Favourite books of 2011

This is a bit of a departure from the premise of this blog but I’ve been looking back on 2011 trying to decide which were my favourite books. I never used to think about stuff like this but then one year my work totally sprung it on me that we were each going to pick out some favourite books and create a shop top 10 for the year. I was completely lost and so ever since then I’ve been making notes of my favourite new books throughout the year so I would actually have something to say when the time came. Needless to say, it’s never happened again. But now I have a platform to unleash my recommendations on an unsuspecting public! Muahahahahahahah!

Note: these aren’t ranked or anything, I can never decide which one I like SUPER best, and just when I think I have decided, I change my mind. So in no particular order:

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is a novel comprised of interlinking short stories, each from a different narrator. They’re linked by Benny and Sasha, record label executives and some of the stories are from them, others are from people close to them and others are by people so distant that it takes you a while to figure out how they’re connected. The sotry hops from their 70s punk rock beginnings through to the present and then stretches into the future. All this creates a sweeping, messy, witty picture of time, music, human fallibility and ultimately (for me) hope. The power point chapter is beautiful. Read it to find out what that means. Or read it because of the cool hipster title. Or read it because it won the 2011 Tournament of Books. But definitely read it!

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides has POLARISED the small circle of people I know who have read it. I adored it. I gave it to my brother who thought it was average but because of what he calls my ‘irrational love’ for it has set out to DESTROY it. Through blogging and recommendations and general insulting, not through actual destruction. I want to stress again that neither I nor anyone in my family would physically harm a book. In fact if anything my brother is even more pedantic than me and doesn’t like it when I read his books because I hold them open too widely. YEAH. Anyway I was heartened again when the cafe owner next to my bookshop told me how much she loved it and it was for the same reasons that I do. The Marriage Plot follows three students who have just finished their university degrees and are trying to find their place in the world. Leonard is a crazy smart, crazy charismatic biology student struggling with mental illness and self-medication. Mitchell is a gifted theology student who isn’t sure what he believes in. Madeleine is a literature major who has a great paper on ‘The Marriage Plot’ in Austen and Elliot but isn’t sure what she’s going to do with herself in the real world (overidentify much?). Apart from being a modern take and at the same time a subtle mocking of the traditional marriage plot story, I loved this book because Eugenides made me love his characters, even the annoying ones. I felt like he really captured the melodrama that is college/university life (ummm, my life really) but not condescendingly. He writes so simply and yet elegantly that you’re drawn along and never want to put the book down.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a novel about a group of people coming together and breaking apart around a baseball team. There’s Henry, the preternaturally talented yet unassuming short stop, Mike the captain, the leader of men who wants too much more, Owen, the least likely athlete ever, Dean Affenlight, the eternal bachelor with a new interest on the field, his daughter Pella who escapes to his university following a failed marriage. Now let me tell you I hate sports. All sports. I hate sport a lot. It would take up way too much of my reviewing room to tell you how much I hate sport, and I’ve already wasted some room on my petty feud with my brother. So when I tell you that this book is about baseball, not just baseball as a metaphor but baseball drills, practise and games, take me seriously when I say it is such a good book about baseball that I didn’t want to ever stop reading it, even the baseball parts. So whether you like sport or not, you should definitely read The Art of Fielding for its beautiful writing and its unlikely yet earnest friendships that make you believe we all might just be ok.

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