Jesse Bering is a scholar in residence at Wells College. He is a regular columnist at scientificamerican.com and a frequent contributor to Slate, and he has appeared on NPR, Playboy Radio, and more. He is the author of The Belief Instinct andWhy...
[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:
Authors on the Books that Helped Them Come Out
Reading may be a solitary experience, but for some of us, it let us know that we were not alone. While everyone’s story is different, many of us are united by our love of books and our belief that they have the power to bring us together and to show us that when we’re different, as Nicola Griffith writes, “we can be glad to be so.” Growing up gay can feel like an excruciatingly isolating experience, particularly without the resources to understand what it is exactly that makes you so different. Books gave us not only a sense of who we were, but who we could be. So whether you hid a copy of A Boy’s Own Story under the bed or kept Fingersmith in your sock drawer, between the covers we were able to find a world for ourselves within the world.