Best Books of 2011

Well, obviously I've stopped posting regularly here to the Hungry Brain. For one, most of the books I've been reading are for review on GeekDad, so I just post them there. I got tired of duplicating my efforts and copying everything here, although maybe that'd be a good way to keep track of all my book reviews in one place. (Maybe I'll do that yet.)

But I stopped double-posting in April. I also decided to give Goodreads a try, and I've been tracking books I've read there, but those aren't full reviews either. Just one or two sentences sometimes.

So, which ones were the best of the year?

In adult fiction, these four were all fantastic and quite different from each other:

The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier is gorgeous and haunting. It's the most serious of the three, but still has an element of fantasy in it. The less I tell you about it, the better, because the slow realization of what's happening is part of the draw.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion is a zombie book, one that has been mistaken for a young adult paranormal romance novel. Which it sort of is, but not really. It's narrated by a zombie, and really gets inside the heads of these shambling creatures. Surprisingly, the book actually has some significant things to say about humanity and survival despite what you may expect.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is just a fun read, particularly if you're a child of the '80s who loves computer games. If not, well, you may not get most of the references. It's kind of a big mashup of the Matrix, World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, and 1980s culture.

Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson is a novel about first contact: when the aliens show up. What makes this one fascinating (aside from the way the aliens are imagined) is that it's told from the point of view of Ariel Blum, a videogame developer/reviewer/blogger. What he's interested in is: what sort of videogames do the aliens play? But it becomes a much bigger story than that.

In non-fiction, just one book really stands out: Welcome to Utopia by Karen Valby. Valby spent a lot of time in Utopia, Texas, a tiny town that (at the time she first visited for Entertainment Weekly) was about as removed from popular culture as you could get in the United States. After spending more time there, she came to know the residents, and it's an engaging portrait of small-town life, particularly dear to me from my time in Tribune, Kansas.

Three young adult novels make my list this year:

Plain Kate by Erin Bow is one I read earlier in the year, as part of my "Stories About Girls" series on GeekDad. It's a fantasy novel, about a woodcarver girl who is suspected of witchcraft. It's beautifully written and will break your heart, but it's so worth it.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy is set in post-war London, and is another gorgeous book. But this one is about magic (alchemy, really), spies, and being open to possibilities. A great story with some fun adventure to it.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler is about Facebook. Yeah. But it's set in 1996, years before Facebook will exist, before most high schoolers are using the Internet. Two friends get a sneak peek at Facebook, at their own lives 15 years into the future, and it's a fascinating look at how the choices we make affect us later ... and also how knowing about our futures can affect the choices we make now.

Probably my favorite kids' book of the year is Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. It's just a bizarre fantasy story that goes all over the place, with some clever wit and some absurd characters. I'm reading it out loud to Robyn now, who says it's kind of like something created by Terry Gilliam. I can see that.

Two other kids' series were pretty fun this year as well: The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch is reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, but (1) it's only five books long instead of thirteen, and (2) you don't feel like you're getting strung along with a bunch of clues that don't lead anywhere. Also, the Far-Flung Adventures by Paul Stewart and Chris Ridell were a new discovery. I found a copy of the first one used and read it to my older daughter, who absolutely loved it. So we got the next two. I love the zany inventions and the colorful characters. But I also like the fact that the three books, while set in the same universe with some interweaving, aren't just sequels. Each book has its own storytelling style and set of characters.

Finally, some comics: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke is a delightful story for kids, with wacky aliens and a little Earth girl trying to save her friend. Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? by Brian Fies is an excellently-illustrated tale about the history of the future. It tracks the space program over several decades, but with a fictionalized father and son who age more slowly, growing up along with our ideas of space.

And one more: Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon is a wonderful story (for adults) about living and dying. There's a gimmick to the book which I won't give away here, but they put it to great use. When I talk about comics being serious literature, Daytripper is a prime example of it.

Well, there you have it! My best books of 2011. Happy reading in 2012!

And, just for the record, here are the books I've read this year (after The Year of the Bomb, the last one I posted here):
Makers - Cory Doctorow
Superman/Batman Vol. 5: The Enemies Among Us - Mark Verheiden
Level Up - Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham
Scott Pilgrim 1-6 - Bryan Lee O'Malley
Kick-Ass - Mark Millar
Nerd Camp - Elissa Weissman
Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? - Brian Fies
The Reading Promise: My Father & the Books We Shared - Alice Ozma
Prince Caspian - C. S. Lewis
The Mysterious Howling (Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place 1) - Maryrose Wood
Crazy Love - Francis Chan
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites - Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson
The Hidden Gallery (Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place 2) - Maryrose Wood
Voyage of the Dawn Treader - C. S. Lewis
The Storm in the Barn - Matt Phelan
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - Amy Chua
Isle of 100,000 Graves - Jason
The Silver Chair - C. S. Lewis
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
Feynman - Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick
Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion
Americus - M. K. Reed and Jonathan Hill
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes - Jonathan Auxier
Anya's Ghost - Vera Brosgol
The Apothecary - Maile Meloy
Love Wins - Rob Bell
Toy Dance Party - Emily Jenkins
The Familiars #1 - Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
The Familiars #2: Secrets of the Crown - Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Habibi - Craig Thompson
The Secret Series 1: The Name of This Book Is Secret - Pseudonymous Bosch
The Secret Series 2: If You're Reading This, It's Too Late - Pseudonymous Bosch
The Secret Series 3: This Book Is Not Good for You - Pseudonymous Bosch
The Secret Series 4: This Isn't What It Looks Like - Pseudonymous Bosch
The Secret Series 5: You Have to Stop This - Pseudonymous Bosch
All Your Base Are Belong to Us - Harold Goldberg
Far-Flung Adventures: Fergus Crane - Paul Stewart and Chris Ridell
Far-Flung Adventures: Corby Flood - Paul Stewart and Chris Ridell
Far-Flung Adventures: Hugo Pepper - Paul Stewart and Chris Ridell
Bake Sale - Sara Varon
The Brick Bible - Brendan Powell Smith
Bad Island - Doug TenNapel
The Future of Us - Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
The Mad Mask (Archvillain #2) - Barry Lyga
Dominic - William Steig
Constellation Games - Leonard Richardson
99 Ways to Tell a Story - Matt Madden

Fed to jonathan's brain | December 31, 2011 | Comments (0)


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