Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Best (and Worst) Books of 2011

I feel that no matter how many books I read per year, I still won't consider the total enough. Nonetheless, I think I read a good amount, even though classes prevented me from doing much leisure reading during September, October, and November. As I've said, my Goodreads is the best way to keep up with what I'm reading and what I think of books I've read. My 2010 list is here, my 2009 list is here, and my 2008 list is here. In the words of The Joker: "And here we...go."

Best Novel

Last year I noted that no novel truly floored me. There were some good ones, but none I'd consider great. This year, however, I read a few novels that impressed me to the extent that I'd feel comfortable awarding each the top slot. Kevin Wilson's The Family Fang wins it, though, with likable characters, an intriguing plot with tension, good dialogue and descriptions, humor, and all-around great writing. In other words, every facet of this book is praiseworthy. The fact that one of the characters is a writer may irk some, but that's a minor complaint. 

"But Jason," you may say, "didn't Kevin Wilson blurb your forthcoming novella The Dying Horse? And doesn't that make you biased?" Yes and perhaps, but keep in mind that I asked Kevin for a blurb because I enjoy his work. I asked for the blurb prior to The Family Fang, and I wasn't prepared for just how good it is. 

Honorable Mentions: Chris Bachelder's Abbott Awaits (Yellow Shoe Fiction), Mel Bosworth's Freight (Folded Word), T. J. Forrester's Miracles, Inc. (Simon & Schuster)

Best Short Story Collection

While several novels could've garnered top honors this year, there wasn't a collection head and shoulders above the rest. Even so, there's a lot to like in Ryan Call's The Weather Stations, which features imaginative, fantastical stories about people dealing with weather. The book's striking cover and pleasing layout add to the value.

Honorable Mentions: Roxane Gay's Ayiti (Artistically Declined Press), Karl Taro Greenfeld's NowTrends (Short Flight / Long Drive Books)

Best Chapbook

When I think of Justin Hamm's poetry, the following words come to mind: authenticity, bleakness, blue collar, genuineness, hardworking, honesty, rawness, sorrow. Besides the poems--each is of high quality and many are emotionally evocative--the overall package conveys just how much time, effort, and care went into the production of this fine chapbook. 

Honorable Mentions: None

Best Literary Magazine

Hobart - Aaron Burch - Editor

From year to year, Hobart is consistently one of my favorite literary journals. They publish monthly online issues, and this year they published Hobart #12, a welcome addition to the journal's print legacy. Likewise, I always enjoy reading the month's (dis)likes, and the editors recently added a Tumblr. Not to be overlooked is the journal's press Short Flight / Long Drive Books. Unsurprisingly, each SF/LD release is good--I especially like Adam Novy's The Avian Gospels and Michelle Orange's The Sicily Papers--and each is worth owning. I'm eager to find out what 2012 holds in store for Hobart

Honorable Mentions: Dark Sky Magazine, > kill author

Worst Book

I bought Justin Taylor's The Gospel of Anarchy based on its premise and cover. The first few pages are promising, but that's about it. I didn't like any of the characters, and the plot lacks adequate tension, important stakes. Further, the novel fails to convincingly establish the reasons why the story takes place when (1999) and where (Gainesville, Florida) it does. Because I didn't like the book enough to keep it, I passed it on to Spencer Dew, who panned it in his review. So, based on Spencer's review and various Goodreads ratings/reviews, it appears I'm not alone in my distaste. 

I hope you enjoyed reading about my favorite books of 2011. What are yours? 


Ravi Mangla said...

I really need to read Family Fang and Abbott Awaits. Weather Stations and NowTrends were excellent, two of my favorites for sure.

Mel Bosworth said...

Thanks so much, Jason. I've actually been thinking about and talking about Family Fang the past few days. On my hit list without a doubt now.

Anne E said...

I'm listening to the audio version of Family Fang and it is great. I don't want it to end, but I don't want to stop listening.

Jon Konrath said...

I read a lot of good stuff this year - will have to post a list if I get a few minutes to dig through the archives.

I finally got around to reading Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and thought it was pretty astounding. I also went through a period of reading a PK Dick book a week and that was fun, although they all started blurring together after the 4th or 5th one.

I read the book Into the Forest for a book club and was somewhat horrified by that. It was enough that I never went to the book club.

adam moorad said...

justin hamm's chap looks good. i know what you mean regarding j taylor. i felt the same frustration w/his short story collection. i just don't get what the hubbub is about.

Justin Hamm said...

Thanks for the shout out, Jason. I've had a tough couple of weeks at work, and reading the adjectives you used to describe my poetry was definitely a nice pick-me-up. Hope life is loving you, man. I'm going to have to check out some of the other stuff you mentioned here.

Tawnysha Greene said...

Great list! Thanks for sharing!

Jason Jordan said...

@ Ravi: They're both great, as you may infer. ;)

@ Mel: You're welcome, Mel. The inclusion is well deserved.

@ Anne: I hope you enjoy the rest of it. I haven't done the audio book thing, though.

@ Jon: I'd be interested to read about your choices.

@ Adam: Hamm's chapbook is great. I like Taylor's collection much more than the novel, but I still don't care for it all that much. In fact, I think I donated it to a library.

@ Justin: You're welcome, man. Glad to be the bearer of some good news.

@ Tawnysha: Thanks for reading! Also, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Maggie said...

I've read squat this past year! School has kept me busy, and we focused a lot of Spanish literature like Don Quijote.

How's everything going? It's been quite a while since I passed by to say hello.

Merry Christmas!

Jason Jordan said...

@ Maggie: Things have been good. It's nice to see you on here again. I hope you enjoyed your Christmas, and that New Year's will be good to you.

Andrew Roe said...

I've had a couple of recommendations to read The Family Fang. Definitely need to check it out. Really enjoyed Tunneling to the Center of Earth.