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30 December 2011

My Top 5 Books of 2011

Despite my valiant attempts to read on my short bus journey to work, I still only managed to read 121 books this yearabout the same as last year. Technically, I haven't finished Steven Pinker's new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, but a) it is nearly 700 pages long and b) I should have finished it by the end of tomorrow. I found it relatively easy to narrow down my top five but less so to put them in order. In any case, here they are:

1. Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks. Yes, that's right: my favourite book of the year is found in the science-fiction section. I reviewed the book more fully here, but the reason it got the top spot was because even though I read it nearly a year ago, it has really stayed with me all year long, more so than any other on my list. Tragic, complex and witty, Surface Detail is easily my favourite Iain M. Banks novel.

2. Restless by William Boyd. I almost excluded this book because I felt sure I had included Any Human Heart, by the same author, in my top five last year or the last year. However, a quick check of my 2010 and 2009 lists indicates that somehow, AHH never made it onto one of my lists (I'm pretty sure I read it last year). I liked AHH a lot more than Restless, but the latter has the same haunting tone and generation-spanning, if not quite epic, plot. To atone for my error, I'm making Restless #2. In brief, a middle-aged woman living in the countryside in the 1970s slowly reveals to her daughter her past life as a Russian spy by sharing with her chapters from her memoir. The set-up is clever, allowing for those little earthquakes of realisation that I enjoyed so much about Never Let Me Go, and Boyd is a seriously engaging writer.

3. Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan. I read this novel because I was having trouble tracking down Sullivan's latest novel, Maine, which I still haven't read. Again, my full review of Commencement can be found here, but this story of four very different girls as they enter, pass through and graduate from a prestigious girls' college, rang very true (and is a lot less cheesy than I have just made it sound!).

4. The Submission by Amy Waldman. Widely tipped for a range of literary prizes, The Submission is another American novel for which I had to wait an unduly long time to read. A jury is convening to select the design of for 9/11 memorial and, soon after a winner has been chosen, the jury chair discovers that the winning architect is Muslim, whose minimalist memorial garden shares certain features with Islamic gardens. The decision as to whether he should be named as the winner is taken from the jury's hands as the press gets wind of the news. Focusing on the implications for the architect, several of the jury members (one of whom lost her husband on 9/11), a journalist and others whose lives were touched by the attacks, The Submission is a rich and often witty portrait of the political and social mores so common in our post-9/11 world.

5. Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur. Set in the 1940s, during the time of the Partition of India, and is a story both of this liberation and the attempts of Virmati, the eldest of 11 children in a Punjabi family, to liberate herself from the expectations of society and family, first through her university studies and then through a burgeoning relationship with one of her professors, who is already married. Similar to Restless, this story is told through the eyes of Virmati's daughter, Ida, as she tries to find out more about her mother's life and her parents' marriage.

