The Challenge: Out of all of the great books, movies, or music you consumed in 2011 is it possible to nominate just one title as the best?
Sure lots of places, including A Reading Life, have put out a Best of 2011 list that allows the selector several choices and is limited to works produced in 2011. But we wanted to try something a little bit different. Our writers were given the unenviable task of condensing their favorite works to one title. The titles listed here weren’t necessarily published in 2011, just enjoyed this year.
Read on to discover their choices. You just might add another title to your ever-growing “must read/view/see in 2012” list!
By far the most outstanding story I experienced this year is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I say “experienced” because I listened to Wil Wheaton read it…and words can’t do his performance justice. He is by far the best person to read this story of a dystopian future where the whole world lives its life in an online virtual reality program called the OASIS. The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, has died and left his entire fortune, including the multi-billion dollar company that owns most of the Internet, to the first person who can find the prize, known as an “Easter egg,” hidden in the OASIS. Halliday’s hayday was in the 1980s, where he enjoyed all of the music, movies, and video games of the era. In order to get inside Halliday’s head, the egg-hunters, known as Gunters for short, spend all of their free time watching the movies he watched, listening to the music he listened to, and above all else, playing the games he played. There are so many Sci-Fi, gaming, and music references that took me back down memory lane. Whether you can identify with the protagonist Wade, who is a loner looking for a better life, or just enjoy all the cultural references, you’ll want to give this one a try. I highly recommend picking up the audio book, as Mr. Wheaton does a phenomenal job.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.
Dr. Marina Singh dreads being sent to Brazil’s Amazon jungle with its giant snakes, seething insects, and mysterious diseases. But the pharmaceutical company that employs her gives her no choice. Years have passed with almost no word from their researcher, the aging Dr. Annick Swenson, who is the company’s best chance to develop a miracle drug. Soon Marina must confront her terror and awe of the rainforest, the Lakashi tribal people, and the domineering personality of the woman doctor who knows Marina’s own fears and failings.
A book I enjoyed this year was the downloadable audio ebook The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It was published in 2009, but what brought it to my attention this year was the books long time on bestseller lists and the release of the new movie version. Actress Octavia Spencer reads the part of Minny Jackson the character she plays in the movie. It’s the story of several African-American maids in Jackson, Mississippi who decide to tell their experiences to an aspiring author. Their experiences are primarily about working for white families during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Listening to the four actresses narrating in Southern accents added a lot of enjoyment to the book.
The Talk-funny Girl by Roland Merullo
This story is about seventeen year old Marjorie Richards. She is raised in the backwoods of New Hampshire by her abusive parents who are under the control of a sadistic cult leader. Beautifully written, Roland Merullo tells a coming of age story that will keep you rooting for her until the end.
The Showtime series Dexter is definitely an acquired taste. Having a serial killer for a main character can be a bit of a hard sell. But Dexter has a code, instilled by his police officer father, that he struggles to maintain. The fifth season is a particular joy, since the fourth threatened to tie Dexter down to a domestic routine. Instead he is free to struggle with his dark passenger, attempt to help a victim of violence for a change, and still try to maintain an inconspicuous facade. The show is known for its season long guest appearances and season 5 of Dexter does not disappoint, with excellent performances by Julia Stiles, Peter Weller and Jonny Lee Miller.
Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novel by Pip Ballantine
Archivist Wellington Books, librarian and tinkerer, is thrust into the role of unwilling field operative alongside his new partner, dynamite-toting and shockingly unladylike Eliza D. Braun in this Victorian steampunk thriller.
I just can’t say one was best! So here are my three favorite thought-provoking reads published in 2011, all featuring hi-def characters and accomplished writing: Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta, There but for the by Ali Smith, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace.
This overview of recent research into the workings of the adult brain is fascinating, and ultimately encouraging. Science writer Barbara Strauch explores the latest findings that demonstrate that the middle-aged brain is much more flexible and capable than was previously thought. Rather than a peak in young adulthood followed by an inevitable and steady decline, new research from neuroscientists and psychologists suggests that the brain actually reorganizes and improves in important areas in middle-age. Growth of white matter and brain connectors allow us to recognize patterns faster, make better judgments, and find unique solutions to problems; this cognitive expertise reaches the highest levels in middle age. Researchers are also looking at what works to keep our brains functioning at peak capacity. There is no magic bullet yet, but there are some promising leads on how to keep your aging mind in top condition.