Héctor Tobar, now a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a novelist. He is the author of Translation Nation, The Tattooed Soldier, and most recently, The Barbarian Nurseries. The son of Guatemalan immigrants, he is a native of Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and three children.
I loved the drama, the scope and the ideas in Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve, about the renaissance book-hunter whose discovery of an ancient poem helped kick off the Enlightenment. Oscar Hijuelos’s memoir, Thoughts Without Cigarettes, appealed to me for its portrait of mid-century New York—and of the private struggles and family stories that helped set off the late-century boom in Latino literature in the United States. In fiction, there was so much tenderness and wisdom in Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending. Also, 2011 was the year I caught up with and rediscovered a couple of gems from the recent past: W. G. Sebald’s painful, Proustian epic Austerlitz, and the canonical stories in Jorge Luis Borges’s Collected Fictions, wonderfully translated by Andrew Hurley.