Friday 23 December 2011

Top 15 of 2011

I'm going to have a few days' rest from blogging and celebrate Christmas - let's face it, there have been plenty of reviews recently for you to get your teeth into!  But I shan't leave you abandoned, oh no.

I love lists, I really love 'em.   Putting things in order has delighted me ever since Mum used to empty a big tin of buttons on the table for us to sort.  That's why I don't make a top-ten-in-no-order list - I rank my most loved books of 2011 in strict order, even when it is a far from exact science.  It's how much I liked them, how much I admired them, how much I enjoyed reading them (all of which are slightly different) all rolled into one.

Some amazing books have been left out, but it's still a nice mix of male and female authors (7.5 each), various decades, and... well, three non-fiction books in there.  And a lot of funny books too, or at least books with funny elements (numbers 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 6, 5, and 1 would all qualify).  Enough jabbering, over the list - do link to your own list, if you've made one.

A wonderfully surreal, oddly detached, and brilliantly written novel - which I'd recommend to any fans of Muriel Spark or Barbara Comyns.

The best ending I've ever read, and plenty of other good pages before that - an amusing and ultimately heart-breaking view of Edwardian high society.

Further evidence that two lacklustre reads shouldn't put me off trying a third - hilarious, clever, and deservedly a classic.
This wins the year's prize for Book I Thought I'd Hate and Ended Up Loving - Ignatius J. Reilly is utterly obnoxious, but tales of his arrogance and verbose ineptitude made for uproarious reading.

To recycle my line, more Provincial Lady than Headless Lady - and utterly delightful.

The second volume of this extraordinary (and yet somehow ordinary) woman's observant and moving diaries.
The only 2011 book on this list (and one of only three I read this year) this is easily the most moving book I read, but far, far more than a melancholy memoir.

The only novel in translation on the list, this novella is beautiful and a must for any fans of fallible memory narratives.  Better than Atonement.

Such a perceptive, calm take on the infidelity narrative - and one which shows how exceptionally well Young could write about families.

Somehow both cynical and life-affirming - an utterly joyous romp of British-German twins through wartime America.

Comyns never lets me down, and this surreal novel with its utterly matter-of-fact narrator is no exception.  Nobody else could do anything bizarre and brilliant in the same way.

A girl falls in love with the puppets from a puppet theatre?  Sounds enchanting - but Gallico's novella gets pretty dark, and is an ingenious tale which is too fairy-talesque  ever to be too disturbing.

The best novel I've read from the 21st century.  A simple plot of an old minister writing to his young son, Robinson captures a voice in a way which is much more convincing than most autobiographies, let alone novels.  So beautiful, and makes Robinson, from my reading, the greatest prose writer alive.

Only recently reviewed on SiaB, these letters show the best talents of both of these wonderful writers - a collection which I will revisit many times, and the benchmark against which I'll set all future published volumes of letters.

From the first page onwards, Hamilton's writing was so good that it left me actually astonished.  How could an author be this talented?  He is the 1940s missing link between writers as disparate as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.  A shy woman bullied in a boarding house is an unlikely topic for great literature, but this is one of the best novels I've ever read - and Hamilton one of the most exceptional writers.


  1. Ha, ha, glad to see Toole's book made it!

  2. Hi Simon! Enjoy your rest and the Holiday season. I love this list that you have just created - I haven't read most of this (my staple being children's lit and YA fiction), but I do read adult literature every once in a while: Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping is a personal favorite, one of the authors familiar to me in this list of yours. Will definitely check out all the other titles you have included here and read through (some of) them in the coming year. :)

  3. What a great list. I'm so glad to see Gilead on your list, and hope that you'll read Home -- the two go so well together, and I loved them both equally.

    You've given me lots of great reading recommendations as well!

  4. I do love a list and this one is fantastic. I've only read 1 of the 15 but I've added most of the others to my wishlist after reading your reviews. I've been consciously holding off starting The Unbearable Bassington and The Element of Lavishness since I picked them up at the library last Friday because I'm worried reading them before 2012 would complicate the already difficult task of compiling my own Best of 2011 list! But, come January 1, I certainly know what I'll be reading.

  5. I'm not a list person myself, unless it is a checklist of things to take from one lab to another. Of the books on yours I have read only the Toole, which I loved, and the Forster which I didn't (though I have liked a number of his other books).

