Best of 2011 – Final List

It’s time for the unveiling of my Top 10 fiction and nonfiction lists for 2011.  I am especially happy with this year’s lists, and just reading through them brings back great reading memories about the discovery of new authors, the return of some old reliables, and the great fun I’ve had here on Book Chase in the last twelve months.  So, here goes with the lists:

2011 Top 10 – Fiction

1.  Nemesis – Philip Roth (October, 2010, novel set in 1950s New York)

2.  Saturday – Ian McEwan (2006 novel set in London)

3.   Remember Ben Clayton – Stephen Harrigan (novel set in 1920s Texas)

4.  The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach (coming of age baseball novel)

5.  The Sisters Brothers  – Patrick deWitt (western noir novel)

6.  Love at Absolute Zero – Christopher Meeks (comic novel about science and love)

 7.  Doc – Mary Doria Russell (realistic western about Holliday and the Earps)

8.  Lost Memory of Skin – Russell Banks (novel about registered sex offenders in Miami)

9.  The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides (college novel set in 1980s)

10. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb – Melanie Benjamin (novel about little people and P.T. Barnum)

I just realized, while putting this list together, that my reading taste seems to be evolving because there is no detective or crime fiction on the list despite how many books of that type I still read.  Too, I’m slowly moving away from listing books published in prior years – only two on the fiction list for 2011 – but I think that books published late in the year are often considered for the next year’s list, so I have only one “ringer” on the list this year,

2011 Top 10 – Nonfiction

1.  If Trouble Don’t Kill Me – Ralph Berrier (August, 2010, dual biography of two musician brothers from rural Virginia)

2.  Wolf : The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (Jack London biography)

3.  Hitch-22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir republished in 2011)

4.  A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents – and Ourselves –  Jane Gross (a brilliant how-to manual)

5.  Tiny Terror: Why Truman Capote (Almost) Wrote Answered Prayers – Todd Schultz (biographical analysis of Capote’s mind)

6.  Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (loving biography of the country singer’s parents)

7.  We Were Not Orphans: Stories from the Waco State Home – Sherry Matthews (adults remember their childhood years in Texas state home)

8.  Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year – Charles Bracelen (Grant’s race against cancer to finish his memoirs)

9.  He Stopped Loving Her Today – Jack Isenhour (creation of the greatest country song ever recorded)

10. What It Is Like to Go to War – Karl Marlantes (Vietnam war memoir) 

And, that’s it, a fond farewell to 2011, and an enthusiastic welcome to 2012 (the last year I plan to hold a full-time job, by the way, so it’s bound to be a memorable one for me).  

Best of 2011 – Update 9

I hadn’t planned on another Top 10 update before the final one I’ll be doing next month but I decided to go with one more because four new books have managed to crack the lists.  In the four weeks since the last update, I’ve read and considered six fiction titles and two nonfiction ones.

Changes to the fiction list are: The Marriage Plot at number five, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb at number eight, and The Submission at number nine.  On the nonfiction list, Grant’s Final Victory makes its debut at number seven.

Fiction (Top 10 of 82 considered)

1. Nemesis – Philip Roth (polio threat in ’50s)

2.  Saturday – Ian McEwan (car wreck gone very bad) 

3.  Remember Ben Clayton – Stephen Harrigan (Texas father vs. son during WWI)

4.  Doc – Mary Doria Russell (western about an excellent dentist)

5.  The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides (Jane Austen brought to the ’80s)

6.  Love at Absolute Zero – Christopher Meeks (science and true love )

7.  The Art of Fielding – Chad Harback (baseball and coming of age)

8.  The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb – Melanie Benjamin (big novel about little people)

9.  The Submission – Amy Waldman (a nation forced to face prejudice)

10. Lamb – Bonnie Nadzam (a sexual predator exposed) 

Nonfiction (Top 10 of 32 considered) 

1.  If Trouble Don’t Kill Me – Ralph Berrier, Jr. (biography of musician brothers)

2.  Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley – (focusing on employment stages of Wolf’s short life)

3.  Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir from a brilliant mind)

4.  Bittersweet Season – Jane Gross (caring for aging parents)

5.  Tiny Terror – William Todd Schultz (psychobiography of Truman Capote)

6.  Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (Crowell’s tribute to his parents and Houston childhood

 7.  Grant’s Final Victory – Charles Bracelen Flood (Grant’s race against cancer)

8.  We Were Not Orphans – Susan Matthews (memoirs about life in a Texas home for neglected children)

9.  He Stopped Loving Her Today – Jack Isenhour (everything you ever wanted to know about greatest country music song ever written)

10. What It Is Like to Go to War – Karl Marlantes (Viet Nam vet looks at long term effects of war on young soldiers) 

I’m in the homestretch now.

