My (Randomly) Favorite Books of 2011

November 25th, 2011

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By the time we get around to singing “Auld Lang Syne” this New Year’s Eve, I will have done about 130 author interviews in 2011 (not counting those I’ve done for my new indie-author website www.TheBookcast.com.

Friends are always asking me which books I would recommend, especially now in the gift-giving season.

So here are some of my 2011 favorites:

Jill  KargmanKargman

Jill Kargman “Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut”
This memoir-in-snippets hilariously recounts Kargman’s life, from her hellish first job to her bizarre affection for the aroma of gasoline and the ravaging effects of motherhood on, well, her nether parts.

Jeff Greenfield “Then Everything Changed”
If you’ve ever played “what if” with history, this book is sure to please. Greenfield imagines how recent U.S. history might have read if, at key moments, it had taken a left turn instead of a right.

Del Quentin Wilber “Rawhide Down”
Hard to believe it’s been thirty years since John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, but Washington Post reporter Wilber’s book takes us minute by minute through that day.

Tea  ObrehtObreht

Tea Obreht “The Tiger’s Wife”
An amazing, magical-realism debut from the 20-something Croatian-born Obreht will leave you breathless and wanting more.

Diane Ackerman “One Hundred Names for Love”
A better true-life love story will be harder to find than Diane Ackerman’s account of the near-fatal stroke her husband Paul West suffered, and how the two of them found their way back.

Lisa Scottoline “Save Me”
A woman is a heroine for saving a life, but then is cast as a villain for what she didn’t do – and then faces a courtroom bullying to rival the school bullying her daughter endured, in this pageturning thriller.

Annie Jacobsen “Area 51″
Yes, there really is an Area 51, but it is far more complex and intriguing than the popular mythology about it, reports journalist Jacobsen, who spent years researching America’s most-secret piece of real estate.

Oscar  HijuelosHijuelos

Oscar Hijuelos “Thoughts Without Cigarettes”
The Pulitzer Prizewinning novelist’s first nonfiction book is a riveting memoir that, among other things, helps explain how Hijuelos has spent a lifetime seeking his true Hispanic identity.

Esmeralda Santiago “Conquistadora”
A sweeping narrative set in Puerto Rico blends history with the fortunes of a young woman who becomes matriarch of a wealthy sugar-cane family – but at a price.

Penn Jillette “God, No!”
Atheist or not, you’re likely to enjoy this memoir-cum-pedagogy by the taller, louder half of Penn & Teller.

Amy Waldman “The Submission”
It’s “fiction ripped from today’s headlines” in Waldman’s novel about the controversy that flares over a memorial to the victims of a 9/11-like attack when the committee in charge of naming a designer choose a young Muslim man.

Peter  Van BurenVan Buren

Peter Van Buren “We Meant Well”
Why has the U.S. flooded Iraq with money, and why has it done no good in establishing a peaceful democracy there? This memoir by a State Department bureaucrat goes a long way to explaining.

Ariel Dorfman “Feeding on Dreams”
The acclaimed Chilean-American playwright and author remembers his long exile from his homeland in this heartrending memoir, an honest assessment of how his quest to return home was doomed to fail.

Russell Banks “Lost Memory of Skin”
No novel by Russell Banks is a disappointment and this disturbing story of a young man with a failed past and a ruined future is no exception.

Amos Oz “Scenes From Village Life”
There’s a reason this book is a bestseller in several countries. The masterful Oz tells the story of a small, old village in Israel through the lives of several of its idiosyncratic residents.

Umberto Eco “The Prague Cemetery”
It’s impossible not to love Eco’s wry and ironic take on a real book that may have inspired Hitler, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an outrageous screed that warned of a Jewish cabal plotting world domination.

Jack  AbramoffAbramoff

Jack Abramoff “Capitol Punishment”
It may seem odd to include a book by the disgraced former Washington lobbyist on this list, but hear me out. It’s a fascinating inside look not only at exactly how Washington’s big lobbying machine works, but how one man loses his moral compass.

What were some of your favorite books of 2011?

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