Meanwhile, here's the full list of the books I read this year:
  • Sunset Park — Paul Auster
  • The Tudor Queens of England — David Loades
  • This Bleeding City — Alex Preston
  • The Hell of It All — Charlie Brooker
  • Surface Detail — Iain M Banks
  • Palo Alto— James Franco
  • What You See Is What You Get — Alan Sugar
  • The Mind's Eye — Oliver Sacks
  • Germania— Simon Wilder
  • The Snowman — Jo Nesbo
  • Redbreast — Jo Nesbo
  • The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories
  • Nemesis — Jo Nesbo
  • The Devil's Star — Jo Nesbo
  • Death and the Virgin — Chris Skidmore
  • The Unnamed — Joshua Ferris
  • Meeting Mr Kim — Jennifer Barclay
  • Restless — William Boyd
  • Berlin Game — Len Deighton
  • The Oxford Murders — Guillermo Martinez
  • Difficult Daughters — Manju Kapur
  • The Lincoln Lawyer — Michael Connelly
  • Proust and the Squid — Maryanne Wolf
  • The Leopard — Jo Nesbo
  • The King's Speech — Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother — Amy Chua
  • All We Wanted Was Everything — Janelle Brown
  • Sweet Valley Confidential — Francine Pascal
  • The Bonesetter's Daughter — Amy Tan
  • Killing Bono — Neil McCormick
  • The Nine — Jeffrey Toobin
  • The Great Perhaps — Joe Meno
  • A Favourite of the Gods — Sybille Bedford
  • Winning Arguments — Jay Heinrichs
  • Girls Like Us — Sheila Weller
  • Charly 9 — Jean TeulĂ©
  • Room — Emma Donaghue
  • If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This — Robin Black
  • The Winter Queen — Boris Akunin
  • Case Histories — Kate Atkinson
  • 127 Hours — Aron Ralston
  • The Shipping News — E Annie Proulx
  • The Report — Jessica Francis Kane
  • Kingpin — Kevin Poulsen
  • Sing You Home — Jodi Picoult
  • The Spoiler — Annalena McAfee
  • Daughters—in—Law — Joanna Trollope
  • A Secret Kept — Tatiana de Rosnay
  • One False Move — Harlan Coben
  • We Need To Talk about Kevin — Lionel Shriver
  • Only Time Will Tell — Jeffrey Archer
  • The Postmistress — Sarah Blake
  • Lucky Break — Esther Freud
  • Sister — Rosamund Lupton
  • Afterwards — Rosamund Lupton
  • Everything We Ever Wanted — Sara Shepard
  • Started Early, Took My Dog — Kate Atkinson
  • The Godfather — Mario Puzo
  • Moonlight Mile — Dennis Lehane
  • Gone with the Wind — Margaret Mitchell
  • Water for Elephants — Sara Gruen
  • Double Fault — Lionel Shriver
  • Commencement — J Courtney Sullivan
  • Girl from the South — Joanna Trollope
  • The Blind Assassin — Margaret Atwood
  • The Third Angel — Alice Hoffman
  • Caleb's Crossing — Geraldine Brooks
  • Brother and Sister — Joanna Trollope
  • The Confession of Katherine Howard — Suzannah Dunn
  • True Grit — Charles Portis
  • I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 — Douglas Edwards
  • Witness the Night — Kishwar Desai
  • The Sea House — Esther Freud
  • Moonwalking with Einstein — Joshua Foer
  • Law and Disorder — Tim Kevan
  • The Drowning People — Richard Mason
  • The Good Daughters — Joyce Maynard
  • What the Nanny Saw — Fiona Neill
  • Joanna — Nancy Goldstone
  • Best Friends — Joanna Trollope
  • Second Honeymoon — Joanna Trollope
  • A Passionate Man — Joanna Trollope
  • Palladio — Jonathan Dee
  • Our Kind of Traitor — John Le CarrĂ©
  • Submarine — Joe Dunthorne
  • Is That a Fish in Your Ear? — David Bellos
  • American Weather — Charles McLeod
  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum — Kate Atkinson
  • Adapt — Tim Harford
  • The First Wife — Emily Barr
  • Wild Swans — Jung Chang
  • The Lady of the Rivers — Philippa Gregory
  • The Submission — Amy Waldman
  • The Book of Lies — Mary Horlock
  • Player One — Douglas Coupland
  • By Nightfall — Michael Cunningham
  • The Fear Index — Robert Harris
  • The Sense of an Ending — Julian Barnes
  • Live Wire — Harlan Coben
  • The Marriage Plot — Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Traitor's Wife — Kathleen Kent
  • The Unfixed Stars — Michael Byers
  • A Fool's Alphabet — Sebastian Faulks
  • blueeyedboy — Joanne Harris
  • Transition — Iain Banks
  • The Diary of the Lady — Rachel Johnson
  • The Donor — Helen Fitzgerald
  • The Deadly Touch of the Tigress — Ian Hamilton
  • Mary Boleyn — Alison Weir
  • The Litigators — John Grisham
  • Sarah's Key — Tatiana De Rosnay
  • A Long Lunch — Simon Hoggart
  • Sex on the Moon — Ben Mezrich
  • Gang Member for a Day — Sudhir Venkatesh
  • The Fifth Witness — Michael Connelly
  • All the Things We Never Said — Sara Shepard
  • The Post—Birthday World — Lionel Shriver
  • The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex  — Mark Kermode
  • The Remake  — Clive James
  • Thinks  — David Lodge
  • The Better Angels of Our Nature  — Steven Pinker


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