Analyzing the ABBC: 2011 Literary Fiction, Pt. 2

Last week I began to analyze the most popular literary fiction titles of 2011 as compiled in the ABBC All-the-Best-Books Compilation. Today, I’ll finish the countdown, examining the top four titles.

In fourth place, with 30 mentions to date is Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. It’s the story of what happens when Tony Webster, a man in his sixties, is drawn back into the events of his school years and forced to confront failures in his character through the fog of forty years of memory. His reaction to a girlfriend who took up with a childhood friend may have contributed to tragic events long ago, and a bequest and an old diary force him to re-evaluate his life experience. Barnes, who’s had to face his own mortality in recent years, writes with real empathy about the challenges of examining one’s own history and confronting the sum of one’s character in a later period of life.

Chad Harbach’s debut, The Art of Fielding, has the third spot with 35 mentions to date (and these last three books have received more mentions than books in any other genre or in nonfiction as well). In lieu of my description, I’ll point you to Misha’s post about her personal favorite of 2011. It’s a book with a sports background that will both please baseball fans and reward those who don’t care at all about the game, a quick reading book with several great characters that has epic things to say about life and thus makes a superb book group choice.

The second most-mentioned book of 2011 is The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht, which has 40 mentions so far. Obreht is another debut author, and I’ll send you back to Ted’s fine July post about this tale of a doctor who goes searching for answers in the past after the death of the grandfather who has inspired her occupational choice and her life. Only 26, Obreht is certainly a writer from whom great things will now be expected.

And at the top of the pile for 2011 is Jeffrey Eugenides. I’ve found 42 best-book-of-the-year mentions for The Marriage Plot to date. His Middlesex has been a book group favorite since its publication back in 2002, and Eugenides made readers wait a good long time before he gave them his next novel. Apparently, they were willing to wait. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be absorbed there by a book culture that has become more commodified than ever before and usually emphasizes authors who publish at the rate of a book a year or faster.

The Marriage Plot is about a young woman who majors in English at Brown and tries to reconcile relationships in the novels of Austen with that of contemporary relationships, particularly her own with two young men, one a fan of semiotics and the other a Christian mystic. The literary philosophy piled into this book’s relatively simple plot line seems to divide reader reaction strongly, but then every book that receives this much positive press–each title in this list, certainly–also becomes subject to a fair amount of backlash. We don’t have to decide such controversies here: Take it to your book groups and debate these titles yourselves!

I hope you’ll visit my other blogging home, Blogging for a Good Book, and download the full ABBC spreadsheets from this year and those past. They are great tools for finding titles likely to generate successful book group meetings, regardless of your group’s preferences in style or subject matter.

 

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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