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."
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)
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.
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?