- Uncategorized

So Shiny and Bright: My Picks for the Best Books of 2011

The last few years, I wrote and wrote. A lot. And read, too, but certainly not as much as I wanted to. This last year, though, was different. I was working on a novel, and I was also busier, more distracted in good and bad ways for all kinds of reasons. But maybe because I couldn’t write as much, there has been so much reading. Oh yes, there has been a good deal of reading. Reading for research, reading for pleasure, reading for catch-up, reading heavy stuff and lighter stuff and all the stuff in between. Poetry and prose and prose-poetry and lord-knows-what-this-is-but-I-love it. Devouring ink on a page (and e-ink on a Kindle) with firm and committed abandon.

This is why we all do this, no? Because somewhere along the way we fell deeply in love with other people’s words? So this year has been a return with zeal to the obsessive and greatest pleasure of my life. And it’s been particularly rewarding to focus primarily, though not exclusively of course, on the small press world and the long-anticipated works of many writers I know and respect. And here, then, are the fruits of my very subjective research on the subject of damn good literature.

Best Novels: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt; There is No Year by Blake Butler; How the Days of Love and Diptheria by Robert Kloss; Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell; Freight by Mel Bosworth; The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer

Best Short Story Collections: The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals by Rae Bryant; Normally Special by xTx; Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory; Ayiti by Roxane Gay; Stories V! by Scott McClanahan; Tongue Party by Sarah Rose Etter; The Great Frustration by Seth Fried; We Others: New and Selected Stories by Steven Millhauser; Volt by Alan Heathcock

Best Translation: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis

Best Writing about Translation: Lydia Davis on translation in The Paris Review

Best Poetry: If I Falter at the Gallows by Edward Mullany; Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith; The Trees the Trees by Heather Christle; Trees of the Twentieth Century by Steven Sturgeon; Negro League Baseball by Harmony Holiday; I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon for Anything I Done by Sasha Fletcher

Best Sad/Beautiful Love Story: Us by Michael Kimball; A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed by J.A. Tyler

Best Unclassifiable: Grim Tales by Norman Lock; Entrance to a Colonial Pageant in Which we All Begin to Intricate by Johannes Goransson; Fables by Sarah Goldstein

Best New Lit Blog: The Lit Pub

Best Indie Lit Promoters: Christopher Newgent, Molly Gaudry

Best New Readings Series: The Three Tents Series curated by Mark Cugini of Big Lucks, in Washington, D.C.

Chapbook/Novella: The Last Repatriate by Matthew Salesses; The Mimic’s Own Voice by Tom Williams; They Could No Longer Contain Themselves by Elizabeth J. Colen, John Jodzio, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Sean Lovelace, and Mary Miller

Non-fiction: Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt; A Book of Secrets by Michael Holroyd; China in Ten Words by Yu Hua

Best Non-2011 Books I Read: Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada; Hav by Jan Morris; Stoner by John Williams; The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth

Best New-to-Me Author Discovery that Everyone Else in the World Had Already Discovered: John Barth and William Gass

Best New Presses: Solid Objects; Tiny Hardcore Press; Atticus Books

Books I Haven’t Read Yet But I’m Sure Would Have Been on This List Had I Read Them: East of the West by Miroslav Penkov; God Bless America by Steve Almond; Train Dreams by Denis Johnson; There but for the by Ali Smit; Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

Most Anticipated Books of 2012: Threats by Amelia Gray; Hill William by Scott McClanahan; The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss; The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus; Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon; Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell; Shut Up/Look Pretty by Lauren Becker, Erin Fitzgerald, Kirsty Logan, Michelle Reale (and me)

  • Amber Sparks's work has been featured or is forthcoming in various places, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Gargoyle, Annalemma and PANK. She is also the fiction editor at Emprise Review, and lives in Washington, DC with a husband and two beasts.

27 thoughts on “So Shiny and Bright: My Picks for the Best Books of 2011

    1. Of course! I JUST finished the book yesterday, so perfect timing. It was really, really good. The detail you put into the prison camp–amazing. The whole thing was great.

      Sent from my iPhone

  1. Thanks so much for recognizing Atticus Books, Amber. It’s a pleasure to get to know you through this small, indie universe – and I look forward to checking out some of your recommendations.

  2. Great lists, I agree with so many of your picks. I just read Stoner this year too and so glad I did! I need to make a list of all the 2011 books I wanted to read, but just ran out of time. There is no catching up, but that’s a good thing.

  3. I am really looking forward to the Millhauser collection – I don’t think there’s a short story writer to touch him. And there’s a new Chabon coming? How did I miss this?

  4. Thanks so much for mentioning my own work as well as so much current or forthcoming from Mud Luscious Press and its authors. We love that you loved these words.

    1. Of course! I realized how as I looked at this list that I should really be advocating that everyone in the world get a subscription to Mud Luscious. But I’ll save that for another post. :)

  5. Amber, I just want to state for the record: ruminating with you over THE SOT-WEED FACTOR, here on Big Other, was one of the high-higher-highest points of my year.

  6. Pingback: In the New Year
  7. Why am I just learning about this?

    I think I have told you you were swell in the past, Amber, but now I think you have suddenly escalated to “You Rule!” status.

    1. Awww. I hope my review of your book comes out soon in ABR. Because it’s probably a much better articulation of what was so amazing about your book than I could make in this comment reply field. :)

      Sent from my iPhone

Leave a Reply