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What was the best book you read in 2011?
Share your favorite titles and authors in a comment and I'll compile a list of the top vote-getters.
Check back on the Books, Movies & More page after the beginning of the year to see the top titles.
Julie Magnus is the branch manager of the Corte Madera and Marin City Libraries.
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The little known story of the massive migration of rural, post civil war African-Americans from the oppressive South ruled by the Jim Crow Laws, roughly between 1917 to 1970.. Wilkerson makes this weighty theme very personal and intimate by telling the story of just a handful of people that gave up everything (which wasn’t much) to make their journey and how it changed their lives, for better or worse. A very sad but uplifting story of people that were determined to survive.
"State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto, is on my best-read list for this year. Patchett is back with a novel about a Minnesota researcher who is sent to the Amazon to learn more details about the death of a lab colleague and to check up on the work of another colleague. It's an engaging mystery enriched with Patchett's gift for drawing characters, creating a srong sense of setting and raising philosophical questions. It's worth reading just for the passage in which the narrator describes what she is seeing as she enters and moves deeper into the Amazon jungle by boat.
The best book I read this year was "A House with No Roof" by Rebecca Wilson of Fairfax, California. At the age of five, the author moved with her mother and grown siblings to Bolinas after her father, a San Francisco labor leader, was assassinated. Wilson's mother, who was dependent for income on Wilson's drug-dealing older brother, wasn't a stable guardian and Wilson grew up buffeted by violence and neglect. Nevertheless, because she was extraordinarily good at finding nurturing adults to support her spirit and to guide her, she became an apparently mentally healthy human being with a great zest for living. "A House with No Roof" is a harrowing but ultimately life-affirming story.
BETTER by Atul Gawande. Fascinating report of how attitude, hard work, observation and creativity can raise the standard of performance in any area of medicine. Money has little to do with improving performance.
Craig Thompson's Habibi was not just the best graphic novel I read this year (which had a lot of excellence to choose from*) but one of the best novels period. It's brilliant blend of images of words tells a profound love story that shows the cultural divides that can splinter a family, Set in a magnificently realized version of the Middle East, it surpasses even Thompson's Blankets in its depth.
*Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol, and Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton come to mind.
Volume I of Mark Twain's autobiography. Not only do we get details of the author's life in his own words, there is a wealth of historical detail about other notables with whom Twain had contact. The most shocking for me was the almost casual way in which deaths of children from now-preventable diseases were reported. One can look back in time with a bit of nostalgia perhaps, but life was tough. As you would expect, there is a lot of very funny stuff in this book, too. Twain's recollection of his time in an Italian villa and the peculiarities of his landlady are priceless. The description of his preparations for a duel are way funny.
La Seduction : how the French play the game of life, the clearest account to date of how to understand Parisians, reads like a literary thriller/ how-to-manual. Elaine Sciolino, longtime Paris bureau chief ofThe New York Times, views "seduction" as the philosophical underpinning to all aspects of French life -- and it works. Finally, a way to comprehend their seemingly incomprehensible contradictions and beat them at their own game! Loved it.
This book was actually published in the mid-1990s but due to the excellent HBO series of the same name, George R. R. Martin's series has seen a new flock of fans, including me. Fantasy is not usually what I read but I found this tale completely engrossing and believable. Every chapter ends with an unanswered question. Martin has no compunction about killing off main characters, nor does he divide them into good guys and bad guys. I found my feelings about people changing over the course of a book, something rather rare for me.
This is the first of a planned 7 book series, with installments 1-5 already published. I am dismayed to think that I may have to wait another several years for Book 6 of this series, much less its conclusion.
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons. Lovely story about a family moving to England after WW2. The father/husband wants to be a "proprer Englishman". He makes a list to do just that and meets many lovely, local, quirky characters to help achieve his goal. Sweetly bittersweet story.
Has to be Sex at Dawn : the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. A must read for all, debunks myth, science and history to reveal startling truths about us all.
Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. A personal look at what happens when fear and stereotyping replace logic and compassion. This heartfelt biography is a must read for anyone interested in preserving civil liberties at home.
Bossypants was my favorite 2011 read. Tina Fey is just as funny on the page as the stage and her book has gotten me through severe laughter deprivation caused by the delayed launch of new 30 Rock episodes. Bossypants is a rollicking good read that I highly recommend if you enjoy wit, warmth, smiles, comedic insights, insightful comedy and laughter between the covers. Unfortunately, this book also wins worst cover of 2011. Really, Tina, listen to you father next time! Finally, thank you for sharing who is really in charge of cruise ship lifeboats, I have a sinking feeling that will come in handy someday.
My daughter and I decided that it HAS to be photoshopped - just one of the things she discusses hilariously in her book. I wouldn't be surprised if those are Alec Baldwin's arms!
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This tells the story of what happens when a retired major in a small Englisn village falls in love with a local Pakistani shopkeeper. It's a charming combination of domestic comedy, late-life romance, and social commentary.
This excellent, compelling non-fiction book examines Berlin in 1933-1934, when Ambassador Dodd and his family moved there to take up his post. It describes the atmosphere in Germany and the U.S. during the rise of Hitler & the Nazis, shedding light on how it came about . Daughter Martha Dodd is a focal point: like many young people, she flirted with Nazi men and with Nazism but finally saw the light and became a Soviet spy.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton was the best book that I read this year. Wharton tells the story of thwarted lovers
living in the sheltered atmosphere of high society in 1870's New York City. The language is beautiful, the story engrossing,
and the characters fascinating. Wharton grew up in this society and was a keen observer.
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