ABC’s Favorite Reads of 2011, Part E

And yet another installment of our Favorite Reads of the Year! Part A is right here, Part B is here, C is here, and D is here.

These favorites come from JeroenW, Jilles, and Tiemen.  JeroenW is one of our newest treasures, works regularly in both stores, and buys the Science Fiction & Fantasy books for ABC The Hague.  Jilles is ABC Amsterdam’s Fiction Buyer (together with Renate), a certified Store Gem, and also likes to read while he works.  Tiemen is the Juvenile Fiction/Young Adult books buyer at ABC Amsterdam, sometimes interviews authors, and will astound you with his musical selection, too.

We would love to hear about what YOUR favorite reads of 2011 were, too! They don’t have to be books published in 2011, just read in 2011. Please send your top 5 to blog@abc.nl, and be sure to include your mailing address so we can send you an ABC gift voucher as a thank you. We’ll be publishing your Top 5s at the beginning of 2012, so you have the rest of the month to hand them in. Thank you to those who have already mailed them in!

And now, without further ado… the lists!

Jeroen van W

1. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
This one really hit a nerve. It’s hard to say much about the story without ruining it in the process, it suffices to say that it’s difficult not to be moved by the fate of the protagonists; even though they themselves hardly are.

2. The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi
Some scifi-novels make you look forward to what tomorrow might bring. This one – not so much. A colourful story set in a bleak future where the end of human life is just one viral mutation away, The Windup Girl signals the invention of a genre that is very much a product of our time: Biopunk. Recommended for anyone looking for something new and different.

3. My Friend Dahmer – Derf Backderf
An up-close study of one of America’s most gruesome serial-killers as a teenager, written and drawn by one of his former classmates. Very, very disquieting. Very, very well done.

4. The City & the City – China Miéville
One of my chewiest reads of the year is a tour-de-force mystery thriller set in two cities that are both located in the same geographical area. Luckily Miéville has the good grace not to try and explain how and why this is possible.

5. Assassin’s Quest – Robin Hobb
An oldie but goodie, the third part in a trilogy (part 1: Assassin’s Apprentice, part 2: Royal Assassin) that had me cursing out loud at the protagonist, the rash and whiny royal bastard FitzChivalry. That kind of involvement in the plot is a sure sign of good writing.

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Jilles

1. Never Look Away – Linwood Barclay
Once I started reading that is exactly what I didn’t do…never look away, because Barclay springs twists and turns on you from out of the blue and at moments when you least expect it. This is not literature, but a great read for when you want to be totally entertained and crave some good old fashioned excitement. This book will work on holiday, on the couch, and in bus, train or subway to or from work. One of this year’s great surprises.

2. Starvation Lake – Bryan Gruley
I love small town America, and this book has it in spades. I love a good crime story with deep, dark secrets, and this book does deliver on that front. I love a book that is written well and intelligently like a great work of fiction, and that is definitely what this book is. All in all this first book by journalist Bryan Gruly gives us the best of all those sub-genres merging together as a great novel that deserves your attention between all the hype and so-called blockbusters that are out there.

3. 22/11/63 – Stephen King
With 22/11/63 King has written a great new book where he can be what he really wants to be: a great storyteller that uses both plot and interesting characters to create a tale tall enough to capture your heart and soul and take you away on a journey back through time. In earlier works he could plod along a bit, losing his momentum in the story, but here he is right on the dot, back at the campfire to do what he loves to do most, to entertain his constant reader.

4. Illuminations on the Road of Nowhere – Paul Ferrini
Paul Ferrini comes from the tradition of A Course in Miracles, but through the years he has found his own voice in writing about the teachings of Jesus the way they were meant to be. And with this book he has written a very inspiring one that touches on all the subjects that are so essential to personal growth, forgiveness, love, healing, relationships, and the now is the moment in which all of this can happen. A great book to be read in small bits, so it can inspire you day by day for months to come.

5. The Bradbury Chronicles – Sam Weller
The only (authorized) biography of the wonderful and amazing Ray Bradbury, he of Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked this Way Comes fame. This biography reads like a story that could have been written by Bradbury himself. Weller does an amazing job, after thousands of hours of interviews, to bring his favorite author alive. It is like taking a peak behind the curtain where the wonderful wizard of Oz hides. Here we revisit small town America the way Bradbury loves it best, during the fall, when it’s Halloween, with a carnival nearby and something magical in the air. One of the most entertaining biographies I have read in years.

Tiemen

1. Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution – Francis Fukuyama
This book is impressive because Fukuyama manages to describe basically almost all of human history from the prehistory to the French Revolution. That he does so in about 600 pages and in such a way that it remains accessible to the general audience is even more impressive. Fukuyama tries to answer the question why some countries have been able to get to ‘Denmark’ – a stable liberal democracy – while other political systems are plagued by violence, corruption and nepotism.
I especially like this book because it makes you think about the things that you usually take for granted. That we can vote every four years and have a government that is (somewhat) competent has been the result of a historical process that has unfolded over hundred of years and might not have necessarily resulted in ‘Denmark’.

2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell
A historical novel set on the remote Dutch trading post on the tiny island of Dejima in the otherwise closed Japan of 1789.
I always like it when a writer takes the effort to portray the historical period in a correct way and Mitchell did his research for this novel. His descriptions of both the Dutch East India Company and Japanese culture are vivid. Now don’t worry that this is a info-dump of Japanse history, Mitchell does know how to flesh out characters that are very interesting and often humorous and he tells a story that is, and you don’t see that often in literature, rather exciting.
Company clerk Jacob de Zoet is send to Dejima to sort out the company records, much to the dismay of the local Dutch merchants. There he becomes intrigued by a Japanese midwife who is allowed to visit the island, but of course contact between him and her is strictly forbidden. Add in a lot of intrigue, a bizarre Japanese immortality cult and a siege and you have one of the novels I really enjoyed in 2011.

3. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
This book is made out of Epic Geeky Awesomeness. Think The Goonies meets virtual online gaming meets Neuromancer.
It is 2042 and while the world is plagued by economic depressions and environmental disasters almost everyone is hooked into the virtual world of Oasis. The hero, a young boy called Wade Watts, is the first one to solve a riddle in a series of riddles, clues and puzzles left by the creator of Oasis, the passed away billionaire inventor James Halliday. Whoever is first to crack all the 80’s themed riddles and find the hidden easter egg will inherit Halliday’s vast fortune and, more importantly, control over Oasis.
And of course there is a greedy corporation who will do everything to claim the prize for itself, even if it means killing the hero.
This is the Hero’s Journey updated for the future.

4. Galatea 2.2 – Richard Powers
A love story, but one with a twist. A writer with a writer’s block agrees to become involved in a project to create a software program trained to discuss literature. Through repeated interactions the program grows until one day it asks what its own name is and the reason it exists.
This book made a deep impact on me because it made me think about what love really is and why, as a passionate reader myself, the writing, reading and discussing of books is such a fundamental human activity.

5. Moonwalking with Einstein – Joshua Foer
Delightful true tale of a journalist who wanted to know more about how our memory works and how one can improve it. It is written in a popular manner but it still manages to inform and also ask some questions about what memory is and how it affects our understanding of the world. Plus, it is a really funny book.