top ten reads of 2011The following list represents the highlights of a year of reading.  It includes three novels, two works of creative non-fiction, two books of poetry, one biography, one work of criticism/theory, and one book of photography accompanied by poems. The diversity is unintentional.  Some are recent publications, while others are new discoveries for me.  Some I’ve reviewed here, while others simply stand out now upon reflection.  This list, mind you, is fluid and would probably look very different had I assembled it on any other day.  My methodology consisted mostly of a sweep of my head across my desk and around my bookshelves, a broad swath punctuated by memories of certain books held open before eyes both flitting and enraptured.

  1. The Instructions by Adam Levin:  An infuriatingly big and brilliant novel.
  2. Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White:  The Nobel winner you may never have heard of, White is Australia’s rightful heir to Virginia Woolf.
  3. Remembering Babylon by David Malouf:  Another Australian, Malouf creates scenes in this novel that I can almost guarantee will never leave you.
  4. Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves by Siri Hustvedt:  This, Grasshopper, is book length “essaying” in the true sense of the form.
  5. Blue Nights by Joan Didion:  OK, so I could read her instructions on how to brush one’s teeth.  Still, the way in which she universalizes personal suffering could, perhaps should, summon the weary to form cults.
  6. Adam Levin - The Instructions

    Adam Levin - The Instructions

    Flap by Mark DeCarteret:  After Googling this poet, read his poems and try, if you can, to come up with a cogent argument as to why he is not more well-known.
  7. Otherwise Elsewhere by David Rivard:  A poet who taps at the cold fragile glass of the lyric form, leaving behind a splayed beauty.
  8. How To Live or A life of Montaigne: In One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell:  A hymn to uncertainty.
  9. The Art of Recklessness by Dean Young:  If you want some understanding of the aims of contemporary poetry, leave David Orr and Stephen Burt alone and let this slender little book lead into the necessary dangers.
  10. Hard Ground photographs by Michael O’Brien, poems by Tom Waits:  A totally unrecognized “occupy” movement can be arranged simply from the notes of the once nameless and voiceless that grace the books final pages.

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