Favorite (Not Best) Books of 2011

Some people complain about writing and/or reading the sort of year end list that are popular this time of the year. I am not one of them. I enjoy reading them, as they always point me to books I wouldn’t have known of otherwise, and I enjoy writing them to help point out books I like that might not have received the attention I think they deserved.

A couple of caveats on the title of the this list though. First, you’ll notice I’m listing my favorite books I read this year, not necessarily the best. I realize my tastes are more crass and low brow than many of my peers, and I’m fine with that, but readers of this list looking for the best of the best may want to look elsewhere. Secondly, the year. These are all books I read in 2011, but they may not have all been published in 2011. Again, I’ve come to terms with my reading habits, so should you. Enjoy.

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
This was probably my favorite read of the year. It was about a writer, which of course scores it a million points in my book, but it was also a great study of family and dreams and marriage and a writer’s expectations of himself. It had a lot of shades of Wonder Boys and had one of the most perfect endings I’ve ever read. As the ending approached I was worried that it might devolve into sappiness or unrealistic wish fulfillment, but kudos to Mr. Norman for a great book.

Getting Off by Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson
This was one of those books that was so much better than it had any business being. It met all of the pulpy thrill expectations it sets with kinky sex, gory violence, and a potboiler story. But it also has some nice ruminations and the characters are quite well developed. I would rank this high on my list of favorite Block novels.

Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski
This book blew me away. It started off strong with some great actions scenes and a neat hook, then I started to get worried. I began to think the book would be nothing but action scene after action scene which would get quite tedious. But I should have known better. Just i was about to give up on the book, Duane started digging more into the characters and tapped into some amazing emotions for what is really quite a ridiculous plot. The most amazing thing though is that I never failed to suspend my disbelief. A true master and balancing the ridiculous with the emotional.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Holy crap. What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said better by all of the people smart enough to read this book sooner than I. This capped off my reading of (almost) all of Woodrell’s books this year and I couldn’t imagine a better capstone. The other books were all of a type and very well done, but they were quite light on plot. Anyone who knows me though knows that’s not a problem. But man, Winter’s Bone does everything right his other books did with language and characters, but packs just a perfectly executed crime story into a small book. I know it’s probably sacrilegious to say, but I want to read a sequel were Ree becomes a bounty hunter.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
This is another one I was way too late coming to but glad I finally did. Another one about a writer and family secrets that I loved. The world created was well worn and lived in and the characters were just fabulous. This is one of those books where I just wanted to crawl into it and stay in the world long after the book was done.

The Cypress House by Michael Koryta
My favorite Koryta book is still Envy the Night, but this one came very, very close to supplanting it. I enjoyed So Cold The River as the ghost novel it was intended to be and it reminded me of summers spent reading Stephen King books. But The Cypress House excited me more because it was more in line with his crime novels. It’s a sweaty, gothic, gooey doozy of a book that’s perfectly creepy but has a slam bang story to go with. I don’t generally care for historical novels but the history in this book was put to good use and it really couldn’t have happened at any other time in history. This book did what I think Lehane’s Shutter Island tried to do but failed.

Galveston by Nic Pizolatto
Every year there’s a literary crime novel that grabs a hold of my attention and this year it was Galveston. This one was much more in the slower story telling vein but it did some neat things with atmosphere and language that I enjoyed. Again, I think I’ve said this about every one of the favorite’s here, the characters were what set it apart from the other books I read and forgot. This was one of the first books I read this year and the fact that it still sticks in my rather porous mind says quite a lot.

The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
This was by far my favorite book and the best book I read this year. I’ve always been a fan of Laura’s books and think she does great things with characters, but her style has always been very straightforward and workman like. It does what it needs to do to get the story done. Now her short stories are another thing all together. I think she is one of the most under appreciated noir short story writers working now. She has some dazzling feats of character and story telling in her short work but that has never been the case in her novels until this book. She not only stretches her characters to darker shades of gray, she also does some very nifty things with the plot and with how she tells the story. I love to see great writers stretch themselves and this is a great example of that.

Books I Most Regret Not Reading This Year

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
I’m a fan in general of Megan and have loved all of her other books so i was excited to read this one which seemed to be more in a modern Laura Lippman vein. I think I was in the wrong mood though when I started it because I couldn’t get into the voice and put it aside after a few pages and moved on to something else. Now that it’s starting to appear on almost every year end best of list I think it’s about time to give it another crack.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block
This is another one I was very excited about. I love the idea of digging back into Scudder’s past back when he was newly sober. But again, I was probably in the wrong mood and found the story not going much of anywhere for quite a while. I had a conversation with another writer about this and he agreed with my assessment so I put it aside and moved on to something else. Again as this has appeared on some best of lists as well, I think I’m ready to give it another crack.