Best of 2011, Update 8

There are barely two months left in the year, so it’s time for another update to my evolving Best of 2011 lists.  I did read 12 books since I edited the two lists last month, but I’m light on the nonfiction titles again: 10 fiction, 2 nonfiction.

Additions to the fiction list are found at numbers 3 (Remember Ben Clayton), 7 (The Art of Fielding), and 8 (Lamb) – and the books at numbers 4-6 each move up a notch.

Fiction: (Top 10 of 76 considered):

1. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

2. Saturday – Ian McEwan (novel)

3. Remember Ben Clayton – Stephen Harrigan (novel)

4. Doc – Mary Doria Russell (novel)

5. Love at Absolute Zero – Christopher Meeks (novel)

6. That Old Cape Magic – Richard Russo (novel)

7. The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach (novel)

8. Lamb – Bonnie Nadzam (novel)

9. Hustle – Jason Skipper (novel)

10.Among the Wonderful – Stacy Carlsen – (novel)

There are no changes to the Non-Fiction list this time around (that’s a first), mainly because I only had two titles to consider.  But it’s also because I don’t feel comfortable moving a classic like Black Boy onto the list and the other title (Juan William’s Muzzled) didn’t top any of the titles already there.

Non-Fiction: (Top 10 of 30 considered):

1. If Trouble Don’t Kill Me – Ralph Berrier, Jr. (biography)

2. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

3. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

4. Bittersweet Season – Jane Gross (on caring for aging parents)

5. Tiny Terror – William Todd Schultz (psychobiography of Truman Capote) 

6. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

7. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from life in a Texas home for neglected children)

8. He Stopped Loving Her Today – Jack Isenhour – (music memoir)

9. What It Is Like to Go to War – Karl Marlantes (memoir)

10. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War History)

It’s almost time to start the countdown…where has this year gone?

Best of 2011, Update 7

A month has gone by since my last Top 10 lists, a month during which I have considered another 12 books (8 novels and 4 nonfiction books) for placement.

Changes are found at numbers 5 (Doc) and 8 (Wherever You Go).

Fiction: (Top 10 of 66 considered)

1. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

2. Saturday – Ian McEwan (novel)

3. Rhino Ranch – Larry McMurtry (series novel)

4. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)

5. Doc – Mary Doria Russell (novel)

6. Love at Absolute Zero – Christopher Meeks (novel)

7. That Old Cape Magic – Richard Russo (novel)

8. Wherever You Go – Joan Leegant (novel)

9. Hustle – Jason Skipper (novel)

10.Among the Wonderful – Stacy Carlsen – (novel)

Similarly, changes to the nonfiction list are found at numbers 1 (If Trouble Don’t Kill Me) and 8 (He Stopped Loving Her Today).

Non-Fiction: (Top 10 of 28 considered)

1. If Trouble Don’t Kill Me – Ralph Berrier, Jr. (biography)

2. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

3. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

4. Bittersweet Season – Jane Gross (on caring for aging parents)

5. Tiny Terror – William Todd Schultz (psychobiography of Truman Capote) 

6. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

7. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from life in a Texas home for neglected children)

8. He Stopped Loving Her Today – Jack Isenhour – (music memoir)

9. What It Is Like to Go to War – Karl Marlantes (memoir)

10. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War History)

With just a bit over three months remaining in 2011, the lists are starting to firm up – but that anything can still happen can be clearly seen from the addition this time around of a new number one book in nonfiction.

Best of 2011, Update 6

I haven’t looked at my Top 10 lists in just over seven weeks, so it’s time to shake them up a bit based on the reading I did during those weeks and my evolving feelings about a few of the titles that have been on the list for a while already.

I read thirteen fiction titles since I last updated the list but only two of them managed to push their way on to it (see numbers 8 and 9).

