Thanks for purchasing my Best of 2011 list from Savvy Verse & Wit.
This year was a year of changes in my personal life, but reading kept me grounded, and many of the books I read this year were excellent, but there can only be a few that make the Best of list. Here are the ones I thought were the best in fiction and poetry.
Fiction’s 2011 Best:
1. You Are My Only by Beth Kephart (my review) because this lyrical prose transports you into the hearts and minds of characters touched by something utterly devastating — child abduction — without succumbing to the need to judge its characters but let them speak for themselves and tell their story in their own voice.
2. Jane Austen Made Me Do It (my review) edited by Laurel Ann Nattress, which is the best collection of short fiction written by those inspired by Jane Austen, her wit, her characters, and her social commentary about the Regency period. It includes contemporary and historical stories, spinoffs, and re-imaginings.
3. Cross Currents by John Shors (my review) is one of the most moving novels I read this year with its intricate look at how the tsunami impacted Thailand, its families, its economy, and its social constructs. But its more than that, with a look at family dynamics and a will to survive and thrive no matter the circumstance. It’s also about second chances.
4. Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney (my review) is a novel that will make readers think about their own lives and families and what they would do to comfort an in-law, especially an in-law they never knew existed. It’s about family secrets and trying to bury the past. Another wonderful aspect is the setting — Ireland — which Greaney captures superbly; it’s like actually being there.
5. We the Animals by Justin Torres (my review) because its raw, makes you cringe, and causes you to contemplate the old nature vs. nurture debate in new ways. Seemingly autobiographical, this collection of short vignettes demonstrates the struggles of poor immigrant boys in New York whose father is domineering to say the least and whose mother is teetering on depression at nearly every turn as she absorbs her husband’s abusive ways.
Three books on the cusp, which I had a tough time not including, were:
2011 Best in Poetry:
1. The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa (my review) because his poems always encompass personal, societal, and behavioral questions and allow readers to come to their own conclusions about each line’s meaning and focus. He trusts his reader to hear the music in the verse and to follow their own analysis of war and the human condition.
2. Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick (my review) because he has peppered his collection with darkness and light. Resembling the reality of the world that has both good and bad, Adamshick’s poems are unique and engage readers with their unusual imagery.
3. Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins (my review) is one the best of his collection’s I’ve read (no I have not read Ballistics — maybe in 2012), and it’s inevitable that an aging poet would take on the topic of death and our preparedness or lack of preparedness to meet our maker or pass on through this world into the next. His images are clear and easy to understand, but like Komunyakaa, he trusts the reader to draw their own conclusions.
4. City of a Hundred Fires by Richard Blanco (my review) details the immigrant experience — the clash between generations as the younger children speak English and adopt American culture and the older generation that tries to hold fast to old traditions. There are some whimsical poems about the younger generation’s attempt to teach their elders about American culture and foods. It’s a well rounded look at the experience and will definitely stay with you as you engage with people of different cultures and backgrounds in the increasingly global world we live in.
5. Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram (my review) is a quintessential collection that connects not only the abuse of the environment and women, but also demonstrates that these abuses are harmful to everyone and everything we hold dear. Without these two, the world and humanity will perish — and while not expressed directly, there are elements of ecofeminism present in her lines and themes.
These are the ones that are on the cusp of making the list of the best from 2011:
1. The Conference of Birds by Peter Sis (my review), which I loved, but more for its illustrations rather than the poetry, which seemed to be minimal at best. As I haven’t read the original poem, I have no way to compare it to see what is missing. Perhaps I’ll do that in 2012.
2. Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems by Emma Eden Ramos (my review), which I loved until the final poems that were not part of the Triptych. The final poems took away from the brilliance of the preceding poems and the overall focus of the collection.
3. Monster by David Livingstone Clink (my review) because its darkness is so present it makes it hard to read all in one sitting, not that I would recommend that anyone do that with a poetry collection at all. But this one could weigh too heavily on readers at times.
Thanks for checking out the list, and I hope that you pick up some of these great reads and let me know whether you enjoyed them.