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The Best of the Best of 2011: A List

December 24, 2011 in American literature, children's literature, Contemporary Literature, Fantasy Literature, Literary Books 2011, New Writers

Artwork by Dan Park

Jeffrey Eugenides, Artwork by Dan Park

There are a heck of a lot of “Best of 2011” lists coming out this week. There’s the best music, the best films, and, of course, the best books. But with so many “best of” lists, put out by practically every blog, magazine, and newspaper around, it’s hard to tell which books really came out on top.

But fear not! After combing through some well respected sources’ “best of” lists, it was clear which books were the real winners. The lists consulted included those compiled by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, National Public Radio, Barnes & Noble, The Economist, Paste Magazine, Slate Magazine, Goodreads, the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Public Library, The New Republic, Amazon, The Horn Book, Esquire, and The New York Times.

There were, of course, books that made it onto just one or two lists, but to really be the best of the year, a book’s got to make a bigger splash than that. Therefore, the books that made it onto three or more of these lists are posted below on this compilation of what may as well be called “The Best of the Best Books of 2011”:

The Top 15 Fiction Books:
1. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
3. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
4. Open City by Teju Cole
5. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
6. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
7. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
8. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
9. The Submission by Amy Waldman
10. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
11. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
12. The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
13. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
14. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
15. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

The Top 13 Nonfiction Books:
1. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
2. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
3. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
4. Bossypants by Tina Fey
5. Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III
6. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
7. Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson
8. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
9. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
10. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
11. Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
12. 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
13. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

The Top 11 Young Adult Books:
1. Divergent by Veronica Roth
2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
5. Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones
6. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
7. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
8. The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
10. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
11. Chime by Franny Billingsley

The clear favorite of critics is The Marriage Plot, which shows up on seven different lists. Additionally, 1Q84, Divergent, and Blood, Bones, and Butter all made it onto six. It goes to show how diverse readers’ (and editors’) tastes are across America. Clearly, though, there’s still common ground, and if you’re looking for a good book to devour this holiday season, chances are you’ll find plenty of worthwhile material on this list.

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

May 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!Image via Harper Collins

  • Last Friday we sang the praises of visually-striking book covers.  Today we have an article from the Guardian book blog on the importance of cover art – and the pitfalls of a truly bad design.   Stuart Evers discusses his distaste for certain covers (which reminds me of my hatred for the hot pink-meets-high-heels formula that has become the norm for a certain type of “chick lit” novel) and the problems faced by publishers.  “While one can understand the more commercial retailers wishing to stick to a tried and tested formula, I don’t believe this is helping writers or customers.  By packaging everything in the same colours, fonts and images, we lose differentiation,” he writes.
  • Similarly, the title of a book can tell us a lot about the contents – or, conversely, it can tell us nothing at all.  Playing on this knowledge, a Twitter meme has recently cropped up, under the hashtag “Lesserbooks,” in which users create new names for old favorites.  A few examples: Of Mice, White Dentures, Dante’s Impala, and my personal favorite, The Lion, The Witch, and the Walk-in Closet.
  • Continuing on the same thread is yet another article from the Guardian on the rewriting of classics to include modern elements (like the incredibly popular Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).   Instead of decrying the pop-culturally influenced remakes, Jonathan Wright suggests that this could be a valuable tool for getting people to read Great Books (much like Oprah’s Book Club!).  To make things even more interesting, he nominates a few novels for revamp.  It’s an interesting idea, but part of me wonders, why remake something as classic and stimulating as Nineteen Eighty-Four?
  • Jeffrey Brown from PBS recently had the honor of sitting down to an interview with one of my favorite authors: Isabel Allende.  They discuss her new novel, Island Beneath The Sea, which is set in the Caribbean in the early 19th century.  To watch the full interview with the House of Spirits author, go here.
  • And more good news for fans of magical realism: Allende’s novel has already made it to No. 4 on the L.A. Times bestseller list. Other newcomers to the list include Rick Riordan, Douglas Preston, and author of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels, Charlaine Harris.
  • And finally, two fascinating articles to begin the weekend.  First, a 16-year-old published author takes a moment to consider whether age matters in publishing, and to meditate on her own feelings of inadequacy when faced with even younger teenage prodigies.  Second, the Rumpus ponders the first person narrator and praises the fallibly infallible Nick Carraway.  Enjoy your days off, and happy reading!

