Ellen Ullman is the author of a novel, The Bug, a New York Times Notable Book and runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the cult classic memoir Close to the Machine, based on her years as a rare female computer programmer in the early...
[caption id="attachment_1497" align="aligncenter" width="522"] Jesse Bering's Bookshelf[/caption]
With more and more books published every year, it's increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Does this increase the usefulness of all the annual "Best of" lists? Perhaps. It's irresistible when a critic distills a year of reading into a simple hierarchy, especially if her tastes match your own. It's just so efficient. I tend to eschew those books awarded the most (or loudest) hosannas in favor of the previously unknown novels that slipped past me at publication. (This year it's Ben Lerner's excellent Leaving the Atocha Station.)
Sites like Salon, The Millions, and The Guardian go straight to the authors for their recommendations. I decided to do the same, canvassing our writers and editors. With a couple caveats: First, the editors couldn't choose their own titles; Second, one's choices didn't need to be published in 2011, just read in 2011. Old classics and novels from 2010 and 2009 are all welcome.
Some submitted a straightforward list, while others penned brief summaries. (The Spanish-Argentinian novelist Andrés Neuman even separated his list by language.) I hope you'll find your next favorite book among them.
Favorite Reads from 2011:
Obviously, the best novel of the year is Ellen Ullman's By Blood, the best nonfiction book Richard Lloyd Parry's People Who Eat Darkness, the best manifesto Jeff Speck's Walkable City, the best travel book (and the best-titled book) Rosecrans Baldwin's Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down, the best vampire book Brian McGreevy's Hemlock Grove, the best memoir Davy Rothbart's My Heart is an Idiot, the best debut Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.*