I was discussing column ideas for December with Jen, and said, “Oh, and maybe I could do a Top 10 Books list!” Jen agreed, and I was very excited. I love books, and I love lists. Then I sat down at my desk and realized that, just off the top of my head, my top ten list went up to eleven.
There was the other problem, too – if I made a Best Of list, I’d have to justify my choices. Some books, books that happened to be written by dear friends of mine, would have to be left off, since no matter how amazing they are, it’s not quite the done thing to fill the list with all your friends. So I asked if I could refocus the column – “How about a list of books that are awesome?” Thankfully, Jen agreed.
I do have a few rules. The books had to be published in 2011, and had to be works of speculative fiction. This meant that some of the best books I’ve read this year – Mary Doria Russell’s Doc, Elizabeth Hand’s Generation Loss, and Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography – aren’t on the list. I haven’t tried to put them in order, so please don’t read into how I’ve listed them. Those disclaimers in place, here are my favorite books of 2011. I recommend them all.
Embassytown – China Miéville. Okay, I lied. This was my favorite book of the year. It is about the power and seduction of language, and I don’t have enough words to tell you how extraordinary I found it.
The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson. She had me at Jack the Ripper, but trust me, this isn’t your usual book about Saucy Jack. Smart, interesting, the right amount of creepy, and a terrific female lead in Rory.
The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern. One of the most beautiful books I have ever read, full of lush prose and magic.
Deathless – Catherynne M. Valente. Koschei the Deathless and the Siege of Leningrad. Marya Morevna, and the definitive Baba Yaga. This book will break your heart in the best way.
Welcome to Bordertown – edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner. New. Bordertown. Stories.
Imaginary Girls – Nova Ren Suma. I finished this book, and turned it over and read it again. I’m still haunted by it, months later.
The Freedom Maze – Delia Sherman. We’ll be running a review of this, so I don’t want to say too much, but this book is extraordinary. In my opinion, this should win the Newbery.
Daytripper – Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. One of the most gorgeous graphic novels I’ve read, the kind of thing you give to people who don’t think they like graphic novels in order to change their minds. It’s about life and stories and beauty and truth. You know, the little things.
Beauty Queens – Libba Bray. My guess is the elevator pitch for this book was something like, “It’s Lord of the Flies meets Miss Teen USA.” This book is even better than that. It has a great cast of characters, adventure, heartbreak, and girls being smart and awesome. They all deserve tiaras.
The Magician King – Lev Grossman. Even better than The Magicians, which you have all read, right? (Fix that, if you haven’t.) And oh, Julia.
Swamplandia! – Karen Russell. It is perhaps not a secret by now that I have a weakness for beautiful prose and amazing female characters. Those things are here, along with a terrific setting, and a family haunted by itself.
The October Daye series – Seanan McGuire. Okay, not exactly fair, but this is my list, and part of the series came out this year, so here I am, breaking the rules again. The series begins with Rosemary and Rue. If you want real urban fantasy, read them. Read them all.
Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Oh, just the best monthly comic since Sandman. The fourth collected volume shows that what started as a good series is consistently getting better, and it’s a great jumping in place for people who haven’t been reading them yet.
Queen of Kings – Maria Dahvana Headley. Remember when vampires were scary? Headley does. Her Cleopatra is terrifying, and at the same time, a deeply sympathetic character. If you like your monsters smart, eloquent, and still ruthlessly monstrous, this is the book for you.
Mr. Fox – Helen Oyeyemi. A retelling of the Bluebeard fairytale, in marvelously inventive fashion. Oyeyemi finds the interstices of the story and pulls and stretches on them until we see things in a completely different way.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer – Michelle Hodkin. I read a lot of really fabulous YA this year, and this book had all of the things I loved – a smart and strong lead character, great relationships (and I mean with Mara’s family, too, not just with the hot guy), and weirdness of the best kind. As excellent as the title.
Swordspoint (the audiobook) – Ellen Kushner. Cheating again! Swordspoint, which is wonderful, was originally published in 1987. But the audiobook is newly out, and so very good.