A Year in Reading 2011

December 1, 2011 | 15 books mentioned 35 4 min read


If you’re like me, you keep a list of books you read, and at this time of year, you may run your finger back over it, remembering not just the plots, the soul-lifting favorites, and the drudges cast aside in frustration. You also remember the when and where of each book. This one on a plane to somewhere cold, that one in bed on a warm summer night. That list, even if it is just titles and authors and nothing more, is a diary in layers. Your days, other plots, imaginary people.

And so when, in preparing our annual Year in Reading series, we ask our esteemed guests to tell us about the “best” book(s) they read all year, we do it not just because we want a great book recommendation from someone we admire (we do) and certainly not because we want to cobble together some unwieldy Top 100 of 2011 list (we don’t). We do it because we want a peek into that diary. And in the responses we learn how anything from a 300-year-old work to last summer’s bestseller reached out and insinuated itself into a life outside those pages.

With this in mind, for an eighth year, we asked some of our favorite writers, thinkers, and readers to look back, reflect, and share. Their charge was to name, from all the books they read this year, the one(s) that meant the most to them, regardless of publication date. Grouped together, these ruminations, cheers, squibs, and essays will be a chronicle of reading and good books from every era. We hope you find in them seeds that will help make your year in reading in 2012 a fruitful one.

As we have in prior years, the names of our 2011 “Year in Reading” contributors will be unveiled one at a time throughout the month as we post their contributions. You can bookmark this post and follow the series from here, or load up the main page for more new Year in Reading posts appearing at the top every day, or you can subscribe to our RSS feed and follow along in your favorite feed reader.

A Year in Reading Wrap Up

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

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Year in Reading Graphics by LK Magee

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. These books really stood out for me: The Passage by Justin Cronin; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood; I Knew This Much Is True by Wally Lamb; The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins.

  2. The really good ones:

    State of Wonder-Ann Patchett
    The Great Migration – Isabel Wilkerson NF
    Ester and Ruzya – Masha Gessen NF
    Train Dreams – Denis Johnson
    Unnatural Selection – Mara Hvistendahl NF
    Born in Africa-Quest for Origin of Humans – Martin Meredith NF
    Sacred Trash – Hoffman and Cole NF
    The Free World – David Bezmozgis
    Principles of Uncertainty – Maira Kalman
    The Singer’s Gun – our own Emily Mandel
    Daniel Stern, Interpreter – Ludmila Ulitskaya
    Ether & Stories – Evgenia Citkowitz
    The China Study – Dr. Campbell (life changing book) NF

    and especially Binocular Vision – Edith Pearlman

    and my very guilty wonderful pleasure: The Jane Whitefield detective series by Thomas Perry read in order of publication

    can hardly wait for other Millions readers to chime in with their lists.

  3. I just wrote a blog post about this, this article serving as the inspiration. I’d have to say, looking back at my list (and I do record them), my top three favorites are:

    “The Yacoubian Building” by Alaa Al Aswany.
    “What was the Hipster” (non-fiction) published by N+1
    “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart

  4. Some of this year’s highlights have been:

    The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins,
    White Teeth by Zadie Smith,
    The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz,
    The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler,
    Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy,
    Toni Morrison’s Beloved,
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte,
    Eavan Boland’s Outside History and Object Lessons,
    ans Whose Body by Dorothy Sayers.

  5. I read a lot of good books this year, but without question the best was Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, which I only heard about through my local bookstore, The Book Lady in Savannah, Ga. Powerful, heartbreaking, confusing. Brilliant plotting and writing and the depth and horror of it was still occurring to me days after I finished reading it.

  6. I’ll do a full wrap up at the end of the year on my blog, but a few stand-outs for me this year were:
    The Memory Chalet – Tony Judt
    Angel – Elizabeth Taylor (the writer, not the actress)
    To the End of the Land – David Grossman

  7. I always look forward to this feature each year. With a month left to go, my favorite books of the year are (in no particular order):

    Meditations in Green, by Stephen Wright
    Loving, by Henry Green
    Party Going, by Henry Green
    Voss, by Patrick White
    Troubles, by J. G. Farrell
    The Ambassadors, by Henry James
    Washington Square, by Henry James
    Warlock, by Oakley Hall
    Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
    Sanctuary, by William Faulkner
    Don Quixote, by Cervantes (Edith Grossman’s translation)
    Death of the Fox, by George Garrett
    Mr. Bridge, by Evan S. Connell
    The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner
    Parades End, by Ford Madox Ford
    The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, by Vladimir Nabokov

  8. A few from a very long list…

    Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, both by Joseph Boyden
    Lev Grossman’s books, The Magicians and The Magician King
    Rondo by Kazimierz Brandys
    The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
    Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
    Elizabeth and Hazel by David Margolick
    The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
    Objects of Our Affection by Lisa Tracy
    To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild
    The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
    The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam
    Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
    Kate Atkinson’s novels featuring Jackson Brodie

  9. My list is classics-heavy because I’m filling some gaps in my literary education, but I managed to read some modern literature as well.

    Middlemarch by George Eliot
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
    North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
    Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
    The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
    The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
    The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
    The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
    Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
    The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant (non-fiction)
    Rocannon’s World by Ursula K. Le Guin
    Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
    The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
    Reamde by Neal Stephenson
    Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson
    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
    Hombre by Elmore Leonard

    The book I’m currently reading, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, will make my year-end list as well.

  10. Train Dreams – Denis Johnson
    Just Kids – Patti Smith
    Into the Whirlwind – Eugenia Ginzburg
    Cain – Jse Saramago
    Comedy in a Minor Key – Hans Keilson
    In A Strange Room – Damon Galgut
    Sarah Bakewell book on Montaigne
    Rin Tin Tin – Susan Orlean
    Almost Dead – Assaf Gavron
    The World Without Us – Alan Weisman
    Binocular Vision – Edith Pearlman

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