The One Item Challenge

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!

Carol:

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.

Esta:

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.

Kim:

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.

Kristen:

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.

Richard:

Dexter: The fifth season

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.

Ron:

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.

Scott:

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.

Theresa:

The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind by Barbara Strauch.

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.

Best of 2011: Easy on the Eyes

Our final list makes it easier for all of us to enjoy great books.  Great titles in different formats. Enjoy!

For Readers of Large Print

33 Men: inside the miraculous survival and dramatic rescue of the Chilean miners, by Jonathan Franklin Based on the author’s interviews of families and workers, the book reads like a thriller, toggling between the dramatic chaos below ground and the desperate rescue efforts aboveground.

The Saturday big tent wedding party, by Alexander McCall-Smith Hoping to reclaim a van that was featured in a prophetic dream, Precious and Grace find themselves helping an apprentice of Phuti Radiphuti, investigating a cattle poisoning, and considering Grace’s possible marriage to Phuti.

Smokin’ Seventeen, by Janet Evanovich The bail bonds office has burned to the ground, and bodies are turning up in the empty construction lot. Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, is working out of a motor home she shares with a dancing bear…and just when she decides it might be time to choose between the two men in her life, Morelli and Ranger, a third man from Stephanie’s past moves back to Trenton…

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago, by Douglas Perry Newspaperwomen Maurine Watkins made “Stylish Belva” Gaertner and “Beautiful Beulah” Annan–both of whom had murdered their lovers–the talk of the town. Soon more than a dozen women preened and strutted on “Murderesses’ Row” as they awaited trial.

Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult When a stillborn baby ends Max and Zoe’s marriage, Max leaves Zoe and turns to drinking. Zoe marries Vanessa. Max finds help for his drinking problem through his brother’s church. When Vanessa offers to carry one of Zoe and Max’s fertilized embryos, Max’s new found religious fervor leads him to sue Zoe for custody.

Audio Books

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett and read by Hope Davis  Researcher Marina Singh journeys into the heart of the Amazonian delta to check on a field team that has been silent for two years–a dangerous assignment that forces Marina to confront the ghosts of her past.

The Hypnotist, by Lars Kepler and read by Mark Bramhall  A triple homicide attracts the interest of Swedish Detective Inspector Joona Linna. The only surviving witness, a boy whose family was killed before his eyes, is in a state of shock. Desperate for information, Linna decides to use hypnotism, hoping to discover the killer through his eyes.

And Furthermore, by Judi Dench and read by Samantha Bond This book is much more than a career record. Her marriage to Michael Williams, who died in 2001, their daughter, and her impish sense of humour contribute vividly to her account of more than half a century as Britain’s best-loved actress.

Best of 2011: Going to the Movies

We all have to take break from reading some time. Why not spend your reading down time watching these excellent films of 2011. You just might win the lottery.

Non-fiction / documentary

Bill Cunningham New York   If you watch just one of the DVD’s on this list, make it this one. I was smiling through the entire film. Even if you aren’t interested in New York or Fashion, you’ll be charmed (I’m sure).

Kings of Pastry  This isn’t the Food Network. This is the story of the grueling Meilleurs Ouvriers de France pastry competition. Believe it or not, these Pastry Chefs spend 4 years preparing for each competition.

Bhutto  This is the story of Benazir Bhutto, the first woman in history to lead a Muslim nation. Told with archival footage and interviews, this is fascinating whether or not you are familiar with Pakistani history.

Lucky: if money can’t buy happiness, can winning the lottery come close?  This film follows several lottery winners (and one daily player who has yet to win), documenting how their lives change.

Dramatic Films

Max Manus: Man of War  You may not have thought it possible, but this is a World War II story you haven’t heard before. This is a truly memorable story of the little-known Norwegian underground anti-war movement.

Meek’s Cutoff  This story is told by the somewhat-quirky film maker (see Old Joy) Kelly Reichardt. The setting is 1845’s Oregon Trail, but the real story is about freedom and constriction.

