Monday, 2 January 2012

best books of 2011...that i read... (and bert read)

On new year's eve me and bert put on a pile of music (nico, smashing pumpkins, joanna newsom, feist, and lots of other stuff I can't remember) drank tea and hot water with lemon and lime - it was new year after all - and talked about the books we'd read in 2011 for the most ridiculously long time *.  Also this post took me a ridiculously long time to write too, and it's pretty lenghty - sorry about that.

It turns out that I have mainly read women writers in 2011 and a lot of them seemed to be about divorce, breakups, finding yourself, women helping each other and mental illness. I shall try and be a bit more diverse this year. Bert has mainly been reading books set around the first and second world wars.... We have both read mainly novels, although I do love non-fiction too. The non-fiction books that stand out for me from my reading list of 2011 (other than the ones in my top ten below) are 'Eros the Bittersweet' by Anne Carson; 'Why this World: a Biography of Clarice Lispector' by Benjamin Moser; 'The Reading Promise: 3,218 nights of Reading with my Father' by Alice Ozma; and 'A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table' by Molly Wizenberg.

Anyway... eventually we picked our top ten of the year. Bert denied it, but I think he's pretty disgusted that Laini Taylor's 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' made my top ten list and 'Therese Raquin' by Emile Zola didn't... he had previously challenged the fact that I'd given 'Therese Raquin' four stars over on goodreads and given 'Pippi Longstocking' my defense, there is a monkey in Pippi Longstocking...

So, here is my top ten:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This was my most favourite book of the year. It's set in an amazing circus in Victorian times and has wonderful descriptions of the circus.  I was completely captivated by this and didn't want it to end, it was magical.

Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenidies
I would have also been happy if this book went on forever. Eugenidies is the author of 'Middlesex' and 'Virgin Suicides', but 'The Marriage Plot' is nothing like those. It's quite 'great american novel-esque' and I really loved it. This is just the kind of book I go crazy for - great contemporary American writers

1Q84 volume 1 and 2 by Haruki Murakami
This was also amazing, and the most original book I've read in a long time. If you have read any Murakami, it's kind of what you would expect, only even better. It's hard to describe this book without giving too much away, but it's about a man and a woman (told by them in alternate chapters) and parallel worlds and 'little people'. I am yet to read the third part of this, and felt like I needed a little break, but will definitely read it soon. Volumes 1 and 2 pretty much stand alone anyway.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion
I've already mentioned this on my blog.... it's a memoir about the death of Didion's daughter, which happened not long after the death of her husband. It's also about getting old and looking back. Didion is an amazing writer, this is a pretty short book but it is so powerful.

If you Follow me by Malena Watrous
I guess this book is a bit lighter than the one's I've just mentioned, but then that's ok isn't it? It's really well written and easy to read. It's set in Japan, where the main character is teaching English. It's got a lovely tone and 'voice' to it and I really loved the details about life in Japan, such as throwing out different types of rubbish on different days. I really want to read more by Watrous but I don't think she's written anything else. She should really get on to that in 2012.

Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This year I fell in love with Shirley Jackson. I think I came to this because 'The Little Stranger' by Sarah Waters is influenced by it, and I loved that book. I also read some of her short stories this year after reading that 'The Hunger Games' were influenced by her story 'The Lottery'. (in case you are interested I have read the first in the Hunger Games books, and while I could see why people liked it, I didn't really think it was for me. Although I will probably be reading books 2 and 3).
Haunting of Hill House is just so great - it's odd, it's creepy and it's just super well written. I got her other book 'We have always lived in the castle' for Christmas (thank you Franco and Kate) and am really excited to read it.

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner
This was a bit of a surprise for me. It's an Austrailan book written in the 70s and based on the authors diaries of that time. Not a whole lot happens but it's really addictive. It's mainly about the main character (a young single mother) and her relationships with her friends and with men, in particular a junkie named Javo. It's got a great feel to it and I think you would like it.

