BLOG: Writers, readers pick their favorite 2011 books

Tom Jackson
Dec 6, 2011


(Blogger's Note: I asked some of my favorite writers and several friends to contribute to this look back at books they read, and recommend, in 2011. In the end, I had to stop asking people for contributions and go ahead and publish, but please add your own recommendations in the comments.)

Tom Perrotta, author (The Leftovers, Little Children, etc)

Two books that I really enjoyed this year are The Sisters Brothers, a darkly comic western by Patrick deWitt, and The End of Everything, a suspenseful coming-of-age novel by the wonderful writer, Megan Abbott.

Anne Hinton, retired director, Huron Public Library.

The top three from this year, in no particular order, were The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough, A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I had had no idea of all the Americans who had been so influenced by their time in Paris as detailed in The Greater Journey and to a lesser extent by Hemingway. It had been a long time since I’d read Hemingway and his precise use of language is just wonderful – no word unnecessary or wasted. The Butler novel was haunting with an usual treatment of time and multi-layered characters.

Elinor Lipman, author (Then She Found Me, The Family Man, etc.)

Four 2011 favorites, 2 fiction, 2 non.

A Happy Marriage, by Rafael Iglesias
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt,  by Caroline Preston
Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family  by Patricia Volk                                                             Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Dennis Murray Jr., attorney and state representative.

Blink, by Malcom Gladwell, which makes the point that first instincts and impressions supported by experience or training are often the best and that far too often we over-think things. Long one of my favorite authors, former Nixon speechwriter Kevin Phillips wrote Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism. Phillips writes at the intersection of economics, politics and history. His prescience over the last two decades about a protracted war in the Middle East, the collapse of the housing bubble, ethical corruption in the financial sectors and a political system unable to wrestle with the great problems of the day has been almost frightening. And there was Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, a current tea party favorite. Just as many successful conservatives need to understand the enormous obstacles faced by those without a great education and with little means, progressives need to hear this message to understand where our social safety net turns into a trap that drains our creativity and prosperity.

Connie Schultz, author and newspaper columnist

Oh, so many, Tom. A few:

You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein by Julie Solomon
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
11/22/63 by Stephen King

Ann Jackson, manager of technical services, Rocky River Public Library

Two of my favorite books this year were the first two Tana French books, In the Woods and The Likeness. Tana French seduces you with her imaginative characters, plots, and settings. Before you realize, you are caught up in the world of Irish villages and the Dublin Murder Squad characters.
I had no idea what State of Wonder by Ann Patchett was about, but my friend Maureen kept asking me if I’d read it, or if I’m going to read it- so I did. I’m not giving anything away, other than to say it is wonderful.
The first novel, Before I Go to Sleep, a psychological thriller by S. J. Watson, keeps you guessing all the way through. You’ll definitely think about not sleeping and staying up all night just to finish this impressive debut.

Lawrence Block, mystery writer (Matt Scudder series, "Burglar" series, etc.)

I've been reading, and greatly enjoying, The Art of Fielding,by Chad Harbach. A couple of months ago I re-read an old favorite, Starting Over, by Dan Wakefield. And a friend steered me to Nuala O'Faolain's novel, My Dream of You.

And I can but hope that someone will mention one or both of the novels of mine out this year, A Drop of the Hard Stuff and Getting Off. [Blogger's note: The former is Block's new novel about his unlicensed New York private eye, Matt Scudder.]

Michael Johnson, writer, musician and blogger.

 I really enjoyed reading Happy Modern Medical Breakthroughs, Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs by Morton A. Meyers, MD, which originally appeared in 2007. This guy knows how to tell a story. He's a radiologist who wanted to image some part of the body, using a radioactive dye, and he ended up accidentally finding out how tumors spread: a pretty cool breakthrough.

I really liked a book about heavy metal that came out earlier this year titled Mean Deviation, by Jeff Wagner, a dedicated metalhead, but by far dedicated - a true scholar, really - of "progressive" metal: from Rush to Voivod to Celtic Frost to Dream Theater to Watch Tower to Opeth and literally hundreds of bands in between, Wagner has something to say about how these bands constantly strove to change from album to album.

(More titles and more information here)

Mary Turzillo, science fiction writer, scholar.

I'm very fond of Rule 34, by Charlie Stross.

These are not recent, but I'm also quite fond of Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls.

Oh, and although this is probably mentioned by everybody, Connie Wills' Blackout/All Clear was simply delicious and brilliant.

Julie Brooks, director, Sandusky Library

Let’s Take the Long Way Home: a Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell. I also enjoyed The Paper Garden: An Artist {begins her life’s work} at 72 by Molly Peacock and I’ve just started reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

 JoAnna Carl, mystery novelist (the Chocoholic Mysteries)

The only two books that leapt to mind were Juliette by Anne Fortier. Very unusual. I like it, but the writing is literary, and it’s not something you dash through. Also for the first time this year – remember that I rarely read suspense, since I prefer the traditional mystery – I read one of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. Complete opposite; it moves so fast I could hardly catch my breath. Interesting that two such different books can both be classified as mysteries. I enjoyed both thoroughly.