Bridesmaids  Written by one of today’s most brilliant comedians, Kristen Wiig, this movie is chock-full of potty humor that wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if the cast weren’t almost entirely female.

Les Cousins  This 1959 film has just been released on DVD. It’s a film of epic proportions, one that explores such major themes as good and evil, love and jealousy, and modern success.

Best of 2011: Wall of Sound

Today we have a great list of music for adults and children. Who knew shoegazing was a genre? Hearing is believing.

The Best Music You Might Not Have Heard in 2011

Strange Mercy, by St. Vincent  “St. Vincent’s most reflective and most audacious album to date, and Clark remains as delicately uncompromising an artist as ever.”

Tomboy, by Panda Bear “The woozy, reverb-rich result makes for great headphone swimming (also: infant appeasement!), but Lennox is at his best with a groove to submerge.” Entertainment Weekly (Apr 8, 2011)

Belong, by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart  If you enjoy the “shoegazing” genre bands like Ride and My Bloody Valentine – and you haven’t heard the Pains yet – check this out. They’ve made a “a great-sounding modern rock album without selling their souls.”

Yuck, by Yuck – Apparently there’s been a recent wave of shoegazers (see above), and this debut record is “pure and easy-to-love” with lots of creative nods to many of the genre’s originators.

Only In Dreams, by Dum Dum Girls – “A fine, grown-up guitar [indie] pop record.”

Breaks in the Armor, by Crooked Fingers — Steeped in the heady waters of Mickey Newbury-meets-Bruce Springsteen-infused heartland heartache and peppered with dusty blasts of gothic outlaw imagery.”

Arabia Mountain, by Black Lips — “Garage-flavored punk rock with a Southern accent… Songs jump out of the speakers with a force the band never had before, fully half the album could be summer rock radio hits or dance party staples… a blast from start to finish.”

All Eternals Deck, by The Mountain Goats – The band’s fourteenth album is “meticulously detailed yet poetically cryptic.”

Days, by Real Estate – “This is a great pop-rock album because it doesn’t feel the need to be anything else.” One Thirty BPM Oct 19, 2011

In Love With Oblivion, by Crystal Stilts – “Noise pop meets ’60s psych sound built around fuzzy guitars, swirling organ, huge amounts of reverb…”

Note:  All quotes from allmusic.com unless otherwise noted.

Music for Kids

Acoustic Dreamland, Putumayo Kids, Putumayo World Music.

Becoming My Own Me: Songs for Developing Toddlers, David Kisor.

Big Bully, the Best Foot Forward Series, Big Round Records.

Classic Lullabies: Music for the Sweetest Dreams, Virgin Classics.

Love Me For Who I Am, Brady Rymer, Bumblin’ Bee Records.

Only One Ocean, the Banana Slug String Band, Slug Music.

Ukulele Baby!, the Wiggles, Razor and Tie Music.

Best of 2011: Business, Society, Science & God

Today we delve into the important topics. Where are we going, why are we here and what do we do about it. In other words it is the best in Non-Fiction for 2011.

Self-Help and Social Topics

Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, by Lisa Bloom  Women can break free of the dumbed-down culture of reality TV and celebrity obsession, and instead learn to think for themselves and live an intellectual life.

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us about What It Means to Be Alive, by Brian Christian A provocative, exuberant, and profound exploration of the ways in which computers are reshaping our ideas of what it means to be human. Its starting point is the annual Turing Test, which pits artificial intelligence programs against people to determine if computers can “think.”

Every Day a Friday: How to Be Happier 7 Days a Week, by Joel Osteen Pastor Osteen writes how we can generate the level of contentment and joy that most people feel on Fridays every day of the week.

Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck: Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, James Collins Enumerates the principles for building a truly great enterprise in unpredictable, tumultuous and fast-moving times.

Religion and Spirituality

Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell The bestselling author of “Velvet Elvis” reveals a secret deep in the heart of millions of Christians–they don’t believe what they have been taught are the essential truths of their faith. Bell squarely faces the questions on everyone’s mind.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem: how the ancient city ignited our modern world, by James Carroll Traces the evolution of the belief that Jerusalem is the center of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious worlds and argues that this fixation is a main cause of the modern-day Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The God Upgrade: finding your 21st-century spirituality in Judaism’s 5,000-year-old tradition, by James Korngold  For people who don’t believe that God can intervene in our lives, and why Judaism is still important.

