The Best Books of 2011

I read about 40 books in 2011, and not all of them were published this year. So keep in mind when reading MY list of the best books of 2011, you’re reading a really individual and idiosyncratic list of books. But here are the new books I enjoyed the most this year. I’ll probably follow this up with a list of books I’m looking forward to reading next year.

1. Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks – This is the story of a convicted sex offender. That’s enough to get most readers to avoid this book right there. But he manages to convey a sympathy for the character without forgiving him for what he’d done wrong. The other main character in the book is a hyper-intelligent genius, and he’s as unusual a character as the protagonist of the book, maybe even more so. It’s a lengthy book, but it’s worth your time.

2. 11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King – This is more straight-up fantasy than horror, which I guess is unusual for Stephen King. But more than that, it’s more of a love story than anything else, and it’s a damn good one. I don’t think I read a book this year with better developed or more sympathetic characters. This was the longest book I read this year, but it was so good that I wished it were longer.

3. The Magician King: A Novel by Lev Grossman – This is a sequel to Grossman’s fantastic novel The Magicians. It wasn’t as good as the first one, but it’s an excellent novel nonetheless. Think Harry Potter + Narnia with a lot of adult overtones, and you’ll have an idea of what Grossman seems to be going for with these books. It was a great story.

4. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown – The tale of three sisters who were raised by an obsessive Shakespeare professor. All three are named after characters in Shakespeare’s plays, and their father hardly says anything that isn’t either a direct quote or reference to something Shakespeare wrote. I LOVED this novel.

Honorable mention goes to The Leftovers, which was a good novel, but not a great novel, like the four novels above. The Leftovers is about what happens to the people who are left behind after the rapture, but unlike most other books on the subject, it doesn’t tackle this scenario from a religious perspective. The people who are left behind are mostly just confused and depressed, and their coping mechanisms are fascinating, although maybe not realistic in every case.

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