Ah, December. It’s the time of year when we look back as well as forward. It’s also the time of year when humanity’s strange proclivity towards list making finds an outlet and ‘best of’ lists start popping up everywhere: best movies, best albums, best political revolutions, etc. It really starts getting freaky when people on the Internet make a list of the best ‘best of’ lists.
The Guardian, Goodreads, The New York Times and more have released their ‘Best Books of 2011’ lists recently. After scanning their lists, I couldn’t help but reflect on the books I read this year and how I felt about them; as Salon’s Laura Miller noted in her roundup of 2011′s best fiction, ‘It was a particularly great year for fiction’. And I suddenly thought ‘Yes, Laura Miller, yes it has! I shall write a list of my own!’
However a love of reading combined with access to a book blog does not make me a critic. As such, I’m not calling this post ‘the best books of 2011’. Instead, this is a list of my favourite books for 2011. Not all of them were critical darlings but I adored them all for a variety of different reasons and derived such pleasure (or exquisite pain) from reading them.
The stringent process I used to decide my favourite books of 2011 consisted of staring out the window for a few days with a slightly glazed expression, trying to remember all the books I read and what I thought of them. I feel that this is similar to the Booker Prize judging and also perhaps what goes on in the United Nations.
Anyway. In no particular order, here are the first five entries in my list of Favourite Books for 2011. The remaining five will be posted tomorrow.
The tale of elderly Margery Blandon, fending off her garish family and social services as they try and manoeuvre her into a nursing home, is one of the most underrated Australian novels of the year. Told in an unusual combination of first and third person, the humour feels so Australian in that way one can never put their finger on: understated with a faint trace of irony is the best way I can describe it. The characterisation is absolutely glorious, too. Margery knits obsessively, has a gigantic tote bag for all the knick knacks she seems to accumulate, and regularly polishes the framed picture of her beloved John Howard. There is also gentle sadness as Margery’s story as it illuminates the way the young and active steadily nudge the elderly to the margins of society. This is touched upon so expertly that it never makes the novel morose, just more thoughtful. This was such an unexpected and uniquely Australian story.
This is Alice Hoffman’s best novel yet, and an astonishing work of historical fiction. The Dovekeepers is set in the fortress of Masada, where 900 Jews heldout for months against an enormous Roman onslaught in 70 AD. We experience the siege through four women who have sought refuge in the fortress. They are bound together by their nurturing of doves, by the extreme tragedies that have stained each of their lives, and the further tragedies they know await them in Masada. The Dovekeepers is a rich, complex novel which achieves all it sets out to: the characters are finely etched, the prose is devastating, the voice of the each protagonist is distinct, and Hoffman’s attention to detail is staggering. Ancient jewish culture and the stark desert environment is vividly brought to life in this emotional and profoundly beautiful novel.
‘Huzzah for the Truth Teller! Women in this country have been over-celebrated for too long. Just last night there was a story on my local news about a ‘missing girl’ … and I thought, “What is this, the News for Chicks?”… We are a society that constantly celebrates no one but women and it must stop!’
The Night Circus has been a real breath of fresh air for the young adult genre in 2011 with no vampires, ghosts, werewolves or futuristic dystopias (yes that’s a thing) in sight. The mysterious Night Circus, and the two young lovers locked in its lethal magical game where only one can survive is a wonderfully original story. Morganstern exercises strict control over the complex structure of the novel, at the same time crafting a fascinating world of magic and a host of truly likeable characters. With a mid to late 19th century setting, the ‘old world’ dialogue is clunky at times but The Night Circus is imbued with such a sparkling, fairy tale like quality that I couldn’t help but be entranced by the charm and magic of its pages