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

May 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!Image via

  • We’ve seen a lot of interesting writing projects lately – from contests for bad poetry to a compilation of very, very short stories – but this one might just take the cake: Ben Segal and Erinrose Mager are soliciting submissions for The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature. They are asking writers to “imagine that they’ve just read the most amazing book they’ve ever encountered, and then write a brief blurb about the imagined text.”  We can hardly wait to see the results; the fruits of this mental exercise sound like they promise to be rewarding.
  • It won’t be a surprise to anyone who has been following this blog that I am a little obsessed with food writing, but as it turns out, I’m not the only one.  Jessica Ferri at The Millions chronicles the various forms of food writing, from evocative passages in novels like Sophie’s Choice to more specifically-oriented food writers like Michael Pollan.  Perhaps the most interesting tidbit has to do with how food writers (and readers) are influenced by the shifting economy.  Find out more here.
  • And for another topic we’re naturally interested in, the B&N book blog takes on reading about reading. This delightfully meta activity has been covered by many different authors, but recently literary critic and “the world’s best-known reader” Alberto Manguel has gathered up a collection of his essays in a new book, A Reader on Reading.  Full of interesting quotes and observations (sample: “Karel Capek, in his wonderful book on gardens, says that the art of gardening can be reduced to one rule: you put into it more than you take out. The same can be said of libraries.”) Manguel’s compilation sounds like a must-read.
  • Our relationship with books is often shaped by hearing them read aloud.  Like most people, I was introduced to the joy of reading aurally, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve spent far more time considering the printed word than the spoken one.  However, this article, from Jacket Copy makes me reconsider the influence of the author’s voice.  Carolyn Kellogg asks the question: Is David Sedaris really that good?  Or is his popularity due in part to his abilities as a performer?  A longtime fan of Sedaris, I would have to answer (like Kellogg) both.
  • And finally, two lighthearted links to start your weekend: 1. Bookslut posted an adorable cartoon that highlights the differences between a Kindle and a “Crappy Paperback” and 2. Check out this incredibly tacky but surprisingly fun “I read banned books” necklace.  Quite the literary fashion statement, if you ask me.

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book newImage via Amazon s from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

  • An interesting piece from the Jewish Review of Books asks the question: Why are there so few Jewish fantasy authors?  It’s something I’ve never considered, but considering the Christian allegories in Narnia and the like, it’s certainly worth thinking about.  Michael Weingrad argues, “we should begin by acknowledging that the conventional trappings of fantasy, with their feudal atmosphere and rootedness in rural Europe, are not especially welcoming to Jews, who were too often at the wrong end of the medieval sword.”  More thoughts on the relationship between religion and the fantasty world at The Second Pass.
  • Independent publisher Melville House has announced their intention to host an award ceremony for the best and worst book trailers. Book trailers, for those of you who don’t know, are short videos created to promote upcoming books.  Categories include “Best Big Budget Book Trailer,” “Best Cameo in a Book Trailer,” and hilariously, “Least Likely to Actually Sell the Book.”
  • One possible contender for the Melville House awards?  Actor Zach Galifianakis, who appeared in the trailer for John Wray’s Lowboy. Galifianakis and Wray humorously switched places in this short video, with the actor portraying the writer and the writer playing a far more chipper Zach.
  • In 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love became an instant hit, a bestseller, and a defining entry in the travel writing-cum-memoir canon.  As you’ve probably heard, the story of Gilbert’s self discovery is being made into a feature film, starring (who else?) America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts.  Roberts talks to the New York Times about the film, which left her “exhausted when it was all done.”  But “I loved every second of it,” she added.
  • And finally, start this weekend off right by listening to a bit of poetry. Singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant has done something interesting with her newest album, Leave Your Sleep.  Merchant has taken her favorite poems from childhood and set them to music in such a way that both adults and children can enjoy the resulting lullabies.  She chose works by famous poets (like Robert Graves, E.E. Cummings and even  one from Mother Goose) mixed in with those of lesser-known writers, including Charles Carryl and Lydia Huntley Sigourney.

    Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

    April 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

    Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

    • Mark TwainLet’s start off with the biggest story of the week: the iPad.  Now that it’s here, what can it do for us?  Well, according to the reviewers at Salon, it offers a “serene” reading experience, perfect for getting lost in a text.  And although the iBooks store is rather anemic right now, Amazon is offering an app to download Kindle books to the iPad, which might just be the best of both worlds.
    • And for even more on e-readers, check out the series of essays on the new medium over at Critical Mass.   “I prefer paper for everything,” writes columnist Martha Cornog.
    • Also trendy: Vampires.  It seems that the blood-suckers aren’t going away any time soon, so educate yourself on the “ethical” breed of domesticated monsters with Emily Colette Wilkinson’s fascinating take on our modern vampire romance.  If that whets your appetite for blood, The Guardian has a few great book recommendations for horror fans.
    • Margaret Atwood is on Twitter!  And she is very appreciative of her followers, who have sent her “many interesting items pertaining to artificially-grown pig flesh, unusual slugs, and the like.”  She also includes one of the most flattering descriptions of Twitter we’ve ever read: “It’s something like having fairies at the bottom of your garden.”
    • Preeminent Twain scholar Laura Skandera Trombley appeared yesterday on the Leonard Lopate Show to talk about Mark Twain’s “other woman,” Isabel Lyon. “Twain in effect made her his substitute wife,” she explains.  Trombley also suggests that Lyon always hoped Twain would marry her, but she was happy to work for “the most famous man in the world.”
    • And finally, take a moment to ponder the tragedy of so-called “lost literature.” There are many great pieces that time – and the general reading public – forgot, including the works of Ukrainian writer Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky and Russian author Danill Kharms.   Perhaps it’s time to celebrate some of our favorite, lesser-known authors before it is too late.

      Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

      April 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

      Photo from Out of PrintEvery Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

      • Short story writers, get your pens ready (or laptops, as the case may be) for NPR’s “Three Minute Fiction Contest.”  They’re looking for pieces of original prose including the words plant, button, trick, and fly.  Submissions will be judged by Ann Patchett, and are due by April 11th.
      • Good news for independent bookstores: Obama is a fan!  Our president made a surprise stop at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City this week to pick up a couple of children’s books for his daughters.  And the LA Times even has a video!
      • In case you hadn’t heard, April is Poetry Month.  Take a moment to honor the occasion by stepping outside your normal reading zone and trying out poets from around the world.  I plan to start by reading the works of Yehuda Amichai, one of my new favorite writers and Israel’s greatest modern poet.
      • You have to respect horror author Joe Hill for his recent success, especially considering his legacy.  Hill, whose real name is Joseph Hillstrom King, didn’t want to write under the shadow of his father.  “I felt there was a danger – real danger – in coming out as the son of Stephen King if I couldn’t sell it under the pen name, if it wasn’t good enough,” Hill explained.  Judge for yourself by picking up a copy of his second novel, Horns.
      • Can science be used to explain literature?  Some literary theorists believe so.  University English departments are increasingly turning to the “hard” sciences to better understand the way we read, write, and think.  Interested in the intersection?  The New York Times has it covered.
      • And finally, wear your love of books on your sleeve with these wonderful literary t-shirts.  You can purchase my personal favorite  here.

      Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

      March 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

      Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  EnjoyPhoto from!

      • In her piece on the immensely talented American author Shirley Jackson, Joan Schenkar introduces her subject as “Stanley’s wife,” which is, unfortunately, how she was seen for much of her life.  However, as Schenkar shows, Jackson was so much more than simply a wife – she was self-professed witch, a master of manipulation, and a true artist with words.  For more insights into Jackson and the literary culture of Bennington, Vermont, check out Shenkar’s piece in it’s entirety here.
      • Harry Potter fans will flock to the new ride at University Studios in Orlando, Florida.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open on June 18th and feature a virtual trip through the magical world of Hogwarts, including a stop at Ollivander’s Wand Shop and an interactive Quidditch match.  Sign me up.
      • Rest in peace Ai, award-winning poet and all-around admirable woman.  Born Florence Anthony, she changed her name to the Japanese word for love before receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and the National Book Award for her poetry collection “Vice.”  Take a moment to mourn the literary loss and read her poetry here.
      • Books can take us many places, but one of my favorite places to explore through the written word is only a few steps away: My own kitchen.  There is something truly magical about a novel that can not only transport you in space and time, but also tickle your tastebuds.  With this in mind, let’s try to recall our favorite culinary moments (mine from the children’s book series Redwall) with this article from the Guardian on food and fiction.
      • Have you been following March Madness?  No?  Well for those of us more interested in the Food Court than the basketball court, here is a fun way to participate:  Book tournaments.
      • And finally, Tim O’Brien appeared at Barnes & Noble earlier this week to discuss The Things They Carried on the twentieth anniversary of its publication.  An audio recording of the interview, in which O’Brien discusses storytelling, his most famous work, and the tragic legacy of Vietnam,  is available online.
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