Streams

The Best Books We Read in 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 04:46 PM

We’re nearing the end of the year, the season of best-of lists. The Leonard Lopate Show staff loves books and we read a lot of them! Here are some staff picks for the best books we’ve read this year—many of them were published in 2011, but some are older and worthy of attention.

What were the best books you read this year? Let us know by leaving a comment!

 

Julia Corcoran, Assistant Producer

Swamplandia, by Karen Russell
“This novel is written with such a fresh, original voice. The narrator is a 13-year-old girl trying to save her family’s failing alligator theme park, and I especially loved the vivid, magical, totally absorbing world the author creates.”

The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball
“I’m not the only person to pick this book, but it is such a wonderful story of two people who created a working farm together—the word “challenging” seems inadequate to describe their project, but they succeeded! I can still conjure up her descriptions of living in a bitter cold, broken-down farmhouse in the dead of winter in upstate New York, of milking cows early in the morning, and of learning to plow the earth with a team of horses.”

We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication, by Judith Warner
“This book was a real eye-opener. It’s about the assumptions many people make about things without knowing any facts, namely that children are being overdiagnosed with and overmedicated for mental disorders that aren’t necessarily even real. But when Warner looked into this, she found another story entirely—that there are a lot of kids who are really suffering, parents who are struggling with what to do, and not enough mental health resources. Warner shows that this is a very complex issue and she writes about it with compassion.”

 

Melissa Eagan, Executive Producer

The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki (1943-48)
“You might say nothing much happens in it, but on the other hand, I was completely riveted!!  It concerns four sisters and their lives at a time of transition from old to new, and I could never predict what was coming next, or how it would end, and I didn’t care.”

True Grit, by Charles Portis (1968)
“The narrator’s voice is so distinctive, and matter-of-fact, and unlike anything I’d encountered before.  Even though I’d liked the movie the Coen brothers made, of the same title – how the book was the same, and yet differed subtly, made me like the book even more!”

The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball
“This is about a Manhattan freelance writer who winds up falling in love with a farmer and starting up a farm with him in Essex, New York, (one of my favorite towns in the Adirondacks). She shows how hard it is to actually farm, and yet, how rewarding, in very vivid terms.”

 

Blakeney Schick, Associate Producer

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
“This book manages to be both personal and sweeping in its look at the Great Migration. And even though you know from the beginning where each of the 3 people that Wilkerson focuses on ends up, you’re so involved in their stories that it’s a page-turner.”

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton (1905)
“I loved the way that the story of Lily Bart unfolded. It's no wonder that it put Edith Wharton on the map.”

 

Our Contributing Producers, Volunteers, and Interns

Barbara Cahn

The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal
“A family memoir, anchored by the author's inheritance of a collection of Japanese netsuke, which makes the case for 'why objects matter.’”

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
“A novel set in the Amazon jungle, where a scientist has discovered a drug which allows women to remain fertile into old age....kind of a feminist Heart of Darkness.”

 

Keith Carne

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
“Reading Freedom made me feel like I had a dirty secret that I was really bad at keeping; for a while, it was difficult to ride the subway without bumping into someone else with a copy glued to their hands. This book made a round robin of my friends, and it was really comforting to dish with them about what a misguided floozy Patty was, or whether or not we’d actually like Richard’s Wilco-esqe country folk—it was all gossip we didn’t have to worry about others overhearing. A bit overwritten, yes, but that melodramatic, soap-operatic style engaged these primal impulses I so rarely connect with as a reader. Or should I say I don’t allow myself to engage them as a reader. Freedom helped set me free.”

 

Fannie Cohen

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, by Patton Oswalt
“For all the disingenuous memoirs by vodka slinging comedians, Oswalt has loving crafted every sentence of this reflection on premature genius getting stuck in the boondocks. I'm glad he got out.”

An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin
“We all know/are Lacey Yeager. Don't lie. Also, there are pictures.”

Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, by Jeff Ryan
“We are also all Mario. But your princess will always be in another castle, sorry. Hey at least you know now.”

Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem
“For New Yorkers who don't hang out with enough crazed intellectual conspiracy theorists, this book provides the radical life you wish you had. And a tiger.”

Hitch 22, by Christopher Hitchens
“Get to know your intellectual, scotch swilling, guru. Full of wonderful contradictions and stories from an Englishman who might make you proud to be an American.”

 

Paula Crossfield

The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball
“A memoir in which a journalist falls in love with a farmer upstate and then falls in love with the agricultural life. Beautiful!”

