Off the Shelf: The year in books

Columnist Maureen Curry writes about the best books published over the past 12 months.

Tina Fey’s memoir, Bossypants, made many top 10 lists for the best non-fiction book of 2011.

As we begin a new year, it’s time to take my annual look at the best books published over the past 12 months.

This list is in no particular order and is compiled from 11 different sources, including The New York Times, Library Journal, The Globe & Mail and Publishers Weekly.

Here’s to a new year of great reading!

FICTION

–– The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.

When her grandfather dies far from home under mysterious circumstances, Natalia sets off on two life-changing journeys: one across her homeland, the former Yugoslavia, and another into her family’s history, revisiting stories that her grandfather used to tell her.

–– 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

In 1984 Tokyo, Aomame leaves a cab to avoid gridlock and finds herself in a brave new world, while Tengo labours to polish a manuscript a teenager has submitted to a literary contest. These two stories wind around each other and eventually conjoin in this mind-bending ode to George Orwell’s 1984.

–– The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje.

In the early 1950s, an 11-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly “Cat’s Table” with an eccentric and unforgettable group of grownups, becomes immersed in their worlds, and experiences a life-changing adventure.

–– The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.

This first novel tells the story of a star college shortstop who changes his own life – as well as those of several other campus figures – the day he makes a wild throw and accidentally hits a teammate. No need to be a sports fan to enjoy this novel, which combines the pleasures of an old-fashioned baseball story with a meditation on talent and the limits of ambition.

–– The Sisters Brothers by Patrick dewitt.

With his creation of Eli and Charlie Sisters, deWitt pays homage to the classic western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the Old West of the 1850s.

Winner of the Governor General’s Award and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

NON-FICTION

–– Arguably by Christopher Hitchens.

As a political, cultural, and literary critic, the late Hitchens stands alone, as demonstrated by this major collection of mostly recent essays and reviews covering a range of topics, from America’s founding fathers to the state of the English language.

–– In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson.

Gifted narrative nonfiction writer Larson (The Devil in the White City) offers a disturbing but riveting account of the life of William E. Dodd, the American ambassador to Germany, and his family during Hitler’s rise to power.

–– Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

Based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs over two years, this is a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

–– Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

In this comprehensive presentation of a life’s work, the world’s most influential psychologist outlines the surprising miracles and the equally surprising mistakes of our conscious and unconscious thinking. Furthermore, he weaves his insights into an engaging narrative that is compulsively readable from beginning to end.

The Globe & Mail reviewer stated, “If you can read only one book this year, read this one.”

–– Bossypants by Tina Fey.

Fey is well-known for her comic skills (both writing and acting) in Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and whatever movie she stars in, but she moves beyond her wit in this disarmingly frank and uncensored account of her life, stitching together the serious and the humorous.

–– Maureen Curry is the chief librarian at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library. Her column, Off the Shelf, appears every second Sunday in The Morning Star.

Vernon Morning Star

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