Top Ten Fiction Books of 2011

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As the last week of 2011 trickles away, I’m glad to report I have achieved my sole reading goal for the year and hit the 100-book mark. As of today, I’m officially at 102, which I believe bests last year by one book.

Last year I wrote my top ten list in complete ignorance of the existence of Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish. Thankfully, this year that ignorance has been corrected, and you, too, can add your own list by clicking here. Not all of these books were published in 2011, and a few of them are considerably older, but they were all read and enjoyed greatly by me in 2011. Look for my list of top nonfiction books tomorrow.

10. Sabriel, by Garth Nix. This is one of two books in the fantasy genre to make my list. Sabriel is not a new book, but it is quite a lovely and beautiful story. I read all the books in the Abhorsen trilogy this year, but Sabriel is my favorite. The idea of there being a thin boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead has stuck with me since I read these books, like an intriguing taste or smell that’s pleasing to recall.

9. Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. No, I have still not seen this movie, but the book was beautiful for the ways in which the things that were not said conveyed so much.

8. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemision. My second fantasy book. My quest for well-written fantasy was inspired by A Game of Thrones, and luckily, my book blogger friends had great recommendations. I also read the second book in this series, and am eagerly awaiting the third.

7. South of Superior, by Ellen Airgood. A well crafted book with characters that you can almost imagine walking off the page to shake your hand. This book makes my top ten list in part because it’s the book I read and said to myself, “Hey, that’s the kind of book I’d like to write.” And then I sat down and tried. The effort is still ongoing, but it’s good to have such a strong model for a book that is about place, and people, and community.

6. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. Be warned, this novel is a lingerer. There’s nothing particularly fancy about the story…no alligators, for example…but you’ll be thinking about it for weeks afterward all the same.

5. Emily, Alone, by Stewart O’Nan. I read both Wish You Were Here and Emily, Alone this year (Emily, Alone takes one character from Wish You Were Here and develops her life in more detail). They were both amazing in the way O’Nan makes mundane life fascinating and suspenseful. Emily, Alone is the newer of the two, and my favorite because Emily is like all humans, so very dull and yet so very fascinating all at the same time.

4. The Tiger’s Wife, by Tèa Obreht. A beautifully written story about borders that interrogates the nature of human conflict through the use of tigers and ghosts.

3. Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry. I’ve read this novel before and read it again for a book group this year. Of course, I love Wendell Berry. I don’t know exactly how he does what he does. Nothing much happens in Hannah Coulter’s life, and yet you want to read every word. Reading Berry’s novels feels the same to me as sitting quietly in the woods. It is peaceful and soothing and right.

2. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. Just perfect. A perfect book. Funny, serious, touching, well constructed, well-crafted. Just perfect.

1. The Reapers Are the Angels, by Alden Bell. I predict this book will be on no one else’s top ten (I might be wrong), but you should read it all the same. Yes, it is a zombie book. And yet, it is so much more. A fascinating journey through the genres of American story-telling. A female heroine who is complex and strong, both physically and emotionally. A story about the nature of god and existence and what it means to be human. It’s all in there. And some zombies.

What books would make your top ten list for 2011?

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