My 52 books of 2011

Hi there readers and general lovers of books! As promised to many of you, here’s my list of the 52 books I read in 2011 (I came in under the wire, finishing my last one at 5 p.m. on December 31).

I’ve noted down my thoughts beside the relevant books (classics I’ve left well enough alone). However, I did put an asterisk beside the books that I’d recommend to absolutely anyone, which I guess means they were my favourites for the year.

Hope you enjoy, and let me know if there’s anything you loved that I should read!

  1. Freedom — Jonathan Franzen * — I just loved this book. I know there was a whole misogyny controversy about it,and any book that gets this much attention tends not to live up to the hype but really, Franzen is a great writer and despite its size, I whipped through it.
  2. So Much For That — Lionel Shriver * — Adore Shriver and all of her weird books. Be warned, this book is sad and hard (tackling the incredibly emotional subject of cancer, but in ways you’d never expect), but so, so good.
  3. Private Life — Jane Smiley — I hated this book. Literally, that’s the only thing I can remember about it.
  4. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks — Rebecca Skloot — really different than anything I usually read, but if you’re interested in science at all, read this book about the woman who has helped spawn innumerable cures and discoveries — even if she never knew she did it.
  5. Ilustrado — Miguel Syjuco — I’m pretty sure this was an epic, interesting literary novel — but honestly, I can’t remember any of the details. Which probably says something.
  6. Slaughterhouse Five — Kurt Vonnegut
  7. Something Red — Jennifer Gilmore — this wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but worth reading for a look at Washington and leftie politics in the ‘70s
  8. Stroll — Shawn Micallef * — part tour guide, part history, this fantastic book about walks through Toronto made the familiar interesting, and hopefully will compel many who wouldn’t otherwise do so to head north of Bloor
  9. C — Tom McCarthy — certainly strange, but just as wonderful, C isn’t for everyone (but if you love Murakami-style weirdness, read it!).
  10. Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever — Justin Taylor — it’s tough to give a sweeping statement about short stories, but if you’re into them, these are well-written, touching, harsh stories are incredibly satisfying.
  11. Foster — Claire Keegan — this novella (is that a cheat for 52?) was fine — sparsely, prettily written, but not outstanding. Not a ton to say about it.
  12. The False Friend — Myla Goldberg — not fabulous, but despite that, I couldn’t put down this sort-of mystery. A psychological suspense, somewhat about childhood and friendships, but not in the way you’d expect.
  13. The Puzzle King — Betsy Carter — Of all the World War II and immigrant books I read this year (a whole bunch below), this was probably my least favourite. A good plot, but unloveable characters held it back and a just-okay plot that didn’t really distinguish it.
  14. Gone Baby Gone — Dennis Lehane * — I know, super late in reading this one, but so good! Not brilliant writing, but I had a couple of 3 a.m. nights reading this mystery/thriller. Also a surprisingly great movie.
  15. Something Borrowed — Emily Giffin — I don’t have anything against “chick” lit, I just don’t read that much of it. So when I do, I want it to be really awesome. This wasn’t awesome. I hated all the characters. The writing was meh. But yes, I did finish it in a day.
  16. Glass Castle — Jeannette Walls — A lot of people loved this book. I was not one of those people. I found it immensely frustrating as a biography, focusing too much on certain childhood memories and not enough on the things I wanted to know about from adulthood. But, that’s why it’s Walls’ bio and not mine!
  17. Cutting For Stone — Abraham Verghese — So great. For those who love sprawling, twisting plots with a dose of medicine and a bit of mystery, this is your perfect book.
  18. Bossypants — Tina Fey * — If you love 30 Rock, you’ll love this book. If you haven’t seen 30 Rock, watch it — and then read this book. Tina Fey rules.
  19. Vanishing And Other Stories — Deborah Wills — another collection of short stories by an amazing writer. However, I didn’t adore these as much as Taylor’s (above).
  20. A Farewell To Arms — Ernest Hemingway
  21. The Melting Season — Jami Attenburg — A slightly dark, slightly sad story about a woman leaving her marriage and a friendship that develops that I can absolutely see Oprah getting behind. (Maybe she did?) Good, not amazing.
  22. The Instructions — Adam Levin — Oh man. This book was my project for July. It’s massive, and confusing, and amazing. Really differents ways of storytelling, really different story.
  23. Blood, Bones And Butter — Gabrielle Hamilton — This chef`s bio got a lot of love from various `best of`lists, but I really wasn`t a fan.
  24. The Hunger Games — Suzanne Collins — Uh, what can I say? I read it because I kept hearing about it, it was completely addictive, but I don’t feel any need to read the rest of the series. For those who haven’t read it, it’s surprisingly dark for young adults and brings up plenty of interesting questions.
  25. Room — Anne Donaghue — Again, a hugely talked about book. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really like it — I had difficulty getting around the premise (which I won’t spoil here), but it was a smart, interesting way to create a story.
  26. Super Sad True Love Story — Gary Shteyngart — Such a great, strange (that seems to be a common theme here) and smart futuristic novel that has some scary predictions about how we live that are already coming true.
  27. The Hand That First Held Mine — Maggie O`Farrell * — This book was great, in a seductively quiet way. Two separate women’s lives in two separate times, and the various challeneges they face.
  28. How Did You Get This Number? — Sloane Crossley — Almost as funny as Bossypants but a bit more … emotional, Crossley’s essays are the columns you wish had been written (sorry Carrie, and sorry for the obvious reference) on Sex and the City.
  29. The Sorcerer’s Apprentices — Lisa Abend — I food nerded out with this book about El Bulli, and it was just spectacular. This brings out a human side to the magical food created at the restaurant, and is a great read all around.
