Top Five (and Worst Five) Books of 2011


It’s the end of the year again.  Time for mistletoe and fruitcake and Top (insert quantity) lists.  My contribution to the fray is my Top Five list of books from 2011, as well as my list of my five least favorite books.  I should never have written the part about my least favorite because someday, one of my books will end up on a Worst list.  Oh well.  At least I got that piece of karma out of the way.

Top Five Books of 2011

5)  The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths—I love the main character, Ruth Galloway, even though I seriously doubt that detectives employ forensic archaeologists that much.  Did you ever see a forensic archaeologist on Law and Order?  I didn’t think so.  Even so, Griffiths crafts an entertaining mystery in which the detective is not the main character.  She does a wonderful job of creating a sense of place as she describes Ruth’s home and archaeological dig on the salt marshes.  The book is also written in present tense, which is a little strange at first but then ends up injecting the story with intensity.

4)  My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira—Gross, gross, gross.  If you don’t have a strong stomach, then don’t read this book.  Mary Sutter, who is already a midwife by trade, wants to be a surgeon during the Civil War.  Being a surgeon in the 1860s involved sawing off a lot of wounded limbs and working in unspeakably filthy conditions.  However, Robin Oliveira really crafts an intriguing character in Mary Sutter.  This book was utterly fascinating.

3)  The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee—If it wins a Pulitzer, then it has to be good, right?  Maybe.  I couldn’t get into A Visit From the Goon Squad.  Nevertheless, I never imagined I would find a 600+ page doorstop about cancer absolutely riveting, but I did.  The history of chemotherapy (mustard gas, people!) and the great strides that medicine has made to tackle this disease make for compelling reading.  Don’t let the size intimidate you.  You gotta read it.

2)  Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny—This is my favorite Inspector Gamache book.  I had the privilege of meeting Louise Penny this year at R.J. Julia and found her to be a gracious and fascinating person.  Anyway, it takes place outside of Three Pines—because really, how many people can you murder in Three Pines before the residents get together and torch the village—but it’s the strongest in-depth character portrayal of Gamache in the series.  Penny always wins the Agatha Award, but she really deserved it for this one.

1)  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese—Masterful doesn’t even begin to describe this book.  The birth of the main character takes up the first 100 pages of the book, and the story was so engrossing that I couldn’t put it down.  You can tell by my love for The Emperor of All Maladies and My Name is Mary Sutter that I enjoy reading about all things medical.  This book about surgeons at an Ethiopian hospital and their journey that takes them into the United States is a book that people will actually remember in fifty years.  I’m grateful that I joined the Waterbury Barnes & Noble Fiction Book Club so that I could have the chance to enjoy this wonderful piece of literature.

Worst Five Books of 2011

1)    The Slap by Charles Tsolkias—Since this is my Number One Most Dreadful Book, you can assume that I really disliked it.  The characters in this novel were unforgivably reprehensible.  Now, I don’t mind reading about a-holes and other lousy people as long as they have some redeeming qualities.  I can tell you that none of these characters were anything but a dark and lifeless void on our planet.  Tsolkias is a good writer, but I hated this book.

2)    Adam and Eve by Sena Jeter Naslund—You can tell that Naslund is a masterful writer, and I intend to read Ahab’s Wife.  However, this story was incredibly convoluted, as though Naslund tried to mash three completely unrelated stories into one piece of book-length goulash.  The product was stranger than the strangest minestrone you ever made from your refrigerator leftovers.  Enough of the food metaphors?  Fine.  I did not like this book.

3)    Perfection by Julie Metz—This woman is a lovely writer.  She is also completely clueless.  Sometimes, you can just tell the world way too much information about yourself.  Does the world really need to know that you found yourself an isolated spot on a Maine beach so that you could masturbate?  I didn’t think so.  This book is full of TMI revelations.  Not to mention that she should have seen the fact that her husband was a cheater a mile away.  Perfection?  Hardly.  More like putrefaction.

4)    Solar by Ian McEwan—Again, this is a novel with a completely unlikeable protagonist.  Obviously, Ian McEwan is a highly esteemed author, and maybe the fact that I did not like this book speaks to my pedestrian taste.  I once wrote a paper in high school blasting This Side of Paradise—but that’s another story.  However, a 400-page character study is just too much character study.  This book needed a plot and didn’t find one until about the last thirty pages.  I read about a self-obsessed jerk for two days before anything actually happened to him.

5)    The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin—I really wanted to like this book.  However, after I finished it, I thought, “Wow.  Happiness is incredibly overwhelming.”  Just the chapter where she did everything—and I mean everything—on her to-do list made me want to cry at the thought of having that much stress in my life.  I have decided that I will accept partial happiness instead.  The Partially Happy Project, anyone?  I smell a sequel!

That sums up my reading experience for 2011.  I am looking forward to the blog carnival to see what my friends liked and disliked this year.  Please leave a comment with your top five books of the year.  We’ll leave the light on for ya!

One thought on “Top Five (and Worst Five) Books of 2011

  1. Jackie ~ Well done. I enjoyed this article. What I like about your writing is that your personality comes through not to be confused with frivolous thinking. Have you ever read Augusten Burroughs? Every time I introduce people to him they go and read everything he’s written. By the way, awwww shucks on the mention. I am honored to have you as a member. You are a discerning reader.

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