Between Heaven and Mirth: why joy, humor, and laughter are at the heart of the spiritual life, by James Martin Using relevant stories and characters from Scripture, insights and teachings from the lives of the saints, spiritual writings, and personal experiences, the author explores the place of joy, humor, and laughter in the spiritual life.

As Far as the Heart Can See: stories to illuminate the soul, by Mark Nepo Poet and philosopher Mark Nepo shares stories based on his life, dreams, and ancestral myths, and enriches them with questions and meditations meant to guide the reader to a fuller appreciation of life.

Flunking Sainthood: a year of breaking the Sabbath, forgetting to pray, and still loving my neighbor, by Jana Riess Riess begins this wry memoir with great plans to become more saintly by undertaking practices such as fasting, gratitude, Sabbath-keeping, and generosity. To her growing humiliation she finds she is failing-not just at some of the practices, but at every single one.

History

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, by Tony Horwitz Plotted in secret, launched in the dark, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was a pivotal moment in U. S. history. Horowitz portrays Brown’s uprising in vivid color, telling the story of the men and women who launched this desperate strike on the slaveholding South, and revealing a country on the brink of explosive conflict.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt At the dawn of the Renaissance an intrepid book lover rescued the Roman philosophical text On the Nature of Things from certain oblivion. This one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard A narrative account of the twentieth president’s political career offers insight into his background as a scholar and Civil War hero, his battles against the corrupt establishment, and Alexander Graham Bell’s failed attempt to save him from an assassin’s bullet.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, by David McCullough  McCullough mixes famous and obscure names and delivers a colorful parade of educated, Victorian-era American travelers and their life-changing experiences in Paris.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson Scholarly William E. Dodd is appointed ambassador to Nazi Germany, and struggles to adapt to a hostile diplomatic corps and an increasingly violent country. Meanwhile his daughter enjoys Nazi social life, and pursues a relationship with Gestapo chief Rudolf Diels.

Business and Career

Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career –and Life That’s Right for You, by Barbara Kelley and Shannon Kelley Young Women graduate from college believing they have to find the perfect path, while their older sisters are longing for the path not taken. And everyone’s wondering if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Undecided is an invaluable guide to this cultural epidemic of analysis paralysis.

The Web 2.0 Job Finder: Winning Social Media Strategies to Get the Job You Want, by Brenda Greene and Coleen Byrne Networking is an important job-hunting strategy; effective use of social media exponentially increases your networking reach.

The Essential Phone Interview Handbook, by Paul J. Bailo Phone interviews are fast becoming the standard for employers when narrowing the pool of applicants and determining who will be invited for in-person interviews. Learn how to prepare, what to say, and when to say it, how to establish your professional presence over the phone, and how to get to the next step.

Science

Cascadia’s fault: the coming earthquake and tsunami that could devastate North America, by Jerry Thompson  A major earthquake and resulting tsunamis are likely to occur off the Pacific Northwest coast within the next two hundred years. When it happens, the effects of the disaster will be far worse than the damage from the 2004 Sumatran quake and tsunamis.

Good mushroom, bad mushroom: who’s who, where to find them, and how to enjoy them safely, by John Plischke Mushroom expert John Plischke considers 50 of the most interesting and noteworthy mushrooms out there, with full-color photos throughout and generous helpings of mushroom recipes.

The great sperm whale: a natural history of the ocean’s most magnificent and mysterious creature, by Richard Ellis  Ellis illuminates the iconic impact of Physeter macrocephalus (“big-headed blower”) on our history, environment, and culture, from its prehistoric past to its current endangered existence, with a substantial nod to Herman Melville and Moby-Dick.

