Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top Ten of 2011: Edgy Does It.

What a fine year in reading.  So many potential "bests".  For this blog hop, I'll limit myself to the requisite ten, but I hope you'll take a gander at my "Books, Ratings, Reviews" page tabbed above to sample the many additional worthy tomes that didn't quite fit today.

That said, I would recommend each and every one of these books to readers who enjoy the skillful use of language to illuminate thought-provoking content. The links below are (except when otherwise noted) to my longer review posts for the books.

A word to the wise reader: Many of these books shake us out of our everyday thinkin,g in part through the use of some decidedly edgy content (sex, violence), so I would not necessarily recommend them for all readers.  Write to me in the comments if you're considering some of these reads and would like additional background on them - I'd be happy to elaborate.

Do you agree with my choices below?  Of those on my list, which would you champion too?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Greene and David Levithan.  Certainly the best young adult novel I read this year, this also boasts two protagonists, each voiced by one of today's top Y.A. novelists.  Themes: love, tolerance, identity.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. Reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe in Hamid's use of an unreliable narrator plus elements of mystery to keep us hooked from cover to cover in this novel of globalization, terrorism, the lure of the dream of America, and the tyranny of the dollar.  Bonus:  The title reveals our own prejudices or preconceptions as it doesn't refer to what you'd expect...

My Tender Matador by Pedro Lemebel.  I've never read prose like this:  luminous, dreamy, sensuous, elegiac.  And the content's anything but predictable.  Another multi-voiced novel: an aging and delicate one-time drag queen, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile and his malcontent wife.  Definitely not for the prude, but a reading experience and characters you'll never forget.  (I didn't review this novel here - I read it for my IRL book group - so I linked to Amazon so you can "look inside".)

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  Yes, it's long, but the characters in this classic set in the Napoleonic Wars become so intimately known that they feel like friends and neighbors to the reader, and one reads this chunkster with increasing emotional investment in the soap opera of their lives. Definitely worth your (considerable) time. (I didn't review this novel here - I read it for my IRL book group - so I linked to Amazon so you can "look inside".)

Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter. Standout all-American post WWI novel, set in Virginia when a returning soldier must escape with his young child when his wife dies giving birth and her despicable family members vow to take their son.  It's the literary debut of a lauded singer-songwriter, so the prose and imagery are as gorgeous as you'd expect too.

Nothing by Janne Teller. This young adult novel explores not only the lengths a small group of young people will go to to find meaning in their world (think Lord of the Flies themes, in a tranquil suburban/rural setting with escalating acts of surprising betrayal and violence), and then moves on to help us consider the commodification of meaning.  Yet it's all concrete, substantial, psychologically intriguing, and even darkly funny. 

And The Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman.  Perhaps the single uplifting tome in my list, Kalman's illustrations and quirky prose make this luminous recounting of her pilgrimages to historic American sites a joy from cover to cover.  Kalman's engaging voice with a unique perspective on life landed this one on my list.

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok. Simply gorgeous, this memoir of Bartok's childhood, which was dominated by the actions of her beautiful, artistic, but also mentally ill mother, seems to have set the standard this year.  Mira's a wonderful artist herself, and this book's popularity is well deserved, in my view, as she recounts the saving graces of day-to-day beauty with intensity and grace and offers a compassionate yet sometimes painfully honest perspective on her mother's illness and its ravaging repercussions.

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel. This semi-allegorical novel is Life of Pi author Martel's allegory about the Holocaust, with nods to the tragicomic worldview of Beckett.  For me, a reader reasonably fluent in literature of the Holocaust, it packed an emotional and intellectual wallop well worth experiencing. 

Off to find the best book finds of the year from the other bloggers at The Broke and The Bookish.

With gratitude for a year of plenty, at least as far as books were concerned,


Just a Lil Lost said...

Oh wow, you tackled War and Peace? Bravo! :)

I won a signed copy of Bright's Passage a little while ago.. will have to read it soon! :)

Michele | Top 10

Lukey Here said...

I too enjoy books that push the boundaries or make my wheels seriously spin. Two that I really enjoyed from last year are:
The Submission by Amy Waldman
Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

If you haven't read them yet, you should check them out.

Thanks for the great reviews.


LBC said...

I haven't made my list yet, but when I do, I'm sure that Will Grayson, Will Grayson and And the Pursuit of Happiness will be on my list. They were two of my favorite books of the year.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

That's a pretty fabulous list, Laurie. I don't have any in common with you this year (which somehow seems odd to me), but some of these titles I read last year or else they might have qualified (Mira Bartok & Yann Martel, for example).

Laurie said...

M - It helped to have the support of both my book group and a read along here as well!
L - I usually enjoy Russell Banks, so I'll put that one on my tbr list: thanks!
Laura & Emily - off to visit your lists...

Bev Hankins said...

Hats off to you for reading War & Peace! It's on my long TBR list...but I keep putting it off.

You asked which book of my 5 star books I would recommend....given what you said you like, I'd say Harlan Ellison's Shatterday. Hope you can find it!

Anonymous said...

First off, thank goodness! I've been driving myself crazy trying to remember where I first heard about Deerskin, and I just saw your post about it listed under the "related articles" section of this post. It was a fantastic read, and I'm glad I've re-discovered where the idea to read it came from! :)

I think I've already said this in a comment to one of your other posts, but I'm still so on the fence about The Last Werewolf. It was so well written and I loved the characters, but it felt just a bit too gratuitous at several points. I'm really looking forward to your review.

Laurie said...

Thanks, Bev: It's now on my list for later this year when it's actually released.
CPC: Glad that you found Deerskin to your liking, and I do see your point about the gratuitous aspects of TLW. For me, the positive features you mentioned outweighed the negative by a considerable margin, but then I'm particularly drawn to nuanced, witty narrators and psychological/philosophical musings...

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