  30. State Of Wonder — Anne Patchett * — So. Good. Patchett’s writing is gorgeous, the various strands of the storyline work together wonderfully, and you can almost feel the Amazon rainforest around you as it unfolds.
  31. There But For The — Ali Smith — Really different, really spare book that somehow manages to charm you through its strange semi-story about a dinner guest who just doesn’t leave.
  32. The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachmann * — This one’s for the media folk out there, but I think anyone would love it. An English newspaper in Rome through the years, and through the characters. Hilarious, true (too true, at points) and well-written.
  33. The Free World — David Bezmozgis * — Bezmozgis’ Natasha and Other Stories was huge for this Toronto-born author, and I really wanted to love his first novel. And yay, I really, really did! Great tale of immigrants in Rome, their difficulties, their politics, their humanity.
  34. The Hare With The Amber Eyes — Edmund De Waal * — A biography that reads like complete fiction (not an accusation, a compliment), this story about a wealthy Jewish family’s rise and fall (and art collection) in exotic locales educates and entertains at the same time.
  35. The Chairs Are Where The People Go — Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti — Fun and smart and sweet, these short essays are gems from the mind of Misha Glouberman (as told to Sheila Heti), on subjects ranging from why conferences shouldn’t have set agends to a surprising (and great) argument against a fully pedestrian Kensington.
  36. The Man Who Ate The World — Jay Rayner — I thought this was a book about a food critic finding the best meal in the world — and it is, sort of, because it’s about him finding the best meal in the world at really, really fancy restaurants (with a couple of exceptions). I love restaurants, so I was pretty good with this, but just don’t go in expecting to hear about crazy little food stalls in Nepal (like I was).
  37. Q — Evan Mandery * — Probably my favourite book of the year. It reminds me of my 2010 favourite book of the year (Everything Matters! … which if you haven’t read, you should) in a weird way. It’s smart, strange, and well-written, mixing up highbrow and lowbrow, along with time travel and literature.
  38. Domestic Violets — Matthew Norman — This book wanted to be better than it is, if that makes any sense. The son of a famous writer is writing his own book, but doesn’t want to be in his father’s shadow, etc. I just didn’t find the characters realistic enough to care about them.
  39. Far To Go — Alison Pick — Another World War II era book about a European family, and one that’s been getting a lot of love from reviewers. I thought it was good, but not amazing (and nowhere near The Hare with the Amber Eyes), but if you’re interested in that time period and a look at a fictionalized family, definitely worth a read.
  40. Hottest Dishes Of The Tartar Cuisine — Alina Bronsky — Didn’t love this one. That’s all I got.
  41. Mean Boy — Lynn Coady — Who knew a book about a young Canadian wannabe poet could be so rock and roll? Just loved the characters, the writing and the setting (small East Coast university town).
  42. Beauty — Raphael Selbourne — A sad, tough book that is also really funny at points, this novel about a beautiful young woman from Bangladesh trying to balance a modern life in London with her familiy’s more traditional values takes unexpected turns that makes it very readable.
  43. Brooklyn — Colm Toibin — Another immigrant story, but this one about Brooklyn in 1950s, takes on the Irish-American experience. For me, it was interesting, but not incredible.
  44. The Night Circus — Erin Morgenstern * — Loved. Maybe I lied about Q — this could have been my favourite book of 2011, but that’s because it combined my favourite things: great writing, circuses and magic. Just wonderful, from start to finish.
  45. Copernicus Avenue — Andrew J. Borkowski — “Copernicus Avenue” stands in for Roncesvalles in this fictional book of short stories about the west-end Toronto neighbourhood as it grew with its Polish roots. Great, recognizable characters, (obviously) recognizable landmarks, an interesting take on the city in its younger days.
  46. The Magicians — Lev Grossman * — Caught up with this 2009 novel so that I could read its 2011 sequel (next). Again, I’m a sucker for books about magic, and yes, this can easily be called Harry Potter for adults, so if that sounds like something you’d be into, read ’em both.
  47. The Magician King — Lev Grossman * — See above. Oh, and apparently it’s going to be made into a TV show!
  48. Before I Go To Sleep — S.J. Watson * — Really good, difficult-to-put-down book in the style of Memento memory loss, but I had a couple of issues with it that I don’t want to go into for fear of spoilers. Well worth reading, either way.
  49. Mule — Tony D’Souza — Okay, it’s a book about drug trafficking, and it’s actually great. It gets into the financial crisis, relationships and more details about drug laws than you ever thought you wanted to know, but I predict movie on this one. Kind of badass awesome.
  50. The Tragedy Of Arthur — Arthur Phillips * — So smart. So funny. So great. I tend to really like books where the author creates an (assumedly) fictionalized version of himself, and this is that plus a whole lotta Shakespeare. A fantastically modern piece of fiction.
  51. The Revisionists — Thomas Mullen * — This is basically a spy novel, with some science fiction in the form of time travel thrown in for good measure. To his credit, Mullen tries to give his characters more heart than you’d find in your average thriller, but that’s not really what you’d read this for. And yes, it’s absolutely going to be a screenplay, if it isn’t already.
  52. The Sisters Brothers — Patrick DeWitt — This most-loved Canadian book of the year is, well, not what I expected. It’s a ton of fun and doesn’t ever seem to take itself too seriously, while also managing to make the reader care about its cast of (honestly) ridiculous characters, almost without you realizing it. It’s worth the read for the language alone.

Reader, writer, eater, Torontonian, library devotee. #PoynterWomenLeaders 2020. Audience development manager at @HuffPostCanada.