 

Virginia Dorris

The Anti-Romantic Child, by Priscilla Gilman
“Gilman, a huge fan of William Wordsworth, was a literature professor at Vassar when her first child was born. Her book chronicles Gilman's coming to terms with her son's autism, and how she revised her ideas about childhood to better meet his needs.  A wonderful, joyous and insightful look at parenting, for parents and non-parents alike.”

Binocular Vision, by Edith Pearlman
“This is a gorgeous book of short stories. They are beautifully written and never miss the mark. This book was nominated for the 2011 National Book Award—really worth reading.”

Townie, by Andre Dubus III
“In this memoir, Dubus described how he grew up in poverty on the wrong side of the tracks outside Boston, and how he fought his way—literally—into adulthood. Dubus, who's now a successful novelist (House of Sand and Fog), writes beautifully and is a wonderful storyteller. His book is hard to put down.”

 

Kim Gittleson

Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton
“This is a memoir for people who hate memoirs. Funny and bracingly honest (including a description of a dead rat that still haunts me) - Hamilton's tale of her wacky family, wackier restaurant and mouth-watering food made for perfect winter reading. It's also made radishes with butter and salt a staple of mine for breakfast.”

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson
“Recommended to me by a Brit, Atkinson's first mystery is set in and around Oxford and weaves back and forth through decades and unsolved mysteries. The book features the most loveable down-on-his-luck detective in recent memory, prose befitting a Whitbread Award-winner, and a good mystery to boot!”

 

Cristina Maldonado

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman
“At its core this is a book about human frailty. The stories are nuanced and the writing is brilliant. I found it hard to turn that last page—I didn't want it to end.”

Boomerang: Travels In The New Third World, by Michael Lewis
“If you want a clear and engaging explanation of the European financial crisis and the role the U.S. plays in it, this is the book to read!”

 

William Miesmer

Iphigenia in Forest Hills, by Janet Malcolm
“If you're like me, you like courtroom journalism. Malcolm's book takes you deep into the world of a Queens murder trial, where a Bukharan-Jewish woman stands accused of ordering the killing of her ex-husband to gain custody of their young daughter. Illuminating, suspenseful and disquieting.”

 

Jessica Miller

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What it Means to Be Alive, by Brian Christian
“Each year, the Artificial Intelligence community rallies around a Turing Test, in which a panel of judges engage in a discussion with a group of computers designed to mimic human conversation (much like Watson, the Jeopardy-winning computer) in order to determine which is The Most Human Computer. As a control to the experiment, the Turing Test also includes humans that pretend to be computers, the least convincing of which earns the title of The Most Human Human. Using this test as a jumping off point, the author (who participated in a Turing Test) explores the surprising similarities between computers and humans, and what we can learn from one another.”

 

Sara Waltuck

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis
Wildwood is the first novel by Colin Meloy, the lead singer of The Decemberists, and it's illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis. It's a young adult novel set in the fictional wilds of Portland. Meloy's precise, intellectual voice that's so central to his music is present in the book as well, and Ellis' illustrations are exquisite.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
The writing and characters in Sara Gruen's bestseller really drew me in, and since I love historical fiction, learning about Depression-era circus life was an added bonus.

Julia Corcoran, Assistant Producer

Swamplandia, by Karen Russell

“This novel is written with such a fresh, original voice. The narrator is a 13-year-old girl trying to save her family’s failing alligator theme park, and I especially loved the vivid, magical, totally absorbing world the author creates.”

 

The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball

“I’m not the only person to pick this book, but it is such a wonderful story of two people who created a working farm together—the word “challenging” seems inadequate to describe their project, but they succeeded! I can still conjure up her descriptions of living in a bitter cold, broken-down farmhouse in the dead of winter in upstate New York, of milking cows early in the morning, and of learning to plow the earth with a team of horses.”


We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication, by Judith Warner (2010)

“This book was a real eye-opener. It’s about the assumptions many people make about things without knowing any facts, namely that children are being overdiagnosed with and overmedicated for mental disorders that aren’t necessarily even real. But when Warner looked into this, she found another story entirely—that there are a lot of kids who are really suffering, parents who are struggling with what to do, and not enough mental health resources. Warner shows that this is a very complex issue and she writes about it with compassion.”

 

 

Melissa Eagan, Executive Producer


The Makioka Sisters
, by Junichiro Tanizaki (1943-48)
“You might say nothing much happens in it, but on the other hand, I was completely riveted!!  It concerns four sisters and their lives at a time of transition from old to new, and I could never predict what was coming next, or how it would end, and I didn’t care.”

 

True Grit, by Charles Portis (1968) 

“The narrator’s voice is so distinctive, and matter-of-fact, and unlike anything I’d encountered before.  Even though I’d liked the movie the Coen brothers made, of the same title – how the book was the same, and yet differed subtly, made me like the book even more!”

 

The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball 

“This is about a Manhattan freelance writer who winds up falling in love with a farmer and starting up a farm with him in Essex, New York, (one of my favorite towns in the Adirondacks). She shows how hard it is to actually farm, and yet, how rewarding, in very vivid terms.”

 

 

Blakeney Schick, Associate Producer

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.
“This book manages to be both personal and sweeping in its look at the Great Migration. And even though you know from the beginning where each of the 3 people that Wilkerson focuses on ends up, you’re so involved in their stories that it’s a page-turner.”

 

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton.
“I loved the way that the story of Lily Bart unfolded.”

 

 

Contributing Producers, Volunteers, and Interns

 

 

Barbara Cahn


The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal
A family memoir, anchored by the author's inheritance of a collection of Japanese netsuke, which makes the case for “why objects matter.’”

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
“A novel set in the Amazon jungle, where a scientist has discovered a drug which allows women to remain fertile into old age....kind of a feminist Heart of Darkness.”

 

 

Keith Carne

 

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

“Reading Freedom made me feel like I had a dirty secret that I was really bad at keeping; for a while, it was difficult to ride the subway without bumping into someone else with a copy glued to their hands. This book made a round robin of my friends, and it was really comforting to dish with them about what a misguided floozy Patty was, or whether or not we’d actually like Richard’s Wilco-esqe country folk—it was all gossip we didn’t have to worry about others overhearing. A bit overwritten, yes, but that melodramatic, soap-operatic style engaged these primal impulses I so rarely connect with as a reader. Or should I say I don’t allow myself to engage them as a reader. Freedom helped set me free.”

 

 

Fannie Cohen


Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, by Patton Oswalt
“For all the disingenuous memoirs by vodka slinging comedians, Oswalt has loving crafted every sentence of this reflection on premature genius getting stuck in the boondocks. I'm glad he got out.”

 

An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin
“We all know/are Lacey Yeager. Don't lie. Also, there are pictures.”

 

Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, by Jeff Ryan
“We are also all Mario. But your princess will always be in another castle, sorry. Hey at least you know now.”

 

Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem
“For New Yorkers who don't hang out with enough crazed intellectual conspiracy theorists, this book provides the radical life you wish you had. And a tiger.”

 

Hitch 22, by Christopher Hitchens
“Get to know your intellectual, scotch swilling, guru. Full of wonderful contradictions and stories from an Englishman who might make you proud to be an American.”

 

 

Paula Crossfield


The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball

“A memoir in which a journalist falls in love with a farmer upstate and then falls in love with the agricultural life. Beautiful!”

 

 

Virginia Dorris


The Anti-Romantic Child, by Pricilla Gilman

“Gilman, a huge fan of William Wordsworth, was a literature professor at Vassar when her first child was born. Her book chronicles Gilman's coming to terms with her son's autism, and how she revised her ideas about childhood to better meet his needs.  A wonderful, joyous and insightful look at parenting, for parents and non-parents alike.”

 

Binocular Vision, by Edith Pearlman

“This is a gorgeous book of short stories. They are beautifully written and never miss the mark. This book was nominated for the 2011 National Book Award—really worth reading.”

 

Townie, by Andre Dubus III

“In this memoir, Dubus described how he grew up in poverty on the wrong side of the tracks outside Boston, and how he fought his way—literally—into adulthood. Dubus, who's now a successful novelist (House of Sand and Fog), writes beautifully and is a wonderful storyteller. His book is hard to put down.”

 

 

Kim Gittleson


Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton
“This is a memoir for people who hate memoirs. Funny and bracingly honest (including a description of a dead rat that still haunts me) - Hamilton's tale of her wacky family, wackier restaurant and mouth-watering food made for perfect winter reading. It's also made radishes with butter and salt a staple of mine for breakfast.”

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson (2008)
“Recommended to me by a Brit, Atkinson's first mystery is set in and around Oxford and weaves back and forth through decades and unsolved mysteries. The book features the most loveable down-on-his-luck detective in recent memory, prose befitting a Whitbread Award-winner, and a good mystery to boot!”

