Favorites of 2011: Fiction

56 of the books I read in 2011 were fiction. Naturally, I had a much harder time choosing my favorites this year. After some tough decisions, here’s what I came up with. The first three are my absolute favorites of the year. I didn’t rank the rest; everything after the jump is listed in alphabetical order by author, but I adored them all.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (2002 ed.)

Originally published in 1952, East of Eden is a modern retelling of the story of Cain and Abel. Set in California, the book follows two generations of the Trask family and the devious woman that binds them together. Everything about the book is breathtaking. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. In my entire life.

Book cover: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel BarberyThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2008)

Revolving around the tenants of 7 rue de Grenelle, Hedgehog is filled with excellent writing and a memorable roster of characters that includes an underestimated concierge and a suicidal twelve-year-old. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to move into that building. This book was so satisfying that I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it again many times in the future.

Book cover: Lamb by Bonnie NadzamLamb by Bonnie Nadzam (2011)

This book is about a middle-aged man and an underage girl that he coerces into going on a cross-country road trip; it’s definitely one of the darker books I read this year. I still get unsettled if I start dwelling on Lamb for too long, but I think that speaks to the power of Nadzam’s writing. Read my review here.

Book cover: 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter (2011)

A small-town Southern girl leaves behind her painful past and reinvents herself as a successful lounge singer in LA. She learns the hard way — John Hughes-style — that you can’t run away from your problems. If only all chick lit were this well-written. Also: why can’t all book covers be this awesome? Read my review here.

Book cover: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and ClayThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)

Beginning in 1939, Samuel Klayman and his cousin Josef Kavalier make a name for themselves in the nascent comic book industry. Joe is new to the U.S. and has narrowly escaped Hitler’s occupation of Prague; his primary focus is to get his family to safety. This book won its Pulitzer for a reason.

Book cover: Galore by Michael CrummeyGalore by Michael Crummey (2011)

Reading this book was like being transported to a different planet. Close enough: readers are transported back in time to cold, isolated regions of Newfoundland. Add in a dash of folklore and some magical realism, and you are left with a strange and unique piece of literary fiction. Read my review here.

Book cover: The Final Testament of the Holy Bible by James FreyThe Final Testament of the Holy Bible by James Frey (2011)

Jesus has returned for the second coming, but he’s a grungy dude who wastes his money on video games and strippers. He spreads his gospel in non-traditional — some might say blasphemous — ways, and regards the Bible as an outdated book of stories. The book is fabulous. Read my review here.

Book cover: Say Her Name by Francisco GoldmanSay Her Name by Francisco Goldman (2011)

A fictionalized account of real-life events, Say Her Name is Goldman’s tribute to his vibrant young wife, Aura; she died in a tragic accident just before their second wedding anniversary. The book had some of the most gorgeous writing I encountered all year. Keep a box of tissues nearby.  Read my review here.

Book cover: Faith by Jennifer HaighFaith by Jennifer Haigh (2011)

Set in Boston around the time when news of the Catholic church scandals first broke, Faith is about a priest who is accused of molesting a young boy; his family is left trying to cope with the fallout. Devastating, and I’m now on a mission to read everything Haigh has ever written. Read my review here.

Book cover: What You See in the Dark by Manuel MunozWhat You See in the Dark by Manuel Muñoz (2011)

This book kind of, sort of, but not really revolves around a real-life murder that took place in Bakersfield, CA right around the time that Hitchcock & Co. was in town to film Psycho. If you like noir, Hitchcock, film history, or literary fiction (or any combination of the above), you might need to pick this one up. Read my review here.

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8 comments

  1. Marie

    Great list. East of Eden is one of my all time favorites- I think it should be required reading for everyone. You’ve sold me on Lamb, which has been in my TBR for a while now!

  2. Ellen Rhudy

    So many books on here that I’ve been thinking of reading – I’m planning to read Lamb and Elegance of the Hedgehog this year, for sure. I wasn’t in love with another Jennifer Haigh book I read, but I’ve seen so many positive comments on Faith that I’ll have to give her another try. I hope you had a great New Year’s and that your 2012 is starting well!

  3. Alison

    East of Eden is one of only a couple of Steinbeck’s I haven’t read, and I should definitely do so.

    I read a review of Faith and it sort of put me off, the subject matter and all that, but your review has me a bit intrigued. I think I was concerned that there might be tones of like…apologism or something? Which, ick.

  4. Jennifer Ravey

    Yea! East of Eden is one of my very favorites. A lot of yours were a lot of my tops, too. I will say, though, I just cannot get into The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but everyone I know has loved it. Lamb has also been on my shelves a while. I need to remedy that. Thanks for sharing your tops!

  5. Vasilly

    East of Eden is one of my favorite books of all-time. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. 32 Candles is such an awesome book. I can’t wait to read Carter’s next work. Happy New Year!

  6. Heather

    I need to give East of Eden another try apparently! And The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one of the best books ever! I need to reread it. And I’m too embarrassed to say how long I’ve had The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I hope I can get to it this year! Happy New Year!

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