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OCBookBlog: Best Reading 2011

By Randy Kraft on December 05, 2011 11:08 AM | Comments (0)


Frankly, this was not one of the best years for fiction. No rhyme or reason, although I suspect that mainstream publishers, increasingly faced with the threat of e-books and a plethora of used books, are more and more risk-averse, publishing only what seem like sure-winners – name brand authors, celebrity tell-alls, politically provocative, or the tried and true: fables and mysteries. In fact, Laguna Beach Books reports that mystery writers were at their peak this year, although for me, still, no one tops Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Speaking of Doyle, if you are a fan, you might want to read the great Michael Dirda’s “On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling.”

dirda's
Michael Dirda’s work illuminates Conan-Doyle’s brilliance.

“The Tiger’s Wife” was the deservedly the hot book this year, a smart well-crafted work of fiction by New Yorker favorite, Tea Obreht. I loved Julian Barnes “The Sense of an Ending” and although I haven’t read it yet, I imagine I will love Allan Hollinghurst’s latest because I have loved all his writings. Thanks goodness for the Brits.

Armor Towles “Rules of Civility” got lots of good press and is a wonderful evocation of old New York [think Gatsby] but in the end, not much punch. If you want an elegant story with punch, read “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. If you are up for a wild surreal experience, go for Hurakami’s “1Q84.” Read Glen Duncan’s “The Last Werewolf” for a sexy thriller with a kick. If you prefer a simpler tale, I was quite taken with “The Borrower” by Rebecca Makkai.

tiger's wife

I’m saving Stephen King’s “11/22/63” for my holiday curl-up-by-the-fire fiction; I read the first chapter and I can tell it’s going to be one of those great page-turners. King is a master, but I usually find his material too macabre, although this promises to be a refreshing addition to the King canon.

BTW, my newest not-so guilty pleasure is “New Sudden Fiction” a terrific collection of short-short stories which wasn’t new in 2011 but new to me, and every morning I start the day reading a tiny stories by writers with lots of talent.

stephen king

I guess I’ll have to confess my 2011 disappointments as well: Ann Patchett, Jeffery Eugenides, Alice Hoffman, all great writers who needed better editors this round. Not to mention Jonathan Franzen, enough said there.

I don’t read much non-fiction, but a few stood out this year: “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson, a great storyteller who tells true stories. Also “Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness,” the second memoir by Alexandra Fuller about her life in Africa. “The Swerve” which won the National Book Award is a wonderfully juicy and readable view of how we evolved into this modern world. And while I didn’t read it, because the press covered it well enough, if you want to know more about Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson is a fine journalist and surely this will be great reading.

If you want to read something truly wonderful, although it’s not new, go back to “The Phantom Tollbooth” which may be a children’s book but it resonates at every age and is as good a read, maybe better, than the fresh crop. And remember, when you just cannot settle into a new book, go back to the classics – they never fail to please.

Now, out with the old year, in with the new. Let’s hope for some great reads. Happy reading and happy holidays.


Randy Kraft
Randy Kraft is a freelance journalist, editor, business writer, book reviewer and novelist. Born and bred in New York City, she now resides in Dana Point and pens a column for the Laguna Beach Independent newspaper as well as book reviews for OC Insite and at Twitter: @ocbookblogger.

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