Well, it's that time of the year when I reminisce about the year that was. Truth be told, I didn't read as many books as I have in years past. Not sure if my attention was focused on other things, I've been reading longer books or simply, my eyesight is failing me and it takes longer to read fine text. All in all, I believe I read a total of 26 or so books this past year. Not much, but enough to have a top ten list.
Also, I ask anyone and everyone to visit Goodreads.com and open up a FREE membership where you can mark and rate your favorite-and not so favorite-books, write reviews and build a 'to-read' list based on other reader's recommendations, and more!
Now, shameless promotions aside, let's get to the books.
This year, it seems that I've picked a number of duds including Xenocide (the third book in the Ender series), Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine and A Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer. Very disappointed with these three books among others.
However, as the whale shit sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor (or in this case my book pile), ten books served as the distinctive cream that rose to the top including three books by three of my favorite illustrators. Plus, a special shout out to my copywriter companion Craig Israel who recommended not one, not two, but three books, which made this list. Thanks bud!
So, without further adieu, here were my top-ten favorite books of 2011 (in no particular order):
The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. CrumbWell, now I can officially say that I've read the Book of Genesis! However, it wouldn't have been as nearly entertaining had it not been illustrated by R. Crumb. Couple thoughts...the story of Noah, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel as well as Sodom and Gommorah are extremely short - less than a page or two. It seems like this Rebekah character controlled all of the early men's decisions in the Bible. It's funny to see that people lived to be 400 or 500 years old in the olden days but - in today's time of radical medicine and prescriptions - we have an average lifespan of 77. Speaking of Noah, since a flood wiped out all of humanity, then technically, everyone on this Earth is the spawn of Noah? Correct? There are pages and pages of boring, mundane text talking about who had sex with who and then lists and lists and lists of the children's names. By far, the most enjoyable part was the story of Joseph, which ended this extremely daunting first chapter of the Bible on a high note. Thanks to Crumb for offering a visually stunning 'take' on this important manuscript. Highly recommended for the visuals. Slightly recommended for the overall text.
Freedom by Jonathan FranzenWow. What a novel. Reminded me of a modern day Grapes of Wrath. Where as Steinbeck's fantastic novel talked about the plight of the American farmer and their struggles to feed themselves and find constant work to survive. Franzen, the author, focuses his lens on the modern day family's (The Bergland's) internal, psychological struggles with their emotions, their beliefs, their sanity and their ultimate pursuit of happiness. A struggle to find what will make them truly free. Like Steinbeck, Franzen has strong control of the English language and creates a fantastic story interpersed with plausible, believable dialogue between the characters. A genius work (and I don't use genius oftern). The first 100 pages, you may be scratching your head and wondering where this is going. Give it time. The book percolates in your mind, lets you slowly get to know the characters and then grabs a hold of you until the very last sentence. Seriously. This book would make a great HBO mini-series
20th-Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
The short story, in particular, the short horror story is a dangerous nut to crack, as you'll see when I release my little nuggets to the world in a couple of weeks. Some great fiction, science fiction and horror writers are known for their fabulous short stories including Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker and Stephen King - even Hemingway among others. Other long-form horror writers try and try to create a good short story, but fall short. Which brings us to Joe Hill who has offered up a handful of not necessarily gore shriek stories, but rather eerie, odd, fantastical stories. Hence the term 20th Century Ghosts. These aren't goblins and spooky critters, but somewhat real people that you could possibly run into on the street. The thing about Hill, is he has a knack for dialogue and his character can be very funny, very sarcastic when need be. His stories could be pulled from this book and tossed into an episode of Twilight Zone without much tinkering. I was very happy with this collection. However a number of his stories came to the top of the 'jealousy' pile including BEST NEW HORROR, POP ART, THE BLACK PHONE, THE CAPE, MY FATHER'S MASK and VOLUNTARY COMMITTAL (which is quite possibly one of the best short stories I've read in quite some time). So, there you have it. After reading his 'okay' long-form novel HEART-SHAPED BOX, I'm looking forward to reading some other great entries from this up-and-coming horror writer.
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
This isn't a book for nerds. Well, not really. This is a book celebrating the numbers, the statistics, the data of life, the (dare I say?) hidden side of everything. Steven D. Levitt and economist Steven J. Dubner provide an easy-to-read thought-provoking book on economics...with a twist. Want to know why crime has gone down in the past 20 years? It's not because gun control. What's in your child's name? As it turns out, a lot. Do teachers and sumo wrestlers cheat? You'll be surprised to learn that some of them do. What makes a good parent? Well, as it turns out - it's not reading to them. How is drug dealing a lot like McDonalds? Find out in this book. Are there similarities between real estate agents and the KKK? In a word, yes! Economist Levitt and journalist Dubner come together to create a page-turner of fascinating facts that will make you the most brilliant chap at any cocktail party. Seriously! I'm sorry that I dragged my heels on reading this book. It was a very fun read.
The Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
After I read that Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo) signed on the dotted line to direct a live-action movie about Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Princes of Mars (aptly titled John Carter of Mars), count me intrigued. I've always heard fellow geeks in my fellow geek circles talking about this book, but didn't think much of it. "Pffftt. It's an old dusty book about a guy who goes to mars and fights aliens," I would say. Well, turns out I was half-right. The other half is that it's actually an entertaining read. Keep in mind that this book was first published in 1917. Almost 100 years ago! Then, you can respect Burrough's vision and creativity and imagination. Sure, some of the plot is a little clunky (how did JC get to Mars?) and writing is a bit antiquated. But, so what. That's the fun of the book. It's a great, pulpy science fiction book that inspired a lot of famous writers, directors and scientists to think beyond this Earth. And start looking to the stars for literary and literal exploration. Will I continue to read Burroughs' John Carter series? Eventually. But not right now. There's too many other books I want to read. After talking with a friend, he mentioned that Burroughs uses the famous cliffhanger technique from book to book. He does it with this original entry as well, which piqued my curiosity. So, yeah, I'll probably explore the series a bit more down the line. However, I'm very happy that I picked up this important piece of science fiction literature. It's definitely worth a read.
Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku
Great interesting book. If you ever wanted to step into a time machine and find out what life was going to be like in 25, 50 or 100 years - this is the book. Based on patents that are currently at the patent office and conversation with some of the smartest, forward-thinking minds of this century - theoretical physicist Michio Kaku paints an optimistic picture of the future. No more gas. No more disease. No more aging. Tons of robots. And expanded space travel and colonization. The book, at times, is a little heady, but the brilliant Kaku tries his best to speak in lamen's terms referring to pop culture movies, tv shows, books and magazines to help illustrate his thoughts. One of the most eerie parts lies in the the final chapter where Kaku takes us through a day in the life of a 71-year old man in 2100 - as close as you're going to get to seeing the real thing. Check er out.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My favorite book of this past year. Not only a great read for young adults, but for everyone. Sure, comparisons will be made to THE LONG WALK, BATTLE ROYALE and THE RUNNING MAN, but Suzanne Collins creates a somewhat plausible, eerie dystopian world where 24 teenagers battle to the death in a forested arena...and only one survives. A real entertaining page-turner that will have you thinking long and hard weeks and months after you finish it. LIke I said, very entertaining, creative, violent read, which is surprising for a young adult novel. TWILIGHT this ain't, so check 'er out!
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Collins' follow-up to the fantastic horror novel The Hunger Games, I enjoyed the story arc, the writing and even the great twist in the middle - and the end. However, although this is a great second novel, in my opinion nothing will compare to the first novel. I wish I could say more, but the beauty of this series is the element of surprise that springs out at the reader each and every page. Read the books and tell me what you think. Highly recommended. EIMER NOTE: Although I read Collins' third and final Hunger Games novel, Mockingjay - I did not include it on this list for a number of reasons. Although it was good, it just wasn't top-ten worthy.
Berni Wrightson: A Look Back by Christopher Zavisa and Berni WrightsonFantastic book. If you're an illustrator, a fan of comic books or simply like staring and learning about great art, this is the book for you. Bernie Wrightson is the master. It's nice to get inside his head and see what makes him tick as an artist. The cool thing about this book is not only the great art, but the fact that Bernie actually takes the time to talk about his work - including his failures, which makes him a bit more human in my eyes.
MAD's Greatest Artists: Sergio Aragones: Five Decades of His Finest Works by Sergio Aragones and Patrick McDonnell
If you're a fan of MAD Magazine, cartooning or ironic-filled cartoons, you need to check out this book, which supplies the best of the best of Sergio Aragones' five decades of work at MAD Magazine - hand picked by the author/illustrator himself. If it wasn't for this guy and Don Martin, I wouldn't have dabbled in cartooning myself. This is a great collection of some of Aragones' funniest gags. Great, great stuff by a truly talented, and mad, genius.
ADDITIONAL WARNING: If you're interested in any of the above books, I implore you to not (NOT) visit Wikipedia to learn more. Wikipedia summaries are filled to the gills with spoilers that will ruin your reading experience.
Well, there you have it. If you're interested in other top ten list from years past click the links below: