My Favourite Books of 2011

Over the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed reading all the end of year summaries online, but few ‘best of 2011’ lists contain any of my favourites. Is this because I’ve read more obscure books or because I have an odd taste in fiction?! I’ll leave that for you to decide, but I hope you find some interesting reads amongst my favourites of the year.

The History of History – Ida Hattemer-Higgins

Interesting facts about Berlin, the issue of suicide during WWII and buildings that turn to flesh combine to produce a fascinating book that pushes the boundaries of novel writing. I’m a little sad that hardly anyone has even heard of my favourite book of the year. Hopefully I’ll be able to persuade a few people to give it a try.

You Deserve Nothing

You Deserve Nothing – Alexander Maksik

A book that deals with many moral issues within a school. It controversially may be based on real events, but I think this only adds to the intrigue. Compelling and thought-provoking – I highly recommend it.

The Afterparty

The Afterparty – Leo Benedictus

This is the ultimate in meta-fiction. The structure is phenomenally clever and the plot is entertaining. It divides opinion, but I think it is worth the gamble as if you’re one of those who loves this insight into celebrity culture it may well become a favourite.

The Nobodies Album – Carolyn Parkhurst

An author realises that her outlook on life has changed with age and so she decides to rewrite the endings to her previously published novels. This combines with a murder mystery to create an intelligent, but compelling read.

Anatomy of a Disappearance

Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar

Simply, but beautifully written this literary novel contains an amazing number of different issues in a small number of pages. I’m sad that it was overlooked for all the literary prizes this year.

The Report

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

Do we need to blame someone whenever a tragic accident occurs? This book is a moving account of the Bethnal Green Tube disaster and the public’s need to hold someone accountable.

The Book I’ve Recommended to the Most People

How I Became A Famous Novelist – Steve Hely 

This satire of the publishing industry should be read by everyone with an interest in the subject. Even those who don’t have an insider knowledge will find this book very amusing.

The Best Premise

What would happen if you could see pain?

The Illumination

The Illumination – Kevin Brockmeier



Did you enjoy any of these books?
Have I persuaded you to try any of them?

Come back later in the week to see my lists of:

  • The most important books released in 2011
  • My favourite books released in previous years










23 replies on “My Favourite Books of 2011”

Andi, The Illumination contains a lot of fantastic ideas – just a shame they weren’t wrapped up in a more compelling narrative 🙁 I’m sure you’ll find a lot to enjoy in it despite the problems.

I’ve only read The Nobodies Album, and while I think it was a good read, it didn’t make it anywhere near my top 10 for this year. Maybe you saw something in this that I didn’t. I keep thinking of this as chick-lit moving into something more complicated (chick-lit tends to be rather easy going). Maybe because I expected it to be chick-lit before I started.

But I loved the idea of re-writing books and the way the book was built-up was very clever.

How I Became a Famous Novelist is a book I’d love to read.

Judith, I didn’t go into The Nobodies Album thinking it would be chick-lit, but I can see that a few aspects of the book could be seen that way. I think it is far more complicated than that though. Yes – it contains a few issues that could be found in the average chick-lit book, but it also contained a depth far beyond that. I thought the re-writing of the endings was very clever. I was entertained throughout and thought about it for a very long time. I’m not sure you missed anything, but we do have a slightly different taste in books 🙂

I have only read The Report and thought it was excellent.

You read a wide range of books and it always makes me go and look out for more varied books from reading your blog.

Jo, I haven’t seen a bad review for The Report yet – such a shame that more people haven’t discovered it yet.

I’m pleased I’ve contributed to your more varied reading choices. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

I really enjoyed Anatomy of a Disappearance, but didn’t put it on my 2011 best of list.
I still have A History of History and The Afterparty on my list of books to get to in 2012 too.

Graham, I admit that I nearly removed Anatomy of a Disappearance from this list and added it to my ‘Most Important Books’ list but in the end I left it here. It is easy to forget these simply written books and how difficult it is to write something that stripped down. I really appreciate this type of thing, but can see why others might not get as excited about it :-). I hope that you enjoy the other books in 2012.

I haven’t read any of these and only heard of one: The Nobodies Album. I haven’t checked yet to see if these have been released in the US yet (sometimes you read books before we see them here!!). I always am tempted by the books you love and recommend, Jackie – so I’ll be checking these out! Thanks for the heads up 🙂

Wendy, I think that all these books (with the exception of The Afterparty?) are available in the US, but it is interesting that different books are promoted in each country. I haven’t heard of most of the books you mention, but a quick check reveals most are released over here – good job we have each other to point out fantastic books we’d otherwise miss 🙂

I haven’t compiled my list yet, but I’ll have The Nobodies Album on mine as well. I have History of History, How I Became a Famous Novelist, You Deserve Nothing, and The Anatomy of a Disappearance on my list to read in 2012, all because of your reviews!

