Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 from 2011

And we’re back!  Kevin and I spent our first married Christmas at my mom’s and we had a nice, relaxing couple of days off.  Many cookies were consumed, “Muppet Christmas Carol” was watched, and our faces were stuffed with Christmas ham and potatoes.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a look back at our favorite books from the year.

1. “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman.  I still can’t really decide whether or not I actually liked this book.  It had clever and original depictions of magic and a cast of awesomely weird characters, but wow, is it good at making you feel like your life is pointless.  Plus the protagonist is, shall we say, flawed.  Deeply flawed.  In fact, I kind of hate him.  He hates himself already, so it’s okay.

2. “The Birth of Venus” by Sarah Dunant. Normally, historical fiction written in the first person makes me cringe.  I’m not Queen Elizabeth, I’m not Cleopatra – how am I supposed to get involved in their personal experiences?  “Birth of Venus” had a fictional protagonist, though, which made it easier to get into her defiant, clever, art-loving head.  It wasn’t spectacularly written, and the ending was just plain weird, but overall I enjoyed the story and I look forward to reading more by Dunant.

3. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.  I read all three over the summer, but the first one was far and away my favorite. Just when you think there’s nothing new to cover in the world of YA dystopias, Collins comes up with a story that pits two dozen randomly-selected teenagers against each other in a battle royale that reminds the country how powerless it is against the regime.  Enter Katniss, a heroine desperately needed in the age of Bella Swan: one who is tough but not fearless, clever but not totally put-together; who will sacrifice herself for her family’s safety and who is loyal to the end.  Well, to the end of the book, anyway…then bigger politics get involved and things derail a bit, but man, the first book is awesome.

4. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. I bought a used copy of this for the book swap we hosted (not the point of a book swap, I know) because it was a beautiful, suspenseful read.  The movie is never as good as the book, but I’d still like to see it – Carey Mulligan plays the main character and Andrew Garfield is her love interest.

5. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte.  Yes, I finally read it this year.  It was longer than I expected, and the third act when she’s at her creepy cousin’s house really dragged on, but I loved the proto-feminism and the scary Gothic bits.

6. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  A beautifully written, magical fairy tale of a family epic.  It’s long and convoluted and everyone has the same name, but it was so worth the read.

7. “Maus” by Art Spiegelman.  Even having read “Persepolis,” which had some brutal depictions of atrocities committed in Iran in the 70s, “Maus” was not an easy read.  It deals with two heavy issues: the Holocaust, and how Holocaust survivors relate to the next generation.  The author/artist is telling the story of his father’s experiences during World War II, but he and other Jews are depicted as mice, while the Germans are cats, the Poles are pigs, the Americans are dogs, etc.  Using animals both made the horrors of the Holocaust slightly easier to read about and emphasized the “us vs. them” worldview that the Nazis held.  In many works about WWII, it seems like the Jews can hide easily, since they’re people just like those looking for them.  In “Maus,” there’s no hiding your identity.

8. “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton.  This book accomplished something enormous: it depicted a love triangle that I didn’t loathe.  Archer is drawn to both his sweet, safe, politically-correct wife, and her daring, intelligent, divorcee cousin.  They’re vastly different women, and Archer is a vastly different man when he’s with each of them.  He’s still a flawed protagonist, but you feel everyone’s pain equally, and you’re not really sure if you should be on Team May or Team Ellen.

9. “The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman.  It had been two or three years since I read this, so the steampunk elements, the quirks in Lyra’s personality, the complex character of Mrs. Coulter, and the conflict between religion and the pursuit of scientific knowledge all felt fresh.  I liked the second book as well, but the third book is still a little too weird for my tastes.

10. “Red Gold” by Alan Furst.  I’ve read five or six Furst books, and while many of his characters turn up in different stories, this was the first one I’d read that was a direct sequel.  “Red Gold” picks up after “The World At Night” and continues the story of French film-producer-turned-spy Vincent Casson and his struggle for survival as a wanted man in occupied Paris.

What was your favorite book from this year?  Check out the other lists here!

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7 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 from 2011

  1. Catching Fire is actually my favorite of The Hunger Games trilogy, though the first one was what got me hooked on the series in the first place.

    I now can’t wait to read Never Let Me Go! I have the book, but I haven’t managed to get it read yet 🙂

    • I thought “Catching Fire” was good as well, although I remember it hinting at Katniss’s characterization backslide, which is what I really didn’t like about “Mockingjay.” I thought the Quell was brilliant.

      I hope you like Never Let Me Go!

  2. We had oddly identical reading lists this year. In fact, I was reading The Birth of Venus this evening on the train back from France! And when we were at the station, I was trying to explain The Hunger Games to The Rocket Scientist.

    One of my favorites this year (and it’s a cheat since it was a re-read) was Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes. So fabulous.

  3. Good list. You’ve got lots of books here that I haven’t read but feel like I should have. Every year I read these lists and think of all the books I have yet to read. I’m planning on rereading Jane Eyre in 2012, so I’m looking forward to that.

    • This was the first year I made an actual “to-read” list, which helped. “Jane Eyre” and “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” were both on it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t get distracted by things like Hunger Games, though. 😉

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