Sex on six legs: lessons on life, love, and language from the insect world, by M. (Marlene) Zuk Insects have inspired fear, fascination, and enlightenment for centuries. They are capable of incredibly complex behavior, even with brains often the size of a poppy seed. Zuk explores how they accomplish feats that look like human activity– personality, language, childcare and also calls into question some of our own assumptions about learning, the nature of personality, and what our own large brains might be for.

Health

American Diabetes Association complete guide to diabetes Topics include the latest on self-care for type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes; new types of insulin and medications; strategies for avoiding diabetes complications; expanded sections on meal planning and nutrition; and tips on working with the health care system and insurance providers.

Made in Hanford: the bomb that changed the world, by Hill Williams  Williams traces Hanford’s role in the story of the plutonium bomb, providing clear scientific explanation and personal reminiscences.

Original skin: exploring the marvels of the human hide, by Maryrose Cuskelly Original Skin is at times a scientific study, remarking on the biological magic behind the human body’s largest organ. At others it becomes an anthropological survey, dissecting attitudes towards bare bodies, and the motives behind cultural rituals such as tattoos.

Welcome to your child’s brain: how the mind grows from conception to college, by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang  The author’s separate fact from fiction about the inner workings of young minds, including results from new studies and classic research.

Incognito: the secret lives of brains, by David Eagleman Eagleman investigates brain damage, plane spotting, dating, drugs, beauty, infidelity, synesthesia, criminal law, artificial intelligence, and visual illusions, in this thrilling exploration of the mind.

Moonwalking with Einstein: the art and science of remembering everything, by Joshua Foer  An account of Foer’s yearlong quest to improve his memory, drawing on cutting-edge research, a cultural history of remembering, and venerable tricks of the mentalist’s trade.

Best of 2011: Kids in America

Today we list the best in children’s and young adult books from 2011. You are sure to find at least one title to intrigue and tantalize children of all ages. Who doesn’t want to know how dinosaurs say happy birthday??

Kids Fiction

Aliens on Vacation, by Clete Barrett Smith  Unhappy at being sent to stay with his grandmother at The Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, Scrub discovers that each room is actually a portal to space and the inn’s visitors are aliens who are vacationing on Earth.

The First Day of School…Forever!, by R. L. Stine  Everything goes wrong for eleven-year-old Artie on his first day at Ardmore Middle School, from the moment his alarm goes off until the next morning, when everything is repeated in exactly the same way.

Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life, by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts   Rafe Khatchadorian  teams up with his best friend, “Leo the Silent,” to create a game to make school more fun by trying to break every rule in the code of conduct.

Missing on Superstition Mountain, by Elise Broach   When brothers Simon, Henry, and Jack move with their parents to Arizona, they are irresistibly drawn to explore the aptly named Superstition Mountain.

Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool  Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker is the daughter of a drifter who, in the summer of 1936, sends her to stay with an old friend in Manifest, Kansas, where he grew up, and where she hopes to find out some things about his past.

The Ogre of Oglefort, by Eva Ibbotson  When the Hag of Dribble, an orphan boy, and a troll called Ulf are sent to rescue a princess from an ogre, it turns out to be far from the routine magical mission they expect.

Troublemaker, by Andrew Clements  When his older brother gets in serious trouble, sixth-grader Clay decides to change his own mischief-making ways, but he cannot seem to shake his reputation as a troublemaker.

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick Having lost his mother and his hearing in a short time, twelve-year-old Ben leaves his Minnesota home in 1977 to seek the father he never knew in New York City, and meets there Rose, who is also longing for something missing from her life.

Young Adult Fiction

Divergent, by Veronica Roth In a future Chicago, sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior must choose among five predetermined factions to define her identity for the rest of her life, a decision made more difficult when she discovers that she is an anomaly who does not fit into any one group, and that the society she lives in is not perfect after all.

Fateful, by Claudia Gray When seventeen-year-old Tess Davies, a ladies’ maid, meets handsome Alec Marlow aboard the RMS Titanic, she quickly becomes entangled in the dark secrets of his past, but her growing love puts her in mortal peril even before fate steps in.

