Favorite Reads of 2011 by Laura

Fiction

The Old Romantic by Louise Dean

This was one I wanted to read again the moment I finished it – indeed, as I was reading it, I wanted to read it again, if that makes any sense. It clips along at a galloping good pace, with excellent dialogue, oddball yet believable characters, and some of the funniest scenes I’ve read related to family and class, ever. Good show!

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Such a warm, funny, lovely little story about the unusual circumstances behind how two people meet: via email, but not in the way you’d think.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

I love sweet little romantic comedies, a la Attachments, but there’s always room in my reading diet for the dark and insane, particularly when it’s literary and poetic. Erdrich does it better than anyone else.

The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

This is a deceptively simple tale about a family in Iowa over several decades. Thompson knows how to write a sentence, but better than that, she gets how relationships work (or don’t), and the deep stuff of being human. You know, your garden-variety literary genius.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Moriarty’s high concept – woman bumps her head, wakes up thinking it’s ten years earlier – could have been gimmicky, but she gives it unexpected depth and feeling along with a large amount of humor.

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard

I honestly can’t express how perfectly Beard captures being a sensitive young woman – in this case, in the 1970s, somewhere in Ohio. Beautiful, tender, sad, true.

You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

Another dark, rich, beautifully written novel that doesn’t answer the narrative questions I want it to… but then makes me okay with that because it inspires so many other, existential and certainly more interesting questions.

Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Ah, geez. I did that weird girl thing of clutching this novel to my chest and sort of hugging it after I’d finished the last page. In other words, I just loved it and its happy, sad, bitter, wonderful tale of love and families and letting go in order to get to something better.

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

You know how The Time Traveler’s Wife was the perfect book for librarians to read? Well, it has major competition now. Funny, madcap, thoughtful, and weird.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Compulsively readable. Like, wake up at 2 a.m. and wonder about the characters so you end up going into the living room and reading a chapter kind of compulsively readable. I’m so mad at myself for racing through this like a madwoman, because there is so much to savor, but darn it! all I wanted to do was read it.

Honorable mentions:

Sunset Park by Paul Auster; The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman; The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart; Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout; The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown; I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson; Three Stages of Amazement by Carol Edgarian; State of Wonder by Ann Patchett; Faithful Place by Tana French; The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman

Nonfiction

Moonwalking with Einstein : the art and science of remembering everything by Joshua Foer

Foer won the U.S. Memory Championship, and this is his tale of that, but also some very interesting forays into psychology and philosophy.

Big Girls Don’t Cry : The Election that Changed Everything for American Women by Rebecca Traister

A fascinating look into the 2008 election, from an unrepentant feminist (yay!).

Reality Bites Back : the troubling truth about guilty pleasure TV by Jennifer Pozner

I’ve watched my share of reality TV, but this book explains why it’s so very toxic to our culture – it reinforces ugly stereotypes and encourages some really icky values. Despite this lecture-y sounding premise, it’s also just a great read.

Girls Like Us : fighting for a world where girls are not for sale by Rachel Lloyd

Both a story about how Lloyd escaped “the life” to help other girls get off the street, and a compassionate, clear-eyed call to arms to end commercial sexual exploitation.

Love Wins : a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived by Rob Bell

Bell posits that God is bigger than hell, and that the fundamentalists who want to make Him a mean-spirited miser solely interested in counting sins miss the whole point of, well, everything.

Proust and the Squid : the story and science of the reading brain by Maryanne Wolf

Reading is not something we should really be able to do. It’s incredibly difficult, and our brains have only adapted to do it, in evolutionary terms, about a nanosecond ago. Still, we do, and the hows and whys are beautifully described and explored by a leading researcher in reading and psychology.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Hilarious and true. I read it in book form, and then listened to it again on CD, which was even better.

Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead by Neil Strauss

A collection of celebrity interviews by a writer more interested in the humanity of his subjects than what kind of mouthwash they use.

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Now I know everything about how Hawaii came to be. Well, Vowell made me think I did, after this rich, weird, and funny (doesn’t it go without saying that it’s funny?) history.

Howard’s End Is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Poetic essays about books and reading, tied together with the author’s challenge to herself to only read books in her house. Although many of the (English) authors she writes about are not ones I’m familiar with, her passion for reading is familiar and exciting.

Honorable mentions: Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher; Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi; Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

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