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.
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.
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.
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.
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!