Priscilla, I didn’t realise I’d added so many books to your TBR pile. I really hope that you enjoy them all as much as I did and I look forward to seeing what makes your list.

I haven’t read any of these books, but I do own The Nobodies Album. I read The Dogs of Babel by her and enjoyed it. That was a few years ago now.

On an entirely different note, how did I miss your review of The History of History. That sounds right up my alley!

Kailana, I haven’t read The Dogs of Babel, but all Parkhurst books are now on my wishlist. I’m looking forward to trying them.

I hope you enjoy The History of History. 🙂

The only one of these I read was The Nobodies Album, which I totally LOVED. And I think you did get my attention with The History of History, but for some reason I ran away. Was it a huge chunkster? That would probably be the only thing that would scare me off. That, or if it weren’t available here. I’m going to chase it down. It has my name on it.

Sandy, The History of History isn’t a chunkster, but it was expensive and perhaps not available at your library? Or perhaps you got hold of a copy and gave up? It is quite complicated and takes a bit of effort to get into it? Either way I hope you have more success if you try to give it a second chance.

I read the Steve Hely books last year or it would be on my list for this year. It was soooo funny! I just loved it to piece. I think all readers should read it!

And I reallly enjoyed The Nobodies Album too — but I don’t think it will make my best of list.

Jenners, I can’t think of many readers who wouldn’t enjoy the Hely book to some extent – it deserves to be much more well known. I look forward to seeing which books make your list.

Though I should obviously wait for the list itself to be published, I have to admit that I’m curious as to what you would define an “important” book. Would these be books that were published to fanfare and trumpets, or books that you think carry with them a lot of weight, such that even if they are not your favorites they are nonetheless well worth reading?

Biblibio, I think of important books as those which weren’t my favourites, but which include important information/insight. They will probably endure for generations, but you’ll probably get a better idea when you see which books I include.

I’m really enjoying all your end of year posts. You have a very interesting range of favourites for this year – I’m drawn to The History of History and The Afterparty and look forward to checking them out in 2012. Looking forward to the rest of your posts in the coming days!

Liz, Thank you for the kind words. The Afterparty and The History of History are very different books so I’ll be interested to see which you enjoy the most.

Of those on your list I’ve only read ‘You Deserve Nothing’ which would definitely be on my ‘best of 2011’ list too (I don’t blog so it’s a theoretical list!). I too am curious that none of this list are five star reads – have no books you’ve read this year reached that standard for you?
The one from your list that you’re tempting me with is the Hisham Matar. I confess I was lukewarm about his first novel – nothing wrong with it, I just found it a bit forgettable – so haven’t bothered with the new one, though maybe I should give it a go.

David, I’m afraid I haven’t read Matar’s first novel so can’t compare the two, but most people seem to love both. If you weren’t bowled over by it then I’d tred with caution towards the second because I suspect you mihht have a similar reaction.

I’m pleased to hear that You Deserve Nothing is on your theoretical list – I’d love to know what would make the top of your list.

Well, I’ll hopefully get through another two or three books before the end of the year so I may still come across something wonderful, but at the moment by far my favourite book of 2011 is Simon Van Booy’s ‘Everything Beautiful Began After’. The rest of the theoretical list would look something like this:

Elizabeth Hay – Alone in the Classroom
Kathleen Winter – Annabel
Chad Harbach – The Art of Fielding
Andrew Miller – Pure
Cressida Connolly – My Former Heart
Brian Francis – Natural Order
John Burnside – A Summer of Drowning
Alexander Maksik – You Deserve Nothing
Teju Cole – Open City

For me 2011 has been a very strong year. I’ve only read two stinkers (‘The Testament of Jessie Lamb’ which I thought was fairly dire, and ‘The Book of Lies’ which I just found desperately dull and unoriginal).

David, I agree with you about Jessie Lamb – I think that wins my award for worst book of the year too 🙂

Your list is interesting. I’ve read and enjoyed most of them. The only one I wasn’t impressed with was Summer of Drowning which I thought was only OK. I haven’t heard of My Former Heart or Natural Order, but as our tastes are so similar I’ll add them to my wishlist. Thanks for the recommendations.

I haven’t read any of these, so thanks for the ideas. I did enjoy Carolyn Parkhurst’s debut (Loreili’s Secret, though it had other titles), so her new one sounds intriguing, even though I’ve only read that one by her so would not konw how she’s changed the endings!

Maxine, Sorry for the confusion – The Nobodies Album doesn’t contain re-written endings for Parkhurst’s previous books, but rewritten endings for books written by the fictional character in The Nobodies Album – none of which have actually exist, but some of the premises are so good I wish they had been.

I haven’t heard a bad word about any of Parkhurst’s books so I’m looking forward to delving into her back catalogue.

