my favorite books of 2011


* These are not necessarily books published in 2011, but my favorite of the novels I picked up for the first time this year. That probably means some of you read them last year or even the year before that. I can be slow to read new books, even if I buy them right after their release.

I’ve read 35 books so far this year. This is a low number for me, even when you consider that I’m a pretty slow reader. In the past several years I’ve tried to read at least 50 each year and my number usually ends up right around there, averaging about four or so books a month. This year I was a bit derailed by moving cross-country. I also squeezed in a lot of reading on my commute when I lived in Chicago, and now I’m back in my car all the time, which has been a big change.

Anyway! Regardless of how many I read, my 2011 was filled with some beautiful books and I feel like I need to sing their praises so here they are:


First of all, that title. Sheer perfection, as is the cover. This was my first foray into Aimee Bender’s work and perhaps my first conscious foray into magical realism. I became an instant fan of both. I was also immediately drawn to the plot – a girl who discovers on her ninth birthday that she can taste the emotions of the cook in whatever she eats? Sign. Me. Up. – but Bender’s prose takes this book to another level because it is flawless. Gorgeous. I found myself rereading whole passages and cursing myself for not picking up her work earlier. THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE seems to be a polarizing novel, but I was sad upon finishing and also annoyed that I’d checked it out from the library, as I needed it on my bookshelf immediately.


I read this book back in early summer, when I had just started to hear a lot of buzz. (So thrilled to see that it was named a 2012 Morris Award finalist!) Miraculously, it was available from the library so I scooped it right up. And then I read. And I cried. And I cried some more because this book makes you feel things. I’m pretty ashamed to say that I didn’t know much about the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states prior to reading, but this book is far from just a history lesson. It is beautiful and intense, sad and frightening. The fact that Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee made it all the more powerful. I loved every part of it.


I’m trying to be sly, putting this in the middle of my list, acting like I haven’t fangirled the hell out of this book. But I have. On multiple occasions. And it is DESERVING of all my fanfare and more. This is one of those books that hooked me with the cover and jacket copy and then I read it and was so happy I’d bought it because as soon as I finished I turned back to the first page. I’ve realized it’s impossible to sum up what exactly made me fall hopelessly in love with Vera’s (and Charlie’s and Ken’s and the Pagoda’s) story. Parts of this novel made me so anxious I had to stand up and walk around while reading (because that clearly helps cure book-related anxiety). Parts of it truly gave me a stomachache. I don’t know what else to say except that I cared so much about these characters and their world and I feel like I became a better writer because of this book.

THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain

I first read about THE PARIS WIFE in the book review section of Entertainment Weekly, which is actually my primary method of finding adult books, not including word-of-mouth recommendations. I loved the lyrical writing and the setting of 1920s Paris. For some reason, Hemingway was never assigned in high school or even the English lit classes I took in college (and that was my minor!). He’s one of those authors where I sort of missed the boat and it feels silly at this point that I’m so unfamiliar with the work of Hemingway, but so it goes. I found this account of his years with his first wife fascinating (as well as extremely disturbing at times) and by the end I was anxious to read his memoir, A MOVEABLE FEAST, which served as the catalyst for this book. (Also, I’m sorry because I know this isn’t the point, but why doesn’t anyone talk about what a fox Hemingway used to be?)

WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

Gosh, this book. It had been awhile since I’d read a middle grade novel. Not for lack of interest; MG books meant the world to me growing up and ultimately shaped me as a writer. I usually just end up reading more YA and adult, out of habit. Not anymore. Everything I’d heard about this book was true. I expected brilliance. I mean, it won the Newbery. And it’s set in the 70s, a decade with which I feel a strong and unexplained kinship. I was not prepared for just how much I would love it or the fact that I would spend the last 20 pages or so sobbing. I’m totally outing myself as One Whose Emotions Go Haywire Over Books. But gosh, you guys. THIS BOOK.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

(Honorable Mention because this has and will become everyone’s favorite read of whatever year at some point)

I know. File this one under Perpetually Late to the Party, along with Friday Night Lights and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I KNOW GUYS OK.

What were the best books you read this year?

2 thoughts on “my favorite books of 2011

  1. I’m not convinced that we didn’t read Hemingway in high school. (wait…what I mean to say is: I’m not convinced that we weren’t *assigned* to read Hemingway in high school. I rarely read anything assigned in high school. Don’t ask me why/how I had straight As in all of those English classes. Gatsby and Animal Farm were likely the ONLY things I actually read during those four years.)

    Old Man and the Sea? Weren’t we assigned that? Or was this in some sort of parallel high school universe? For some reason I remember asking my mom to summarize it for me… she was my Wikipedia/Cliff Notes/clearly the reason I had straight As in all of those English classes.

    1. Um, this whole comment made me laugh. And then reminisce. And then laugh some more. I don’t remember being assigned Hemingway EVER. Maybe we ended up in a different class one year? I feel like it would have been most likely in AP English but I’ve completely blocked out that class for no apparent reason so WHO KNOWS.

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