Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top Ten Books I Read in 2011

Image: The Top Ten Tuesday badge. A spiral notebook is open to a lined page, on which there are doodles of a dog and a ladybug, and the words Top Ten Tuesday, all in black ink. A black pen sits on the paper near the text.
Gosh, it's been a long time since I've made one of these Top Ten Tuesday lists. Still, I figured that since everyone else is making a top ten list at this time of year, I might as well get in on the action. 2011 has been a good reading year for me. Since becoming an English major I've been introduced to a lot of books and authors that I wouldn't have otherwise picked up. The books I have listed here are my favorites from the past year. Click on the links to see my reviews.

My Top Ten Eleven Books of 2011

Image: The cover of The Four Quartets. The cover is entirely black except for the author's name and the title in yellow letters at the top of the cover and the publisher's name at the bottom. There are four wavy blue lines under the Q in Quartets.Favorite Poem: The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot: This is probably my favorite thing that I've read all year. Written at the end of his life, The Four Quartets is arguably Eliot's finest work. The poetry is virtuosic and breathtakingly beautiful. The use of symbolism and form are complex and masterful. This is a poem that is beautiful on the first reading but also rewards extended study and rereading. I cannot recommend this enough. My other favorites of his include The Waste Land and The Selected Prose. Hopefully you'll be hearing much more of my adventures with Eliot over the next semester.

Image: The cover of Mrs. Bridge. The cover is mostly white, with the title of the book and the author in black. At the bottom right is a painting of a woman sitting at a table with a bowl of fruit.
Favorite Novel: Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell: Mrs. Bridge is a novel that sneaks up on you. It may be about ordinary people, but it is really an extraordinary book. The characterization was so vivid that I felt like I knew Mrs. Bridge in real life. I never expected a novel about an aging housewife to hit home so much, but Connell's writing was so good that this ended up being one of my favorite books.

Favorite Non-Fiction: In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker: It isn't very often that I fall in love with a book of essays, but this one kept me up late turning the pages in awe. Walker is an excellent writer, and her ideas about race and gender are so spot on that they absolutely blew my mind. Easy to read, provocative, and incredibly smart, if you want a collection of essays to read, this is it.

Image: The cover of Bloodchild. The cover is composed of alternating black, yellow, and red blocks of color. The title is in large white text that goes from the bottom to the top of the cover, the word Blood on the left and Child on the right.
Favorite Short Story Collection: Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler: This collection of short stories is totally awesome. The titular story, Bloodchild, had me so shocked that I couldn't do anything at all after reading it. And then I read it again. Butler is a master at making believable worlds with incredibly minimal description. All the stories in this collection are gems, especially Bloodchild and Speech Sounds.

Favorite Play: No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre: I don't usually read plays, but my housemate Ned recommended these to me, and I am very glad that he did. Like his essays, these plays showcase Sartre's sharp wit and and keen observation of human nature. Unlike some of his prose writings, these plays are easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable. My favorite was The Flies, a completely original take on the story of Orestes and Electra.

Image: the cover of Tinkers. The cover is almost entirely white, and is a picture of a snowy landscape with some black trees and a very small silhouette of a person walking. The title and authors name are in black, and there is a gold sticker on the upper left-hand corner that reads "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize."
6. Tinkers by Paul Harding: This short little novel had more packed in its few pages than many authors can fit into a series. Filled with ecstatically vivid imagery of the harsh but beautiful Maine landscape, this book about time and family has some of the most lyrical prose I've ever read.

7. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates: Reading this book was quite an experience. The writing was incredibly clear and engaging and the characterization was excellent, but I hated one of the characters so much that I literally wanted him to die in a fire. I guess it's a sign of how good the writing is that I was able to get that mad at the characters! I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book, but I definitely appreciate the craft. Be on the lookout for  a review of this one soon.

Image: the cover of Stoner. The cover is a painting of a middle-aged man, thin, with brown hair and glasses, who has his hands in the pockets of his black overcoat and is looking down. The title and author are in a blue box in the middle of the cover.8. Stoner by John Williams: Stoner is a quiet novel focused on the inner life of a seemingly ordinary English professor. Through evocative writing and clear characterization, Williams made me care for Stoner and want the best for him. Though it may not be the most revolutionary or crafty novel I've ever read, it was an incredibly enjoyable and moving reading experience, and I would recommend it to anyone with a love of reading and learning.

8. Song of Myself by Walt Whitman: How did it take me so long to get to this poem? Well, no matter the reason, I am so glad that I finally picked it up this year. Walt Whitman is an interesting poet, with long expansive poems filled with both the joy of physical experience and an emphasis on the spiritual. I love Whitman for his overflowing joy, childlike exuberance, tenderness, and beautiful descriptions. There is definitely a reason that this poem is a classic of American literature.

Image: the cover of The Known World. The cover is an old sepia-toned picture of a horse-drawn carriage being pulled down a dirt road away from the viewer. Three black people are riding in the carriage, and one is turned back to look at the viewer. The title is in large black letters in the center, and on the left side is a gold sticker reading "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize."
10. The Known World by Edward P. Jones: This piece of historical fiction takes on an interesting subject, free blacks in the American South who owned slaves. From that position Jones weaves a tapestry of characters both black and white, slave and free, and the world they live in. All the characters are nuanced and real, each falling into some shade of gray between good and evil. With great characterization and a hint of magical realism, this expansive novel is something I'd recommend to lovers of historical fiction.

11. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: I have no idea why it took me so long to pick this book up. Once again, I have my housemate to thank for this recommendation. Steinbeck's prose glows with a sense of place, partially through the use of perfectly crafted dialogue. Filled with description, yet somehow never slow or boring, this tiny book packs more punch than most full sized novels. Again, I totally understand why this tiny book is considered a classic.

Over all, I'd say that 2011 was a great reading year. I read enough variety that I have favorites in every major form. Thanks to my classes, I've been exposed to a bunch of really memorable works of literature. I've read 52 books this year, which I think is a pretty good number. So what do you think of my list? Have you read any of these, and if so, did you like them? What was your favorite book of the year? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Yay! I'm happy you are back at TTT. I have read very few of your choices (Eliot and Whitman), so maybe I should add some of these novels to my list. I'm definitely interested in Tinkers, so I'm glad you liked it.

  2. To be honest, I'm not much of a Whitman fan, but I do completely agree with re: Eliot. - particularly the quartet you've chosen.

    I am knocked out by your highlighting of Butler's "Bloodchild" - again, a deep personal favorite. This is an excellent list, although my own would be different (and wouldn't this world be boring if it were not!! :)

  3. What a lovely varied list of books - I have added lots of them to my wishlist!

  4. I love the Whitman, truly a work you might get something different from every time you read it. Eliot always speaks to me, although I haven't deliberately read the four quartets and should. I have the Butler on my to-read list, probably because of your blog! I'm waiting to do my list until Dcember 31 in case I read something magnificent before then, but I'm excited!

  5. I got Of Mice & Men for Xmas and had no idea how slim it was! I'm looking forward to reading it and glad to hear it made your best-of list this year.