Paradoxical Undressing by Kristin Hersh
So, Kristin Hersh of the Throwing Muses wrote a book. It's her memoir of growing up and forming a band, and it reads almost like a novel. I liked the bits about her in college where she becomes friends with a much older woman who claims she was once a movie star. It's a really warm and wonderful book and deals with difficult issues such as her mental illness with staightforwardness and charm. If you like the Throwing Muses you will love it, and if you have never even heard of the Throwing Muses you will love it. Oh, and in America this book seems to be called 'Rat Girl'.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
So this book making my top ten was a surprise even for me, but I just really enjoyed it. It's a fantasy book really... I think 'urban fantasy', although as I don't read much fantasy at all I could be really off the mark. I saw a review that said it was like 'Northen Lights' and 'Pan's Labyrinth' in one, which is a pretty good description...
It's about a seventeen year old called Karou who is an art student in prague, but is also an errand girl (buying teeth) to Brimstone (a bit like Hellboy) who is from another world.  It's got great imagery and also has angels too.

Role Models by John Waters.
John Waters is just great don't you think? This book is like a self-portrait told through profiles of his favourite people - some celebrities, some regular people. Most of the stories are great, but the odd one was a bit too skeevy for me... It's a great insight into Waters and funny too. I loved a bit where he said one of his favourite images was of hands in prayer with dirty fingernails.

And here is Bert's top ten book of 2011. He is at work at the moment so can't add any blurb to his titles, but maybe he will later.   His favourite book was 'Just Kids' by Patti Smith...which was my favourite book the year before, so it's bound to be good. We both put the Shirley Jackson and the Kristin Hersh on our lists... and I've read the Hemmingway, but none of the others, so I should get right on to that.











Please let me know if you have read any of the books I've mentioned in this post, I'd love to know what you think. What were your best books of 2011? and do you have any suggestions of what I should read next?
If you are on goodreads please be my friend (just search for 'sian lile') as I don't have many friends over there. 

I found it hard to find pictures of men reading.... here's a nice one though....

it's from the blog just in case you want to go there and look at pictures and read the funny comments underneath. you're welcome.

*about four hours


  1. It looks like you both read some good books in 2011! I hope 2012 is as good for you! I loved the Night Circus and 1Q84 and the Marriage Plot are on my to read lists for this year. I might just have to add If you follow me and the haunting of hill house. I love Sarah Waters so will give it a go!

    Happy reading you two xx

  2. i haven't read any of these! i really should make more time for books.

  3. Thanks for that Sian, i prefer the books I buy as oppose to opshop to be recommended and my xmas gift to myself is some new books in the sales. i'm defo going to get the Krisin Hersh one. It may not be to your taste but I've loved John Baxter's autobiographical books this year, the one about being in the book trade (cant remember the title) and 'cooking for claudine' was also great; very funny x

  4. Hi Sian! I added you as a friend on goodreads (brandym) and I loved reading your top ten list! I read lots, and lots, and lots so I'm always looking for something new and recommended. I definitely need to read the Night Circus soon as I've heard tons of good things about it and the Marriage Plot as been in my TBR too for awhile.

  5. thanks for the comments! and hurray for new goodreads friends. i like the sound of the john baxter ones and have ordered 3 from the library.

  6. Blwyddyn Newydd Dda Sian. I've not read even a third as many novels this year as most, and I blame starting the blog. However, I intend to remedy it this year! Thanks for the reminder about The Night Circus, I fancied that one. It's always good to have other people's recommendations. I like Sarah Waters too and any ghostly tales so The Haunting of Hill House sounds promising.

    I'd join goodreads but fear that would give me even less time for actually getting off the net and sitting down with a proper book!

    I raced through The Hunger Games trilogy, but then I enjoy a YA read. Not sure I've grown up fully. Will be interested to see how the film has turned out, think it's released at the end of March.

  7. hi lakota! i love YA reads too! although haven't read as many this year... have just started hunger games book 2 and am kinda hooked and yet am also still thinking 'this is not quite me....' will let you know what i think after reading all three of them!


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