredibly tight, well-drawn, and powerfully emotive. This is especially true of the second, called Discard.
The second is Esi Edugyan’s novel, Half-Blood Blues.
I knew from the first few pages that this novel would garner attention and win prizes! I have a knack for “picking the winners,” especially when it comes to the Giller! And, well, I picked it! I did wonder if the Baltimore dialect, which is used throughout, would detract from the exquisitely drawn characters. It does not. Edugyan uses it with the same precision that Austin Clarke employs in his short story, The Motor Car. And like many a jazz riff, this book has slow and fast burning swells that build to a finish that will leave you breathless and make you sweat!
Ruth Seeley (@ruthseeley): Anne – I agree, The Beggar’s Garden blew me away, and I was very pleasantly surprised by Half Blood Blues, which for some reason I didn’t expect to like. I loved the fact that it was essentially a story about friendship and how complicated it can be. I also loved The Sisters Brothers, which I see as the Western version of The Sopranos, and Guy Vanderhaeghe’s A Good Man.
However, I’ve just finished Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz, and I’m hereby nominating it as my best read of 2011 (not because it’s the last book I read, but because it’s an important, serious, contemporary novel of life as we live it).
Rick Northrop: A Passion for Narrative by Jack Hodgins. Best book on writing I ever found.