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My 2011 Top Ten Reads

2011 was a good year for reading. It felt as though many good books were published, but personally I just felt as though I enjoyed more books this year than in years past. On occasion, when assembling a “best” list I am struck with how few books I unequivocably loved. But this year was different and I am so grateful for it.

I am also grateful for the proliferation of lists every year. Each year it gives me more ideas of new authors or books to try, so of which I get to in the following year and others that trail me, perhaps to be read many years down the line. But follow me they do, especially thanks to Neil’s ingenius collation of the major lists and awards every year.

My library colleagues also share our personal lists with one another and this year, with the advent of a social catalog, are trying to encourage other readers to do the same. But there is something so revealing and wonderful about a list created by the people you know, who share their reading trajectories with you from year to year. I intend to ask my book group members to create and share their own top ten lists this year.

Here, then, is my list. The list is ranked roughly in order of how much I enjoyed reading these 10 books. Only half of the books on my list were published in 2011, as I feel it’s more about what you discovered and enjoyed in a given year rather than simply what was published that year. I certainly missed reading some potentially great 2011 books, and I am hoping you will tell me about those and others.

1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: A wonderfully satisfying novel filled with richly realized characters and a perfect ending. A stuning debut that I did not want to end.

2. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton: I would have included her novel, The Distant Hours, as well but didn’t as they are quite similiar in theme and structure, really. Morton’s Gothic family sagas are literary confections–delightfully fun to read with atmosphere that is pea soup thick.

3. & 4. The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss: I couldn’t wait to read the new George R. R. Martin novel, but was most enthralled by this new fantasy writer who has shown all the maturity and storytelling chops of the greats. These first two books in the Kingkiller Chronicles” are fantasy at their very best.

5. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: While I was initially disappointed because Eugenides’ third novel was not, after all, as ambitious or as layered as Middlesex, this story of three college students in the early 1980s got under my skin and stayed there.

6. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: When I read this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in stories for a book group discussion, I was kicking myself the whole way for not reading it earlier.

7. Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan: Fast becoming one of my favorite writers, O’Nan’s exploration of a widow’s interior life is compassionate, poignant and bittersweet.

8. Gateway by Frederik Pohl: This science fiction classic provides a lot of food for thought wrapped in a gripping story of space exploration, survival and how the choices we make may haunt us.

9. Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden: This quiet novel about a playwright recounting memories and relationships over the course of a day had a hidden undertow that kept pulling me in; I didn’t expect to be so captivated by the nuanced reminiscences within or to find a narrator who so skillfully deceives herself.

10. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones: The voices of two sisters, especially the one who knows their father is a bigamist and that she is the secret daughter, are so vividly drawn in this surprising look into how children bear the cost of their parent’s betrayals.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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