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The top books of 2011

The 20 books we really loved this year


 

NON-FICTION

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS
Erik Larson

The first U.S. ambassador to Hitler’s Germany is bewildered and appalled by the Nazis, while his daughter has affairs with the Gestapo’s first head and a Soviet spy.

1493
Charles C. Mann

The story of the chaotic—and often lethal—collision of peoples, flora, fauna and diseases that began after Columbus linked the Old World with the New.

WHEN I AM PLAYING WITH MY CAT HOW DO I KNOW SHE IS NOT PLAYING WITH ME?
Saul Frampton

An engaging study of Michel de Montaigne shows why interest in the skeptical thinker always spikes when the times echo his own fanaticism-haunted society.

LOSING IT
William Ian Miller

A blackly funny and thought-provoking take on old age through the ages that offers a bracing response to contemporary society’s rosy views.

INTO THE SILENCE
Wade Davis

A gracefully written evocation of the effects of the Great War on a group of British climbers who decide to ascend Mount Everest, entirely “because it’s there.”

HOW THE END BEGINS
Ron Rosenbaum

This lucid survey of the dangerous state of the world’s nuclear balance argues that the only moral stance possible is to refuse to fire back, even if nuked first.

A WIDOW’S STORY
Joyce Carol Oates

A raw, unflinching and transfixing chronicle of the year following the death of Oates’s husband of 46 years.

BOSSYPANTS
Tina Fey

Part hilarious life stories, part tips for girls from the smartest grown-up girl in the room, this is a must-read for Fey fanatics—and aspiring improv actors.

WILLFUL BLINDNESS
Margaret Heffernan

An intriguing investigation of how we see only what we want to see and disregard the rest—from a straying spouse to genocide—and why it’s at our peril.

MORDECAI
Charles Foran

All the facts and psyche-probing insights an academic could want, but literary in aim and execution, this is a biography worthy of CanLit’s iconic contrarian.

NATION MAKER
Richard Gwyn

The second volume of Gwyn’s masterful biography shows Sir John A. Macdonald’s private side even as it shows why his political wiles are still relevant today.

THE ORCHARD
Theresa Weir

A gripping account of divided loyalties, the real cost of farming, and the shattered people on the front lines.

FICTION

THE SISTERS BROTHERS
Patrick deWitt

Killers for hire Charlie and Eli Sisters undertake a quixotic road trip during the California Gold Rush; a beguiling story narrated by younger brother Eli, as sweetly engaging a psychopath as literature has to offer.

1Q84
Haruki Murakami

A beautifully written look beneath the surface, literal and figurative, of Japan during George Orwell’s iconic year that also ponders time’s devouring maw.

HALF-BLOOD BLUES
Esi Edugyan

Half a century after the Nazis catch up with African-German trumpet player Hiero Falk in Paris, his old companions probe old wounds in a story of blood and belonging captured in exquisite, musical prose.

THE CAT’S TABLE
Michael Ondaatje

This picaresque tale is as close as Ondaatje has ever come to a page-turner, told with all the fantastical detail of magic realism.

THE PARIS WIFE
Paula McLain

The fictional voice of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, weaves life and literature into a nuanced account of the couple’s unravelling love in Jazz Age Paris.

STATE OF WONDER
Ann Patchett

Patchett skilfully transports the reader into an exotic, fully articulated universe, then writes passages so breathtaking they demand rereading.

ON CANAAN’S SIDE
Sebastian Barry

An 89-year-old Irish exile in America reflects on her quiet yet shockingly eventful life with lyrical precision.

FAITH
Jennifer Haigh

The sister of a Boston priest caught in a sexual abuse scandal pieces together the story of their tragic family in this suspenseful, elegant, sharply observed novel.


 
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