12 Most Compelling Books of 2011

12 Most Compelling Books of 2011

If you like to read as much as I do, then you’re always looking for books that will capture your attention and keep you interested from beginning to end. As I’ve grown older – and less patient – I find myself giving up on books far more quickly than I used to. And, oddly, I am much quicker to give up on a book if I’ve borrowed it from the library instead of buying it for myself. I read dozens of books every year, some good, some not-so-good, some wonderful. My passion for reading has kept me company all of my life.  Here is a list of books that were published and I thoroughly enjoyed in 2011.

1. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

This is my favorite book of the year. The story of a woman who journeys into the jungles of the Amazon in search of a colleague who has disappeared, where she is reunited with a woman who was her professor at medical school. The writing is detailed and fantastical, and the story, though it veers into science fiction in some places, is believable – if you can get beyond your disbelief.

2. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This novel takes us to Paris in the 1920s, and the love affair and marriage of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson.Though this book is fiction, it incorporates many real life characters, including Gertrude Stein and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. You are introduced to a world that doesn’t exist anymore, and the story will sweep you away to the Jazz Age, and you will find yourself rooting for Hadley, even though you know the relationship is doomed.

3. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

This is Karen Russell’s first novel, and it’s a doozy. It’s one of those books that makes you wonder, “How did she come up with this?” The story of a family that owns an alligator wrestling park in the Florida Everglades, it’s filled with unbelievable characters, supernatural experiences, and most of all the connection of family to one another. What’s great about this book is there is absolutely no way to know, from page to page, what will happen next – for lack of a better term, it’s truly “out there.”

4. 2030-The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks

Brooks is a brilliant satirist, as he’s shown in his movies, including my favorite, “Mother.” This book, however, is not funny at all. It presents a future in which a cure for cancer has been found, and the population has grown disproportionately old, with government benefits and medical care focusing on keeping the elderly happy and healthy. The youth of America begin to revolt, and chaos ensues. It’s thought-provoking and cuts close to home – it’s not unreasonable to imagine a future something like this one.

5. Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan

A lovely little story of an elderly woman navigating the world with few friends, a distant family, and a dog that she loves dearly. It’s touching, empowering, and realistic.

6. The Leftovers by Tom Perrota

This is the story of what happens after the rapture. Those that are left behind are the leftovers, and they must learn to live in a world where not only are the left behind, but family and friends, in a seemingly random selection, are taken from them. A little spooky and kind of depressing, but a good read nonetheless.

7. Bossypants by Tina Fey

On a much lighter note, Tina Fey will make you laugh out loud as she describes her life and the strange people she met and the circuitous route she took to get to where she is today. Definitely one of the funniest memoirs I’ve ever read, on par with anything by David Sedaris.

8. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What would you do if you suddenly couldn’t remember the last 10 years of your life? How would you feel about your children, whom you’d never met, or your husband, who you were divorcing? Though the story appears to be simple, the situation Alice finds herself in will make you think about your own life and how you and those around you have changed in the past 10 years. I really enjoyed this book.

9. Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

The queen of chick-lit, but with writing that is anything but boring. This is the story of 3 women who are connected by one thing – the baby they create in a very modern way. Like I said, chick-lit – but good chick-lit.

10. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

A captivating mix of science, literature, love, obsession, religion, madness, education and suburbia. Set at Brown University in the early 1980s, this book touches on so many varied and fascinating topics that it’s almost impossible to synopsize. Suffice to say that 3 student’s lives are changed as they navigate their way through their first year of post-graduation life. I loved MIDDLESEX, and though this doesn’t quite match that Pulitzer Prize winning level of excellence, it’s about as good as it can be.

11. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

This was my first Stephen King book, and it was pretty fantastic. I read it because I love anything about time-travel – and I was thrilled to see at the end of the book that Mr. King thanked Jack Finney, who wrote my all-time favorite time-travel book, TIME AND AGAIN. In brief, a man travels through a portal back to 1958 to try to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – and a lot of things happen to him – and I mean a lot. This is an excellent book and I’m glad I could get past my aversion to horror/mystery and try Stephen King for the first time – it was well worth it.

12. All of the books I haven’t read yet!

The best book of all is always the one that’s next – where will it take me and what will I learn? So here are a few of the books of 2011 I’m planning to read.

MY NEW AMERICAN LIFE by Francine Prose
THEN AGAIN – A MEMOIR by Diane Keaton
ED KING by David Guterson

What books are on your best of 2011 list?

Sharon Greenthal


Sharon Greenthal is a former stay-at-home mom, now empty-nester. She lives in Orange County, CA with her husband Peter and their perfect dog, Lambeau. Her two children are away at college. Sharon blogs about her observations the world around her, from the important to the inconsequential.

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