Friday, 30 December 2011

The best eleven of '11: books

First of all, it's important to note that only a few of these books were actually published in 2011.  I almost never read recent releases (unless it's trashy crime fiction: I'm always first in the library reservation queue when a new Tess Gerritsen or Ian Rankin is released), tending to buy most of my books from secondhand bookshops or charity shops.  But they are all books that I read, and loved, for the first time this year (in no particular order)...


Caitlin Moran How To Be A Woman
One book that actually was published this year and has won all sorts of well-deserved plaudits.  When I was a teenager I wanted to be Moran, who was a writer for Melody Maker by the age of 16 and presented Channel 4 yoof show, Naked City in all her Doc Martened-, red hair dyed-, size sixteen-glory.  I loved her book - which is part memoir, part feminist polemic - and still can't quite get over the fact that it won the Galaxy prize for best book of 2011 earlier this week.  Even if this book was rubbish (which it's not: it's funny and moving and incredibly clever), I'm excited that a book about feminism is at the front of WH Smiths.

Tom Hodgkinson How To Be Free
How often can one say of a book, truthfully, 'it changed my life'?  But this really did, in a hundred tiny ways: subverting certain long-held ideas about work and life, and altering my shopping habits to name just two changes.

Anne Fadiman Ex Libris: Confessions Of A Common Reader
I bought this in a dusty secondhand bookshop on a sweltering summer's day in Seattle and read it in one sitting on a freezing night in Iceland, driving my travelling companion mad as I whooped with laughter at the essays about books and reading.  There is nothing quite like coming across someone who is as barmy about books as you are; who makes your weirder habits (stroking my books every so often being one of many) seem acceptable. 

Susan Hill Howards End Is On The Landing
I read this on a very book-themed week in Wales this May, visiting the Hay Festival with my mum and brother.  Subtitled A Year Of Reading From Home, this book is a wonderful journey through literature in the company of award-winning novelist Hill.

Claire Tomalin Jane Austen: A Life
Clearly, there is a link developing here in my non-fiction reading.  Books about books; books about reading; books about authors.  This biography of Austen was incredibly readable, tempting me to tackle Tomalin's 560+ page life of Dickens next year.

Dave Eggers Zeitoun
Eggers tells the story of Zeitoun - an immigrant, a businessman, a husband and father, a Muslim - in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  After Zeitoun risked his own safety to help people during the floods, he was mistakenly arrested and held as a terrorist.  Reading it this summer in New Orleans was a raw and painful experience.

I devour fiction, racing through two or three paperbacks a week, on average.  However, few of these have any lasting impact; perhaps because I consume them so quickly, perhaps because they tend towards the trashy.  If it features a vampire detective, a werewolf looking for love, or a time-travelling witch, I've probably read it.  However these are a few novels I've enjoyed this year, with nary a supernatural crime-fighter between them.

Stephen Chbosky The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
Deservedly compared to The Catcher In The Rye, this novel follows the wallflower of the title, Charlie, through his years of high school and is brilliant, funny, wise and true.  I recognised the teenage me in the main characters as they struggle to find their places in the world, helped only by Rocky Horror, The Smiths and each other.  The final twist in the plot hits like a slug to the guts.  Heartily recommended.

Armistead Maupin Mary Ann In Autumn
I adore all of the Tales of the City series, and enjoyed this latest episode all the more for having been in San Francisco this summer.

Steve Kluger My Most Excellent Year
I have a whole shelf dedicated to 'gay themed YA novels'.  This is a well-written but essentially fluffy novel about two best friends - one gay, one straight - and their quest for love over the course of a year. 

Jennifer Egan A Visit From The Goon Squad
Deserved winner of the Pulitzer Prize this year.

Kate Atkinson Started Early, Took My Dog
The latest title in Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series, strictly speaking this is genre fiction; a detective novel, yet it's so much more than the sum of it's parts.  Superbly plotted, fantastic characterisation, and with an ending that will leave you hungry for answers.


  1. They're making 'the perks of..' into a film soon i think. Not sure what it will be like!

  2. Yeah, I saw it was being filmed. Not sure how I feel about it - the book is so good I'm not convinced they can do it justice. Plus it has themes (SPOILER ALERT!) like abuse & teenage sexuality, which I can see Hollywood trying to water down.