Sorry about my confusion! Just to let you know I’ve now read it because of your recommendation, and think it is excellent. I completely agree that I wish she had written the books of Octavia’s whose endings are provided. Thanks so much for your review. (Mine will be up early in the new year).

Maxine, Wow that was quick! It normally takes me months to get around to reading recommendations. I’m so pleased to hear that you enjoyed it. I look forward to reading your review.

I borrowed The History of History from the library, having seen it mentioned on your blog. I must admit that I really, really struggled with it. It wasn’t just the buildings turning to flesh that put me off. I found it one of those books that it is too clever by half; the kind of the thing that – like much modern architecture and serious music – makes me feel like a Philistine when I react against it.

The Afterparty is also quite inventive. On paper, I should have loathed it, but it is actually one of the best books published in 2011 that I have read – admittedly from a very small pool since most of what I have read this year goes back a bit further. I say I should have loathed it because it contains many of traits that normally put me off a book – copious amounts of drug taking, frequent use of the F word and an obsession with celebrities to name just three. Yet, somehow, Leo Benedictus not only won me over but had me completely hooked. He did this partly through curiosity, both about the pivotal event that we know the story is working towards and also about the true identity of the author of the novel within the novel. I think he also pulls it off by managing to somehow add a touch of gravitas to the world of shallow celebrity, for example by contrasting the events at the party and afterparty with the dignified final hours in the life of Pope John Paul II.

My differing responses to these two books, perhaps demonstrate that you never really know what you are going to like reading until you try it. This is undoubtedly one of the benefits of having access to a good library.

David, Oh no. 🙁 Don’t feel like a Philistine. I agree that some parts of the book were complex and I’m sure that I missed a lot (it is the type of book that will improve with each re-read), but I thought a lot of parts were quite straight forward and I loved learning all about the history of Berlin. I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy it, but we can’t all like the same things.

I agree about The Afterparty – it didn’t sound like the sort of book I’d enjoy, but I was hooked from early on too. Some of my favourite books this year have sounded terrible on paper and some of the worst reads sounded very promising. I’ve learnt that I have no idea which books I’ll enjoy from the premise and like giving a wide variety of books a try. This type of reading would prove very expensive without libraries. I agree we should be very thankful that we have them.

I feel so out of the loop! I’ve only read one of these books (The Nobodies Album), and most of the other titles on your list are unfamiliar to me… I do have Anatomy of a Disappearance, which I had been eyeballing, so I guess I’d better bump that up the queue!

I loved “The History Of History” it will be in my books of the year too!

While it had an emotional and historical reach, I loved most that it was about storytelling and unpeeling the layersw of myth – how’s this for a debunking of storytelling – “the great falsifying agent at the disposal of the human mind”. Wonderful stuff.

Can I just also add a vote for Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad” – I defy anyone to write a better opening chapter than the one in this book.

marc, I love that quote! There were so many clever aspects to The History of History. I look forward to rereading it at somepoint as I’m sure I’ll discover lots of new things.

I’m afraid I have to disagree with you about Goon Squad. I found it a bit too experimental. I loved the first chapter, but I felt it then tried too hard. Perhaps I was just in the wrong mood for it?

marc, I thought the powerpoint presentation was very clverly done, but again I was always aware of just how clever it was. Shouldn’t genius be subtler than that? I don’t know. It was all very memorable so perhaps I’m just being harsh.

I’ve actually bought four of these books just because your reviews have made them sound so tempting! 🙂 I just haven’t had the time to read any of them yet, but sooner or later…

Oh, and those four are: The History of History, The Nobodies Album, Anatomy of a Disappearance and The Report.

Satu, Wow! It is great to know that you’ve bought so many thanks to my reviews – I only hope that they live up to expectations.I know exactly what you mean about not having read any yet – that is one of my biggest problems too. I have so many blogger recommended purchases piling up that I should probably make a resolution to read them in 2012. I hope you are more successful at getting through them than I’ve been. 🙂

Alex, I am still happy that I’ve been abandoning books. I hope to write a post about it in the New Year, but I did have a few 5 star reads that weren’t published in 2011 (post coming sometime soon). I think 5 star reads are especially easy to spot from the first few pages and so don’t think I’ve any worries about abandoning them – it is the enjoyable, but not outstanding reads that I risk not finishing occasionally.

Caroline, It is good to know that you enjoyed the Maksik book so much. I’m sure you’ll find the Illumination thought provoking – I hope you decide to give it a try.

I loved History of History! Completely forgot that I still have to write up a review for that… the other books on your best of list are unknown to me, I’ll have to check them out and add a few to my tbr pile 🙂

Chinoiseries, I’m so pleased to hear that you loved The History of History! I look forward to reading your review and hope you can persuade a few more people to give it a try – we really need to get the word-of-mouth recommendation ball rolling on that book 🙂

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