Fiction: (Top 10 of 58 considered)

1. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

2. Saturday – Ian McEwan (novel)

3. Rhino Ranch – Larry McMurtry (series novel)

4. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)

5. Beach Music – Pat Conroy (novel)

6. Love at Absolute Zero – Christopher Meeks (novel)

7. That Old Cape Magic – Richard Russo (novel)

8. Hustle – Jason Skipper (novel)

9. Among the Wonderful – Stacy Carlson (novel)

10.Dead Man’s Walk – Larry McMurtry (series novel)

Similarly, only one of the four new nonfiction titles considered for the list actually appears there (see number 7).

Non-Fiction: (Top 10 of 24 considered)

1.Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

2. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

3. Bittersweet Season – Jane Gross (on caring for aging parents)

4.Tiny Terror – William Todd Schultz (psychobiography of Truman Capote)

5. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

6. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from a Texas home for neglected children)

7. Why China Will Never Rule the World – Troy Parfitt (travel and politics)

8. What It Is Like to Go to War – Karl Marlantes (memoir)

9. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War History)

10. The Siege of Washington – John and Charles Lockwood (Civil War History)

Those are the lists at just about 2/3 of the way through 2011. There is still time for multiple surprises to come along; I’m counting on it.

Best of 2011, Official Mid-Year Update

It is time for my Official Half-Way-Point Top 10 Lists for books read during the first half of 2011.

I have read six fiction titles since I last updated the list, and four of them will crack the new Top Ten at least temporarily: Rhino Ranch, The Bone Garden, Saturday, and The Prodigal Hour.

Fiction: (Top 10 of 45 considered)

1. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

2. Saturday – Ian McEwan (novel)

3. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)

4. Rhino Ranch – Larry McMurtry – (series novel)

5. Beach Music – Pat Conroy (novel)

6. That Old Cape Magic – Richard Russo (novel)

7. Dead Man’s Walk – Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove Series)

8. Love at Absolute Zero – Christopher Meeks (novel)

9. The Bone Garden – Tess Gerritsen (historical fiction)

10. The Prodigal Hour – Will Entrekin (time travel novel)

Of the three nonfiction titles read since last time, only one appears on this updated list – A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents – and Ourselves.

Nonfiction: (Top 10 of 20 considered)

1. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

2. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

3. Bittersweet Season – Jane Gross (advice on caring for aging parents)

4. Tiny Terror – William Todd Schultz (psychobiography of Truman Capote)

5. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

6. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from a Texas home for neglected children)

7. What It Is Like to Go to War – Karl Marlantes – (memoir)

8. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War history)

9. The Siege of Washington – John and Charles Lockwood (Civil War history)

10. Called Out of Darkness – Anne Rice – (memoir)

Now, it’s on to the second half of the year and the final shakeout of the list.

Best of 2011, Update 4

I think it’s time for me to update my “Best of 2011” lists before my recollection of my most recently read titles starts to fade.  I think I get a better final list if I go through this process every 3-4 weeks (at least in worked out that way for me last year).

I read seven fiction titles since I updated the list three weeks ago, but only one of them will crack the new Top Ten: That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo goes into the number five slot.

Fiction: (Top 10 of 39 considered)

1. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)

2. Dead Man’s Walk – Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove series)

3. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

4. Beach Music – Pat Conroy (novel)

5. That Old Cape Magic – Richard Russo (novel)

6. Love at Absolute Zero – Christopher Meeks (novel)

7. Autumn of the Phantoms – Yasmina Khadra (Algerian detective fiction)

8. Standing at the Crossroads – Charles Davis (British novel)

9. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (classic British novel)

10. One Thousand White Women – Jim Fergus (Western novel)

Strangely enough, all three of the nonfiction titles I read since last time are appearing on this updated list – What It Is Like to Go to War, Called Out of Darkness,and The Reading Promise.

Nonfiction: (Top 10 of 17 considered)

1. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

2. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

3. Tiny Terror – William Todd Schultz (psychobiography of Truman Capote)

4. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

5. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from a Texas home for neglected children)

6. What It Is Like to Go to War – Karl Marlantes – (memoir)

7. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War history)

8. The Siege of Washington – John and Charles Lockwood (Civil War history)

9. Called Out of Darkness – Anne Rice – (memoir)

10.The Reading Promise – Alice Ozma – (memoir)


So, there you have it…almost to the half-way point, these are the best 20 books I have encountered in 2011…so far.

Best of 2011, Update 3

Well, it looks like Blogger figured out what caused its “routine maintenance” to go so badly yesterday – things appear to be up and functioning correctly again after the crash that lasted for the better part of the last two days.  While things are working again (I’m a little gun shy about the whole Blogger experience after this and other similar incidents), I’ll update my Top Ten lists.

