It’s been quite a bit of work coming up with this list. For one thing, I had a lot of books to choose from, with a total of 287 books completed in 2011. I have a rating system which did help choose the top of the crop, but as time goes by, some books linger more than others, as they each evolve differently in our minds and in our hearts. For instance, a five-star read (out of five)—a rating only handed out to 15 books completed this year, or a mere 5%—means the book takes a proud place among my all-time favourites, and that I’m likely to read it again and again. These are books that resonated with me in an exceptional—and very individual way. Then there are the 4.5 star reads, which are no less excellent; these are books I truly loved and may want to revisit again; a four-star read is one I loved, and made for a worthwhile journey, though we’re likely to part as just friends. Of course, none of this is set in stone, but my selections for these upcoming “Best of 2011” lists are all books I can recommend wholeheartedly. Why did’t I narrow it all down to just ten or twenty books? Because I wanted to share the wealth and because there is no editor forcing me to do so; I don’t have to worry about a punchy magazine cover line—“Smiler Trends the Top Ten”—type thing. So there you have it. All links lead to my reviews.
A few stats:
Total books read: 293
En français: 57
Literary Fiction: 73
Historical Fiction: 49
Mystery/Crime Fiction: 51
Science Fiction: 7
Graphic Novels: 22
Young Adult: 54
Children’s Literature: 99
Picture Books: 57
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee ★★★★★
“”Jean Louise,” she said, “you are a fortunate girl. You live in a Christian home
with Christian folks in a Christian town. Out there in J. Grimes Everett’s land there’s
nothing but sin and squalor.” “Yes ma’am.”” The first reading of many to come.
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht ★★★★★
Multilayered, with a slow build-up of different narratives forming a rich tapestry.
Regeneration by Pat Barker ★★★★★
Brilliantly written and thoroughly engaging, anti-war and pro-sanity.
From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus ★★★★★
A beautiful and heartfelt short story about desire and self-delusion.
Animal Farm by George Orwell (re-read) ★★★★★
One of the best novels of all time. And best of all: it’s about animals. Sort of.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck ★★★★★
A family saga set in pre-revolutionary China. Explores universal themes with deceptive simplicity.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson ★★★★½
An unlikely heroine sees her life transformed like a 1930s middle-aged Cinderella.
La petite fille de Monsieur Linh by Philippe Claudel ★★★★½
A touching story about loss, displacement and friendship with an unforgettable ending.
Les âmes grises by Philippe Claudel ★★★★½
A love letter to a long-dead beloved wife. Almost unbearably beautiful.
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene ★★★★½
A despicable young thug, a gullible maiden, and gripping tension from beginning to end.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt ★★★★½
If you thought you didn’t like Westerns, this will change your mind.
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West ★★★★½
An affecting reflexion on the insanity society imposed on WWI combatants.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón ★★★★½
a richly told, multilayered gothic story which satisfies at every page.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson ★★★★½
A thoroughly charming, deftly handled story about an unlikely love affair.
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark ★★★★½
The biggest surprise is to find a book about old age and dying which is quite this funny.
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx ★★★★½
A short story filled to the brim with emotion, gorgeous prose, and vivid imagery.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese ★★★★½
A surgeon looks back on growing up as a twin amidst great personal and political turmoil.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison ★★★★½
Gorgeous prose on being black and the tyranny of the cult of beauty.
Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck ★★★★½
A gripping tale about an imperial concubine becoming the all-powerful Empress Tzu Hsi.
1984 by George Orwell (re-read) ★★★★½
A powerful reminder that the “free world” should never be taken for granted.
Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley ★★★★
Celebrates the love of books and adventure. Delightful.
Honourable Mentions: Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler, The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Dubliners by James Joyce, Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys,
Gros-Câlin by Romain Gary
Most Read Authors: Pat Barker (3), Muriel Spark (3), Pearl S. Buck (2), Philippe Claudel (2), Jenny Erpenbeck (2), Graham Greene (2), George Orwell (2)
Coming Next in Part 2: Non-Fiction, Classics, Mystery/Spy/Thriller, Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Just for Fun, Young Adult Fiction, Graphic Novels & Illustration