Best of 2011, Part the Third: Fiction (I)

Here is the first batch of novels I’d recommend from my reading last year. Enjoy, discuss, ask questions! I’ll be posting more soon.

The first three Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde – The Eyre AffairLost in a Good Book, and The Well of Lost Plots – are highly recommended for English majors or otherwise literary types with senses of humor. Set in a surreal version of England in the 1980s, literature is all-important, and Special Ops literary detective Thursday Next encounters such characters as Jane Eyre, Miss Havisham, and the Cheshire Cat throughout her cases. These books are extremely quirky with a lot of made-up jargon, and they’re fast-paced, but if you’re enough of a word-nerd, you’ll keep up. That said, I felt the quality of the series dropped off after the third book, which is why I only recommend the first three books here.

I’ve already raved about State of Wonder by Ann Patchett on my other blog and on the website of the library where I work, so I’ll just say here that Ann Patchett is absolutely one of my all-time favorite authors for a few reasons, all of which are on display in State of Wonder. First, there’s her complete mastery of setting; in State of Wonder, that includes both the Amazon and Minnesota. Wherever she writes about, it seems like she has lived there her whole life, the description is so rich and real. Second, her characters are real people; she understands them all so well, and there’s a real sense of empathy. Thirdly, the plot generally hinges on a situational conflict, rather than a protagonist-antagonist confrontation; this makes the story more interesting and complicated. Finally, the writing itself is just beautiful.

Geraldine Brooks is another author whose new books I always look forward to (Caleb’s Crossing is on my to-read list). She wrote March and Year of Wonders, both of which I’d recommend, as well as People of the Book, which is about a Hanna Heath, Australian rare book expert who is called in to restore the famous and long-lost Sarajevo Haggadah. Each time Hannah turns up a clue to the book’s past, the story jumps to that point in the book’s history: from Spain to Italy to Austria to Bosnia, each in a different time period, tracing the book’s journey to Hanna’s care in the present day. People of the Book is a great choice for those who enjoy stories-within-stories, those who are interested in history or rare book conservation, or those who just like good storytelling.

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was another of my “staff picks” for the library. It is Levithan’s first foray into literature for adults (he has written extensively for teens, including Boy Meets Boy and Love Is The Higher Law, and has collaborated with other YA authors – Rachel Cohn on Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, John Green on Will Grayson, Will Grayson). The Lover’s Dictionary is funny and poetic by turns, showing a genuine understanding of two people in a relationship. “Definitions” – from “aberrant” to “zenith” – tell the whole story of one couple, from meeting and moving in together to fighting and making up. Through these brief snapshots – anywhere from one line to a few pages – a complete story is communicated.

2 thoughts on “Best of 2011, Part the Third: Fiction (I)

  1. […] Some might say it’s too late to revisit favorite nonfiction books read in 2011, but I disagree, partly because I am intent on cleaning out my drafts folder, and partly because plenty of good nonfiction stands the test of time. Especially when that test is only three years. (Those who are interested in my other “best of 2011″ reading posts can catch up with the “prequel,” favorite young adult books, humor and baking books – separate categories, same post – and fiction). […]

  2. […] “I’ll be posting more soon,” I wrote (February 28, 2012). If we are going by geological time, I suppose nearly two years later qualifies as “soon,” but by normal human calendar time, I missed the mark a bit. Here is the final batch of read-in-2011 favorites, a continuation of this “best of 2011″ post. […]

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