Of the 32 fiction titles considered, Beach Music, Love at Absolute Zero, One Thousand White Women, and The Keeper of Lost Causes appear on the YTD Fiction Top Ten list for the first time.

1. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)

2. Dead Man’s Walk – Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove series)

3. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

4. Beach Music – Pat Conroy (novel)

5. Love at Absolute Zero – Christopher Meeks (novel)

6. Autumn of the Phantoms – Yasmina Khadra (Algerian detective fiction)

7. Standing at the Crossroads – Charles Davis (British novel)

8. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (classic British novel)

9. One Thousand White Women – Jim Fergus (Western novel)

10.The Keeper of Lost Causes – Jussi Adler-Olsen (Norwegian crime fiction)

Of the 14 nonfiction titles considered, Tiny Terror, How Literature Works, and The Long Goodbye make their first appearance on the YTD Nonfiction Top Ten list:

1. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

2. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

3. Tiny Terror – William Todd Schultz (psychobiography of Truman Capote)

4. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

5. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from a Texas home for neglected children)

6. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War history)

7. The Siege of Washington – John and Charles Lockwood (Civil War history)

8. How Literature Works – John Sutherland (Instructional Text)

9. The Long Goodbye – Meghan O’Rourke (memoir)

10. A Widow’s Story – Joyce Carol Oates (memoir)


The year is not yet half over, so it will be interesting to see how many of the books on the list are still there at the end of December. I would guess about one-third of the titles will survive – at most.

Best of 2011, Update 2

Hard as it is for me to believe, the year is already more than one-quarter done so this seems like a good time to update my rankings.  As of today, I’ve read 24 fiction titles and 10 nonfiction ones – despite my good intentions, the nonfiction titles are coming slow for me again this year.

The best ten fiction books to this point, ranked in order, are these:

1. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)

2. Dead Man’s Walk – Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove series)

3. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

4. Autumn of the Phantoms – Yasmina Khadra (Algerian detective fiction)

5. Standing at the Crossroads – Charles Davis (British novel)

6. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (classic British novel)

7. To the End of the Land – David Grossman (literary novel from Israel)

8. Resolution – Denise Mina (crime fiction from Scotland)

9. Bad Intentions – Karin Fossum (crime fiction from Norway)

10. The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson – (British novel)

Even though I’ve only read 10 nonfiction titles so far, I will go ahead and rank them:

1. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

2. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

3. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

4. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from a Texas home for neglected children)

5. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War history)

6. The Siege of Washington – John and Charles Lockwood (Civil War history)

7. A Widow’s Story – Joyce Carol Oates (memoir)

8. Look Away Dixieland – James B. Twitchell (Civil War History)

9. Scorecasting – Tobias J. Moskowitz, Jon Wortheim (sports)

10.Heart of the City – Ariel Sabar (sociology)


I found last year that making this a “live” list results in a more meaningful (more accurate) list than I’ve come up with in previous years when I’ve waited until late December to start the process, so I’ll be doing an update once a month or so.

Best of 2011 – First Pass

It’s a bit early for me to expect a meaningful Top 10 list, especially in nonfiction titles, from my 2011 reading, but I really need to start sorting them properly before they become any fuzzier to me.  To this point, I’ve read fourteen fiction titles and seven nonfiction ones, meaning that all but four of the books will be listed.

The best ten fiction books to this point, ranked in order, are these:

1. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)

2. Dead Man’s Walk – Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove series)

3. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

4. Autumn of the Phantoms – Yasmina Khadra (Algerian detective fiction)

5. Standing at the Crossroads – Charles Davis (British novel)

6. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (classic novel)

7. The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson – (British novel)

8. Innocent – Scott Turow (legal fiction)

9. My Name Is Mary Sutter – Robin Oliveira (Civil War fiction)

10. Tallgrass – Sandra Dallas – (YA novel)

Since I’ve only read seven nonfiction titles so far this year, this will be a Top 7 list:

1. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

2. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

3. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

4. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War history)

5.A Widow’s Story – Joyce Carol Oates (memoir)

6. Scorecasting – Tobias J. Moskowitz, Jon Wortheim (sports)

7. Heart of the City – Ariel Sabar (sociology)


So there you have it.  This is really more for my own purposes than anything else but I decided to post it in case someone might be interested in seeing how the first two months of the year have shaped up.