Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books of the year, 2011

In chronological order, here are the books I loved most in 2011:
  • The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
  • Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life by Carol Sklenicka
  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro
  • Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
  • Something is Out There by Richard Bausch
  • Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar edited by Richard Ford
  • The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
  • The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
  • A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • Ladies and Gentlemen by Adam Ross
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Themes of this year's reading: more short fiction; more biography; bloated long novels; and starting things without finishing them.  New batches of short stories from Alice Munro and Richard Bausch were as enticing and flawless as their previous efforts.  Adam Ross wrote stories that made me jealous.  And the Ford-edited collection, a gathering of stories dealing with work, achieved an unexpectedly elegant cohesion with its subject matter.  It made me think about how we relate to our jobs and vocations in a new way, and to see diverse writers grapple with this fundamental source of identity and purpose was inspiring.

This year I also found myself getting stuck in long novels that could have used some decent editing, particularly Paul Murray's Skippy Dies and, as much as it pains me to say it, 1Q84.  It frustrated me to wade through bloated prose that deserved to be leaner and finer.  I am usually very lenient with big ol' doorstops, but these books tested my patience (even if I enjoyed the ride, as in the Murakami).  

This year I also ended reading chunks of books and then dropping them, for various reasons: The Imperfectionists, Love and Summer, Madame Bovary, and others.  This was embarrassing but unavoidable.

I think my favorite novel this year was The Lonely Polygamist, a sprawling look at a polygamist in contemporary Utah.  The writer juggled multiple voices and created a universe all his own.  It was moving, funny, exciting, and unpredictable.  It's a long novel that justified its scope and breadth.

I'm currently reading Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now (as I said I would in last year's annual book round-up, oddly enough).  I've been pleasantly surprised so far - Trollope knows how to maintain the reader's interest, and his characters are well-developed, complicated, and profoundly, irredeemably selfish.  It makes for great reading (more on this soon).  Other books in the queue for 2012: The Steve Jobs biography, Game of Thrones, and who knows what else.  I'm hoping the final volume of Lyndon Johnson comes out in the fall, and then we'll see whatever comes my way.  Hooray for reading!

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