  6. Loved your list. I'm full of admiration that you whittled a year's reading down to just 15 best books. My own lists tend to become unwieldy, and the order varies depending on the mood I'm in.

  7. Great list and I'm very happy to see Hamilton at the top. Of the others I've only read William, Gilead and Howards End -- oh, and Bassington but that was ages and ages ago. I did start the von Arnim after you raved about it but it didn't grab me -- I should get back to it. And the Comyns -- well, that's a treat I still have in store.
    Anyway have a wonderful Christmas, as I'm sure you will, in the bosom of your lovely family, not forgetting your lovely cat. x

  8. A fantastic list, Simon. I've only read the Toole, which I didn't 'love' but did enjoy hugely. I will have to get into Patrick Hamilton - I do have a couple of his novels in my TBR. I failed with 'Gilead' though - I just couldn't get into it at all... another time maybe.

  9. Great list here! I've always wanted to read a Confederancy of Dunces but so far haven't... may have to keep it in mind for next year I think!

    Megan @ Storybook Love Affair

  10. Leaz - not something I would ever have expected when I borrowed it from the library!

    Myra - thank you! I will definitely read Home and Housekeeping this year (or at least I fully intend to...) If your staple is YA/children's, have you read the Moomins? I haven't, but I intend to this year.

    Laura - I definitely intend to read Robinson's other two novels this year - I must read Home before I forget the details of Gilead...

  11. Claire - I totally do that myself! I held off finishing Great Expectations last December, for that very reason... but then only actually finished it after I'd made my top 15 *this* year. Foolish boy!

    Peter - I can't say I'd recommend any of the others to you, actually, except maybe Let Not The Waves of the Sea and the Maxwell/Warner letters... maybe?

    Chris - thanks! I'm sure my list would change if I were to make it another day, but I love lists too much not to make an order... Having said that, looking at past years' lists, I'm still pretty content with the orders.

  12. Harriet - I have a feeling Hamilton might be near the top of next year's list, if I finally manage to read another book by him. Craven House is next on the list. Looking through my list, I'm pretty sure you'd like most of them - definitely Two Serious Ladies.

    Annabel - thanks! Let me know if you plan on reading Craven House, and I'll join in with you...

    Megan - thank you :) Confed of Dunces is a bizarre book, a real love-or-hate novel, but definitely give it a go...

  13. What an interesting list Simon. Here are mine and, my book of the year, is Magnificent Obsession by Helen Rappaport

  14. Great list. You have me at "the best ending I have ever read". The Unbearable Bassington just went on my TBR!

  15. Merry Christmas Simon! I've read quite a few on your list and noted down several more as they look so good... I hope you have a peaceful and wonderful holiday.

  16. So glad to see you changed your mind about Howards End--it's one of my favorites. I think I will have to read Gilead next year since both you and Rachel/Book Snob rave about it. Lots of other interesting books on your list that I will have to explore now, too. After I read the discussion of the Saki on the Doves group I loaded it onto my Nook, though I haven't yet gotten to it. And I agree that Patrick Hamilton's book is exceptional! Best wishes for the Holiday--hope you're having a great time with your family.

  17. Elaine - a last minute victor, that's edge-of-your-seat stuff! Since you read so many books each year, fancy joining me on A Century of Books, and reading one from each year of the 20th century?!

    Ruthiella - oo, lovely! I have built it up, haven't I? Perhaps I found it so good because I wasn't expecting it... but nonetheless, it is incredibly moving.

    Helen - lovely, and thank you :)

    Danielle - Oh, you will love Gilead, I promise! Thanks for another year of great suggestions on your blog.

  18. Gilead made my top 10 as well - and several of these have been added to my tbr list thanks to you.

  19. I think I'll add a couple of these to the to-read list.

  20. I <3 your list and am so glad you enjoyed Confederacy so much! Still looking out for The Skin Chairs. I did do a list here, and would add two since that post, here and here. Not all will be to your tastes since fully half are new books, but I did take one tip from you, so thanks, again!

  21. This is the second time in 10m that i see Christopher and Columbus in a Best of 2011 list (The Captive Reader was another). Elizabeth and her German Garden was one my best this year and I'm really like to read more by her.


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