Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reading Envy's Best Books of 2011

I've compiled other best of 2011 lists earlier this month, and posted my reading statistics for the year, but I have yet to tell you what my favorites were.  That time is now.  I was going to delay until closer to midnight.  What if one of the three books I'm still in the middle of is a sleeper favorite?  I had to let it go.  Also, I may not finish them by then, and I might be busy!

Best Novel of 2011

I will start with my absolutely favorite of the year - The Dervish House by Ian McDonald.

I read this book when it was nominated (and a finalist) for this year's Hugo Award for best novel.  I had never read Ian McDonald before, and plan to go back and read more of his novels.  This was a combination of interesting setting (slightly future Turkey), nanotechnology, a mystery relating to a legend, art traders, a boy with an interesting disorder, terrorism... if it sounds complicated, it was, but written masterfully.  The language alone was enough to rank this book high.  And that isn't just within science fiction, this is across the board.

While I recommend this book to everyone, there have been some who haven't loved it as much as I did.  However, the very well-read science fiction readers on the Incomparable Podcast shared my view that this should have won the Hugo award, hands down.  And when let readers ask McDonald anything, he explained his writing process in answer to a question I asked that made me want to get my hands on everything else he's put his hand to.  He recently published his first YA novel, and that looks to be interesting too. 

I couldn't just pick one book.  I read 175 books this year, after all.  Allow me to pick favorites in a few more categories, just to cover all my bases.

Best Modern Novel of 2011

I'm hesitant to pick a novel I just finished this week, because I won't know until next year if it is truly sticking with me or is just the best book I read recently.  But because of the writing, the story, and the music elements, I'm going to pick Appassionata by Eva Hoffman.

Other books I might have picked, if I hadn't read the Hoffman - Mating by Norman Rush, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

Best Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Read of 2011

Most people might not read enough of this sub-genre of speculative fiction to have a favorite, but it made up 8% of my reading for the year!  The definite hands winner in this category for this year is a book that was published the year I was born (1978), and I just got to it while I was in bed with a terrible cold.  If you've read the book, you will understand the irony of that.  If you haven't read it, you must.  It is the best of its genre - The Stand by Stephen King.

Honorable mentions include Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Sleepless by Charlies Huston, Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, and The Passage by Justin Cronin.

Best Non-Fiction Read of 2011

Since I grouped all non-fiction together this year, it was hard to choose, but this book is dreaming fuel - Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky.

The other book I really enjoyed is Decoded by Jay-Z.

Best Short Stories of 2011

This was a tough call, because I read a lot of short story volumes this year, and enjoyed many of them, all for different reasons.  The volume that gets the prize because of how memorable it has proven to be - The Third Bear by Jeff Vandermeer.

Other recommended sets would be St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, and American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell.

Best Classic Novel of 2011

Since only one book actually qualifies this year, and because I was so damn proud of myself for finally getting through it, this one is an easy answer - Ulysses by James Joyce.

Best Fantasy Novel of 2011

I read so much more fantasy and science fiction than I have in previous years, so this category is impossible.  I enjoyed the Patrick Rothfuss novels, as well as the Tiffany Aching subset of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.  Recently I devoured The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and then there was Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.  I'd recommend them all equally.

Best Poetry of 2011

Phew, another tough one.  Just head over to my poetry shelf and read something!   

Best Audio Book of 2011

Thanks to an account on and the library's Overdrive offerings, I have listened to a lot more audio books this year.  The tie goes to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (narrated by the marvelous Jim Dale) and Skippy Dies by Paul Murray.  


  1. great books! here are mine:

  2. Finishing Ulysses is quite an accomplishment - congratulations!

  3. You just amaze me! 175 books--I would probably come in around 20-25 except I don't keep track, by title let alone pages!

  4. wow! 175. goodreads said i read 21. i trust them. going for 52 in 2012. i LOVE the tiffany aching series too, even though i could never get into the discworld series (and he's got DEATH). i may have to pad my 52 with kids/YA but i shall tackle it. thanx for this post.

  5. @robyn - 52 in 2012 is a great goal (although I'm surprised it isn't 50, hehe). I've never tried the rest of the Discworld series... I figure it will be there when I'm in that kind of mood.


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