As I told you earlier, when I’m working on my own books I tend to read old books I’ve read earlier. One I reread at least once a year is Why Didn't They Ask Evans by Agatha Christie. It’s pure amateur detective, since the police believe the murder was an accidental death until the two protagonists prove otherwise in the final chapter. Delightful characters. Very soothing. I love it.

Geoffrey Landis, award winning science fiction writer, NASA scientist, poet

Right now I'm in the middle of Gardner Dozois' collection The Year's Best Science Fiction, 28th Annual Collection. It's a little bit cheating to list this one, though, since I have a story in it. But I'm really enjoying the other stories. The Dozois Year's Best is always a good way to catch up with what's new in science fiction.
I just bought a copy of Maureen McHugh's collection After the Apocalypse, and this is next on my to-read list. I always like Maureen's stories, so I'm looking forward to this one.
Other than that, I just finished Catherynne Valente's novel Deathless. It's an astonishing book, jumbling together Russian folklore and the Russian revolution in a story that never goes in the direction you think it's going to.

 Sherrod Brown, U.S. senator, D-Ohio, and avid reader.

Through a spokeswoman, Brown says his favorite book read during 2011 was John Steinbeck's The Moon is Down. He also liked Alexandr Solzhenitzyn's The First Circle, Isabel Wilkerson's Warmth of Other Suns and The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell.

Laura Nemeth, marketing manager, the Sandusky Register, and founder, Omni Book Club:

My favorite books this year took me to Paris: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, A Moveable Feast by Hemingway, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and The Greater Journey by David McCullough. A very special book was written by my friend Erika Marks called Little Gale Gumbo. I felt like she was whispering in my ear the whole time I read it.

Les Roberts, Mystery novelist (The Cleveland Creep, etc.), Plain Dealer book reviewer:

Fallen by Karen Slaughter - one of the most hardboiled of all American mystery authors.

The Cut,  by George Pelecanos - the start of a new series featuring a cheerfully amoral tough guy and exhilarating writing.

The Stranger You Seek, by Amanda Kyle Williams - the debut of the best female private eye since Sue Grafton's Kinsey Killhone.

Feast Day of Fools  by James Lee Burke - I wrote, in reviewing this book for a newspaper: "Burke's elegant prose is almost like a Gospel, written with love and acid." Angelic and astonishingly brutal, this one is a masterpiece, and the best book I've read all year.

Tom Jackson, staff writer, the Sandusky Register.

My favorite novel this year was REAMDE by Neal Stephenson, a long thriller about Islamic terrorists tangling with a Russian special forces veteran, a Chinese hacker, a Hungarian hacker, a beautiful British spy and various Americans. The novel is set in various interesting locations all over the world.

Cosmic Trigger 2: Down to Earth. Robert Anton Wilson was not as well-known as his friends Philip K. Dick and Timothy Leary, but he enjoys an enthusiastic cult following. His engaging memoir, partially set in Yellow Springs, Ohio, is an ideal introduction to his work, often warm and funny.

All Things Are Lights, Robert Shea. I can't imagine any reader would dislike this historical novel about a knight in the time of St. Louis who participates in the Crusades and is torn between two women. Lots of history slipped in between the sword fights, love declarations, etc. Available for $8 as a Kindle book, free at





Home to the flowers. Author Dr. Tillman Smith.       The good doctor tells about his medical upbringing in the medical areana & moving to New London,Ohio from Miss.  (circa 1940-1960)  Goes into great detail about attitudes, racism, drug addicted prostitues etc, all involving small town America.


Great, rich list - thanks! Anne Hinton mentions McCullough's The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris ... for another good list of recent specifically Paris books including The Greater Journey and ranging from fiction to travel to foodie, I recommend the Frenchphile blog's Top Book Picks at  I also just finished and really enjoyed a very different sort of read from science journalist/biology prof Rob Dunn, The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners that Shape Who We Are Today, about how we physically evolved in response to predators and parasites and recent scientific findings about the real effects on our health/bodies of our ongoing campaign to distance ourselves from nature - very readable!


On Facebook, you and Connie Schultz mention this warm and fuzzy North Central relationship between the Register and the Plain Dealer.  The only problem? It doesn't exist, even with Gov. Kasich stretching the Northeast to include Erie countyfor business reasons.  

When the PD ran an article on school performance and costs, they started in Ashtabula, but predictably ended at the Lorain County line. I'm hard pressed to recall a reprint in the PD  of an editorial piece originating in the Register. So I buy both...maybe you do have a warm & fuzzyrelationship after all. 


Kottage Kat

1) The Secret Gift-----Ted Gup

2) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks----

3)  The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Not exactly PC, good reads none the less.   If you have not read Les Roberts, try him.  Kat