 

 

Cristina Maldonado


The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman

“At its core this is a book about human frailty. The stories are nuanced and the writing is brilliant. I found it hard to turn that last page—I didn't want it to end.”

Boomerang: Travels In The New Third World, by Michael Lewis
“If you want a clear and engaging explanation of the European financial crisis and the role the U.S. plays in it, this is the book to read!”

 

 

William Miesmer

Iphigenia in Forest Hills, by Janet Malcolm
“If you're like me, you like courtroom journalism. Malcolm's book takes you deep into the world of a Queens murder trial, where a Bukharan-Jewish woman stands accused of ordering the killing of her ex-husband to gain custody of their young daughter. Illuminating, suspenseful and disquieting.”

 

 

Jessica Miller


The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What it Means to Be Alive, by Brian Christian 

“Each year, the Artificial Intelligence community rallies around a Turing Test, in which a panel of judges engage in a discussion with a group of computers designed to mimic human conversation (much like Watson, the Jeopardy-winning computer) in order to determine which is The Most Human Computer. As a control to the experiment, the Turing Test also includes humans that pretend to be computers, the least convincing of which earns the title of The Most Human Human. Using this test as a jumping off point, the author (who participated in a Turing Test) explores the surprising similarities between computers and humans, and what we can learn from one another.”

 

 

Sara Waltuck


Wildwood, by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis
Wildwood is the first novel by Colin Meloy, the lead singer of The Decemberists, and it's illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis. It's a young adult novel set in the fictional wilds of Portland. Meloy's precise, intellectual voice that's so central to his music is present in the book as well, and Ellis' illustrations are exquisite.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
The writing and characters in Sara Gruen's bestseller really drew me in, and since I love historical fiction, learning about Depression-era circus life was an added bonus.

More in:

The Morning Brief

Enter your email address and we’ll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Comments [6]

John Mitchell from New York City

I really enjoyed Mark Beyer's "The Village Wit" from Siren & Muse Publishing. It tells the story of Richard Bentley's love of a woman who he employs in his bookshop in the English Cotswolds, and explores the dark corners of love's shadows. I'm anxiously awaiting Beyer's new novel, "What Beauty" that comes out in June 2012 ... the story of Minus Orth, a sculptor working in NYC, and his relationship with a 1960's culture critic turned bag lady.

May. 18 2012 01:51 AM
laurie aragon

"Welcome to the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan was terrific..I knew everyone she wrote about and almost all of them turned into exact copies of the lives they once ran away from- but my favorite story was about the kid who counted silence in musical scores-the diagrams were stunningly clever.

Feb. 22 2012 03:58 PM
Ian Lyn from Brooklyn

A great book for 2012 is from a young, new author from Brooklyn titled "Nameless" by Kyle Chais. It is a Novel about spirit beings that are stuck in limbo between heaven and earth awating their judgement. One set is trying to find a way to gain redemption from the Master while others are trying to plot a way to erase all time. It is an interesting book with lots of twist and turns that keep the reader on the edge of their seats.

Feb. 14 2012 10:52 AM
Etta Eskridge MD

I have read a lot of books in 2011 but I am just finishing one that is close to the best. It is called 1Q84 and is actually a trilogy by the author Haruki Murakami. Although translated from Japanese, it is very rich and intense and tells a love story which lasts over decades but also has elements of fantasy, science fiction and mystery. I am just about finished and hope to pass it on as soon as I am done!

Jan. 02 2012 02:23 PM
stanley turkel

My new book "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York" tells the stories about 32 hotels that have miraculously survived. If you visit the book's website www.centuryoldhotelsinnewyork.com you can find a description.

The book was favorably reviewed in the New York Times on Dec. 4, 2011.

Dec. 18 2011 03:21 PM
Nila Marrone from Bronxville, NY

Of the close to hundred books I LISTENED to, Gilgamesh: A New English Version, Stephen Mitchell was THE BEST.

Nila Marrone
I am old and my eyes cannot read more than 30 minutes. Please, audiobooks have allowed me to continue my love for books.

Dec. 03 2011 10:04 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Sponsored

About The Lodown

The Lodown is a blog about everything brought to you by the staff of the Leonard Lopate Show (Leonard will even drop by from time to time)! We cover food, art, politics, history, science and much more -- literally everything from Picasso to pork pies. Tips and suggestions are welcome so please send us your thoughts, curiosities and intellectual detritus!

Feeds

Supported by