It's that time of year when we are inundated with "best of the year" lists. I'm gonna toss yet another one your way. BookPage has published their Readers' Choice Best Books of 2011 list. I like this list because it is the result of votes of "real people." Not from sales numbers or professional book reviewers (although some of 2,500+ voters may be. Who knows?). So, without further ado, here goes.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.This is Chad Harbach's debut novel. It took him ten years to write, but WOW, did he hit out of the park (tee hee - pardon the pun). In an two-day auction with eight publishers, Little, Brown and Co. won the bidding war and paid the enormous sum of $650,000 for the work. Why so long? Well, he says he writes slowly and he was juggling jobs that paid the rent. He worked as a copy editor in New York. While doing that, in 2004, he and friends Keith Gessen, Benjamin Kunkel, Mark Greif, and Marco Roth launched n+1 magazine. A print journal on politics, literature, and culture that's published three times a year that arose out of the founders' feelings of dissatisfaction with the current intellectual scene in the US. The magazine took off faster than any of them thought it would, taking up precious book-writing time.
Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.
As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others.
I'm especially excited about this one because Chad is a native of my hometown, Racine, Wisconsin. I don't know him, but he graduated from high school a year after I did. He went the Catholic high school here in town, St. Catherine's. I graduated from Horlick, a public high school. Still, I could have known him... I sincerely wish him continued success and am filled with pride for the fellow Racinian.
Here's a fantastic interview with Chad Harbach as he talks with NPR's Neal Conan about The Art of Fielding and how he was influenced by Melville's, Moby DIck.
Read the first six chapters of the book.
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
This is Alice Hoffman's first book of historical fiction for adults. Her books have primarily fallen into the fantasy genre. Modern day fairy tales.
Genre: literary fiction; historical fiction
Over five years in the writing, The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel.
In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean, desert, Masada. Only two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman weaves a spellbinding tale of four extraordinary bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom comes to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.
The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and who they love.
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht
Genre: literary fiction; family saga
Obreht was born in Yugoslavia and brought up in Egypt and Cyprus, moved to America with her family at the age of 12. She went on to study creative writing at USC where she studied with T.C. Boyle. After USC, Tea furthered her studies at Cornell to earn her MFA.
In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.
But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.
Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weekly trips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.
The Tiger's Wife is her first novel. And a fantastic one at that. She was awarded the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction, and at 25, she is the youngest author to ever win the prize.
Here's a video of an interview she did with PBS NewsHour. Warning! Contains spoilers if you've not read the book.
Watch Conversation: Tea Obreht, Author of 'The Tiger's Wife' on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
The Affair by Lee Child
Everything starts somewhere. . . .For elite military cop Jack Reacher, that somewhere was Carter Crossing, Mississippi, way back in 1997. A lonely railroad track. A crime scene. A coverup.Although this title is the sixteenth book in the Jack Reacher series it is a prequel to the series itself. This story takes us back to Reacher’s final case as a military investigator, back in the Spring of ‘97. There’s been a murder outside a ‘secret’ military base and he’s sent to get into this small Mississippi town to look for information – a back-up investigator to the one sent into the base itself. From the start, things don’t add up and Reacher forms an alliance with the police chief, herself a former Marine, to search for answers.
A young woman is dead, and solid evidence points to a soldier at a nearby military base. But that soldier has powerful friends in Washington.
Reacher is ordered undercover—to find out everything he can, to control the local police, and then to vanish. Reacher is a good soldier. But when he gets to Carter Crossing, he finds layers no one saw coming, and the investigation spins out of control.
Local sheriff Elizabeth Deveraux has a thirst for justice—and an appetite for secrets. Uncertain they can trust one another, Reacher and Deveraux reluctantly join forces. Reacher works to uncover the truth, while others try to bury it forever. The conspiracy threatens to shatter his faith in his mission, and turn him into a man to be feared.
A novel of unrelenting suspense that could only come from the pen of #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child, The Affair is the start of the Reacher saga, a thriller that takes Reacher—and his readers—right to the edge . . . and beyond.
Fans can look forward to One Shot (#9 in the series) slated for release in theaters on February 8, 2013. The movie stars Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.
Here's a list of Jack Reachers if you want to start from the beginning:
- Killing Floor
- Die Trying
- The Visitor aka Running Blind
- Echo Burning
- Without Fail
- The Enemy
- One Shot
- The Hard Way
- Bad Luck and Trouble
- Nothing to Lose
- Gone Tomorrow
- 61 Hours
- Worth Dying For
- The Affair
- A Wanted Man
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
This is the debut novel for Mr. Towles, at age 46, nonetheless. He was born and raised just outside Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University, where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. He is a Principal at an investment firm in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Genre: historical fiction
A sophisticated and entertaining debut novel about an irresistible young woman with an uncommon sense of purpose. Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future. The story opens on New Year's Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss. Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.
To Be Continued....
All for now. These installments may take me until 2013, but I'll get 'em done, gosh-darn-it!
Talk to you soon.