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Top 5 books of 2011

Looking back at the books I've read over the past twelve months, 2011 seems to have been less successful than previous years. There was only one book that really blew me away. Still, I've read a lot of enormously enjoyable books, many of them by Alexander McCall Smith, which has made narrowing the list down to five a near impossible task. I've only managed it by cheating.

Alexander McCall Smith - 44 Scotland Street series
Antonia White - Frost in May
John Cheever - Falconer
Thomas Mann - Buddenbrooks
Paul Murray - Skippy Dies

I apologise to Herman Melville and Carson McCullers, Armistead Maupin and Alan Partridge, who fell at the last.

How about you?

What a pity it's only five.  I've just reminded myself of what I read through 2011.  Lots of short stories and poetry and plays.  A great deal of pleasure of all kinds. If I have to reduce it to five, well - not in order of preference.........

      The Fountain Overflows (Rebecca West)
      Middlemarch (George Eliot)
      Some People (Harlod Nicolson)
      Russia (Martin Sixsmith)
      Robert Elsemere (Mrs Humphrey Ward)

I could easily have produced a different five......
Joe Mac

This was a bit of a slow year for me, in terms of numbers and overall quality, I think. So choosing my top five wasn't that difficult. In no particular order:

My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara

I think mine would be:

Moominvalley Midwinter by Tove Jansson
Romanno Bridge by Andrew Greig
Ragnarök by AS Byatt
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge

I haven't read prolifically this year, but there are several others I could have chosen (and might do so on a different day).  JP Donleavy deserves a special mention for A Singular Man.

My computer screen has decided to give up the ghost so I am limited to my husband's laptop which doesn't have my lists of books and their ratings.  But offhand here are five I enjoyed last year, or got a lot from.

The Conductor   -   Sarah Quigley
The Room    -   Emma Donaghue
Corduroy Mansions   -   Alexander McCall Smith
Sovereign  -   CJ Sansom
The Rose   -   Jennifer Potter
Season of the Jew   -  Maurice Shadbolt

(That is 6 but I don't know who to leave out.  At the time of reading I probably found The Room hardest, but it has left a strong impression.)

Honourable mention to Anna Karenina, but it was read over two years.  And I know there were other non-fiction books I liked a lot.

Might update/change this when I find my list again.

Cheers, Caro.

I really haven't read all that much this year (what a bad boy!), but I enjoyed these very much:

Wolf Hall
Norwegian Wood
The Road
The Sisters Brothers
Spring Torrents

I would put Wolf Hall at the top of my list.


Well from my extensive list of books which I have read this year, I find it difficult to pick 5 out of all of them.

1. Alone in Berlin - as recommended to me on my 40 for 40 challenge, by Marita (I think) this has to be the number one book for this year

2. Neverwhere

3. Dead Reckoning

4. The Reginald Perrin Omnibus

5.  Wolf Hall

All very different books but all very good in their own way.

Most of the best reads of last year have been re-reads. Early last year, I read Moby-Dick after some 20 or so years, and, magnificent (though frequently maddening) though it was, it was his late novella Billy Budd, Sailor that made on me an even greater impact.

I read some Dante for the first time: I managed to get through Robin Kirkpatrick's translation of Inferno. As is inevitable in a first reading of something of this stature, most of it went over my head, but even so, this is something that really demands to be read simply because of its stature in Western literature. I must read the other two volumes of the Commedia some time this year. However, although I am glad I read this, I don't think I got enough out of it to nominate it as one of my books of the year.

This last year has also been the year of Vasily Grossman. The Road, a collection of short fiction, essays and journalism by Vasily Grossman, and Everything Flows, Grossman's last, unfinished novel, both translated by Robert & Elizabeth Chandler (with various colleagues of theirs), were both published quite recently, and are extraordinary volumes. I also read A Writer at War, a collection of Grossman's wartime journalism, translated & edited by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova. I'll nominate The Road as one of my books of the year. (Come to think of it, I also read Cormac McCarthy's The Road last year as well...)

Henry Fielding's Amelia is an uncertain work in many respects: it's the work of a great comic writer attempting - not always very satisfactorily - to find a suitable form for a darker vision. But it is never less that intriguing, and is, at times, very impressive indeed.

I have been reading the Bible on and off over the year, and I think the Books of Samuel - especially the First Book of Samuel, containing the tragic narration of the downfall of Saul - should most definitely be on my list. Quite apart from anything else, these two books contain just about the finest English prose I have come across. (I could have gone for the Book of Job as well - surely among the most profound works of world literature.)

And finally, to complete my five, another re-read: Demons by Dostoyevsky. It is a novel like no other, and communicates a sense of sheer terror that leaves one - that left me, at any rate - somewhat shaken.
Jen M

This year I have read 26 books, 13 of which were for my reading group.  I didn't dislike any enough to give up on, which makes this a good year.  However, very few of my reads this year have been outstanding, so it is easy to pick out 5.

Those I enjoyed the most, then, were (in reverse order of reading)

The Help - Kathryn Stockett
The Missing - Tim Gautreaux
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Haweswater - Sarah Hall
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

In compiling this list, I see that I have included three that I would class as "Southern" Reads; some board members may remember that I wanted to read books set in the southern States of the USA before a trip there two years ago.

Apple wrote:

1. Alone in Berlin - as recommended to me on my 40 for 40 challenge, by Marita (I think) this has to be the number one book for this year

I’m glad you enjoyed this, Apple.

My top 5 for 2011 are:

1 - An Equal Music – Vikram Seth

2 / 3
- Stealing the Mystic Lamb. The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece – Noah Charney
- Portrait of a Lady – Henry James

4 / 5
- Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill – Dimitri Verhulst
- I Shall Wear Midnight – Terry Pratchett

Gul Darr

I only read about 13 books in 2011 Sad so this should be a relatively easy task. But it's so difficult to choose! I'll rule out Les Misérables Parts 3 and 4 as re-reads of sorts, which helps a bit. So, in no particular order:

The Sweet Shop Owner by Graham Swift
My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
The Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

The list that comes to mind right now omits any rereads, so necessarily excludes 'The Old Curosity Shop' and a few other titles. Tomorrow, you might get a different selection!

George Gissing    The Nether World
John Dos Passos  Manhatten Transfer
John Dos Passos  Three Soldiers
Virginia Woolf      Jacob's Room
Winifred Watson   Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

These are the ones that made the deepest impression on me, although there are several other books I have read this year that I rate very highly and might include if I repeated this exercise.

You might not have read quantity, Gul, but you've certainly read quality.

My computer is up and running again, and I see a few books I rated at 19 missed out.  They included The Hand That Once Held Me by Maggie O'Farrell, and The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester and a couple of NZ ones.  But the one I feel I should have added was Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy which I did like a lot.  What to take out:  I suppose Sovereign.

Cheers, Caro.
Gul Darr

Caro, that's two recommendations for Under the Greenwood Tree now, so that might be my choice of Hardy novel for 2012.

Marita wrote:
Apple wrote:

1. Alone in Berlin - as recommended to me on my 40 for 40 challenge, by Marita (I think) this has to be the number one book for this year

I’m glad you enjoyed this, Apple.

I did it was one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read, and it had the knack of playing on my mind afterwrds for a while and there are very few books which manage to do that.

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