The Sunday Salon: 2011 in Review

Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate it—but it’s also the last Sunday of the year, which means it’s time for my top ten list. As usual, these are my top reads of 2011, not the top published books of 2011. But I’ve also added my favorite film adaptation and my favorite audiobook of the year, since I’ve started really keeping those posts up. I was lucky enough to have a good handful of five star books, but that meant leaving off a lot of four and a half star books that I honestly loved off the list. I invite you to rifle through those categories to your right. And here’s 2010 in review and 2009 in review, if you’re so inclined. I think that’s all the housekeeping, so let’s get started.

Top Audiobook of 2011

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
read by Kristoffer Tabori

Middlesex is one of my favorite novels and a true American epic–but at its heart is Cal, its intersexed protagonist, and Tabori brings Cal alive in a way that is truly remarkable. While listening to the audiobook while walking the dog, I felt like Cal was walking beside me, arm in arm, telling me the endlessly fascinating story of his family and his life. The only reason that listening to the audiobook would make you disappointed is that you can’t copy down Eugenides’ brilliant prose.

Top Film Adaptation of 2011

A Single Man (2009)
based on A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

It was between this and The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the best film adaptation I reviewed this year, but while I dearly love The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it’s an awful adaptation of the book. To be fair, I can’t speak to the veracity of A Single Man, having not read the book, but this is the rare work of art that makes me actively enjoy stream of consciousness. Colin Firth is nothing short of revelatory as a man with nothing to live for, and the film is just beautiful to look at.

Top Ten Books of 2011

10. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Despite its slow first half, The Secret History blossoms into a tense, elegant, gripping, and dark piece of work once these Latin students finally commit their murder and things fall magnificently apart. It can be dated and there’s some tomfoolery with fake countries towards the end, but you’ll remember this one long after you finish it.

9. Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others is a story about magic—not actual magic, but the magic of books and the community they forge, as young, disabled Mor tries to find herself a community that appreciates fantasy and science fiction during the 1970s. Enjoyable for Mor’s diary entries and the glimpse into fandom circa the 1970s, this novel misses when Walton removes the ambiguity of the magic system. Still, a quite enjoyable read.

8. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Alternate history with a sacred courtesan masochist for its lead—it’s no wonder that the subject matter might turn off the less stout of heart. But the sex and sensuality is used to explore, well, sexual politics, especially the question of “If one is submissive sexually, is one a weak person?”. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; there’s geopolitical issues, Carey’s brilliant and powerful writing style, thrilling adventure, and, of course, the brilliant Phèdre. Magnificent.

7. Batman: Holy Terror by Alan Brennert and Norm Breyfogle

The first (or so) Elseworlds title is is also an interesting and thoughtful explorations into Batman’s psyche, positing the idea that Bruce Wayne is the cover identity for Batman by positing a world where Bruce is allowed to develop into a human being, rather than being arrested at the moment of his parents’ murder. It’s out of print now, but it’s definitely worth seeking out if you’re interested in Bats or just the psychological aspect of superheroics or, heck, alternate history.

6. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin blows me away with every new (to me) installment in A Song of Ice and Fire, but A Storm of Swords is where the supernatural element really kicks in, with a fantastic twist at the end. There’s also the hint that the ultimate conflict of the series is going to be much, much larger than the battle for the Iron Throne. It was thoroughly satisfying and I can’t wait to get to A Feast for Crows.

5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle vastly improves on his novel-length outings in his first short stories starring the detective. The atmosphere is urban Gothic, the mysteries are character-focused and engaging, and the boys themselves are endearingly bizarre (Holmes) and upstanding (Watson). This collection also includes “A Scandal in Bohemia”, the first and only appearance of the much beloved Irene Adler. It’s in the public domain, go read it.

4. The Lost City of Z by David Grann

I’ve been on a nonfiction kick recently, but the seeds of that started much earlier when I read The Lost City of Z last year. (Shush! If the review was posted in 2011, it’s eligible. It’s my blog, I’ll cry if I want to, etc, etc.) David Grann provides the fascinating story of Victorian explorer Percy Fawcett with structure and even closure, as he himself falls prey to the the lure of the Amazon and discovery. Very satisfying.

3. Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli

I can’t tell how well this book works for fannish folk, but I loved every minute of it, as the webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron leads us through both the creation of Harry Potter and the creation of the Harry Potter fandom. Fandom can bring out the best (and, let’s face it, worst—this is why we can’t have nice things, Supernatural fandom) in people, and it’s fantastic to see a fandom history by someone who lived it.

2. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home is part of the burgeoning medium of graphic nonfiction, and Bechdel shows she’s a master of the form in this magnificent memoir about family, her own identity as a lesbian, and her relationship with her deeply closeted father, whose death Bechdel believes is a suicide. It’s a truly unique and impressive piece of work, and I highly recommend it.

1. The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller

I cannot recommend this book enough. By examining her own relationship with The Chronicles of Narnia, Miller examines our relationship with fiction and the books we read in joyful, nimble, and accessible prose that’s rich with thought. Do you like stories? Reading? Existing? Then you should read The Magician’s Book. Miller is brilliant.

Well, it’s been a slow, semi-relaxing week. (I don’t function particularly well off of a schedule.) I’ve read Songs of Love and Death and Far From Xanadu, and I’m slowly chipping away at The History of White People. I think I can only get one more book under my belt before I have to leave for Ireland, so I’m thinking A Companion to Wolves. It’s shortish and wintry.

Tor.com is giving away three A Wrinkle in Time tote bags until Tuesday. Orbit Books is giving away five bundles of advanced review copies until January 12th. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) Small Beer Press offers several of their books as free downloads, including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

If you’ve got a top ten list, link me to it!

12 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: 2011 in Review

  1. Pingback: Booking Through Thursday: Best of 2011 « The Literary Omnivore

  2. I’m super-duper behind on my blog reading, but I just had to leave a late reply so’s I could say, “YES. THIS,” to, “Do you like stories? Reading? Existing? Then you should read The Magician’s Book.”

    I’ll also nod quite enthusiastically to all the others in your Top 10 that also appear on my own reading list, most particularly THE SECRET HISTORY and AMONG OTHERS.

    • And I’m super-duper behind on responding to comments. Thankfully, the Internet persists in a vague sense of the present. Reading this comment makes me want to reread The Magician’s Book, actually—but I haven’t got a copy! I must rectify this…

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