Stupid Fast, by Geoff Herbach Just before his sixteenth birthday, Felton Reinstein has a sudden growth spurt that turns him from a small, jumpy, picked-on boy with the nickname of “Squirrel Nut” to a powerful athlete, leading to new friends, his first love, and the courage to confront his family’s past and current problems.

Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater Nineteen-year-old returning champion Sean Kendrick competes against Puck Connolly, the first girl ever to ride in the annual Scorpio Races, both trying to keep hold of their dangerous water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

What Happened to Goodbye, by Sarah Dessen Following her parents’ bitter divorce as she and her father move from town to town, seventeen-year-old Mclean reinvents herself at each school she attends until she is no longer sure she knows who she is or where she belongs.

Board Books

Spot Goes to the Library, by Eric Hill  Spot and his friends spend the day at the library searching for books with the help of Ms. Lion. The fun only increases when they take the books home to act them out.

How do Dinosaurs Say Happy Birthday, by Jane Yolen Illustrations and rhyming text present some of the different ways a dinosaur can make her birthday party special, from thanking guests for their gifts to sharing large pieces of cake.

Bunny Rabbit in the Sunlight, by Caspar Babypants and Kate Engle

Picture Books

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator, by Mo Willems  Amanda and her alligator have lots of fun playing together and surprising each other, but when Amanda’s grandfather buys her a panda, Alligator must learn to make new friends.

Little White Rabbit, by Kevin Henkes  As he hops along a little rabbit wonders what it would be like to be green as grass, tall as fir trees, hard as rocks, and flutter like butterflies.

Llama Llama Home With Mama, by Anna Dewdney Llama Llama’s mother takes good care of him when he has to stay home from school because he is sick, but when Mama Llama begins to feel sick, too, Llama Llama knows how to take care of her.

The Slurpy, Burpy Bear, by Norbert Landa  Big Bear, always alone, likes that he can slurp his soup, burp, and make other noises, not realizing that the rabbits across the river think the loud noises and odors are coming from a monster.

Suryia and Roscoe: the True Story of an Unlikely Friendship, by Bhagavan Antle Based on a true story, an orangutan living at a wildlife preserve in South Carolina forms an unlikely friendship with a lost dog who comes to live there.

Ten Little Caterpillars, by Bill Martin Jr. Illustrations and rhyming text follow ten caterpillars as one wriggles up a flower stem, another sails across a garden pool, and one reaches an apple leaf, where something amazing happens.

The Underpants Zoo, by Brian Sendelbach Invites the reader to visit a new zoo, where each of the animals sports underwear suited to his or her own personal style.

Best of 2011: Location, Location, Location

Our second installment of the best of 2011 features important works by authors from the great Pacific Northwest.  After sampling them, you might want to try our recommended memoirs and literature titles. Enjoy!

Local Authors

Fiction   West of Here, by Jonathan Evison  Since the dawn of recorded history, the Klallam Indians have thrived upon the bounty of the Elwha River. In 1889, on the eve of Washington’s statehood, the Olympic Peninsula remains America’s last frontier. But not for long. As northwestern expansion reaches its feverish crescendo, the clock is ticking…

Fiction   Night Road, by Kristin Hannah  After a string of foster homes and the death of her heroin-addict mother, Lexi Baill is taken in by a great-aunt who lives near Seattle. Lexi meets Mia and her twin brother, Zach, and is drawn into their family circle. Then Lexi, Mia, and Zach make a decision that results in a tragedy with extreme repercussions.

Mystery   Betrayal of Trust, by J. A. Jance   Seattle P.I. J. P. Beaumont uncovers a crime that has a devastating effect on two troubled teens, and becomes even more of a firestorm when it reaches into the halls of state government.

Thriller/SF   Reamde, by Neal Stephenson When his own high-tech start up turns into a Fortune 500 computer gaming group, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa family who has amassed an illegal fortune, finds the line between fantasy and reality becoming blurred by a virtual war.

Literature

Arguably: essays, by Christopher Hitchens  Hitchens ruminates on why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men, the haunting science fiction of J.G. Ballard, the enduring legacies of Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell, the persistent agonies of anti-Semitism and jihad, the enduring relevance of Karl Marx, and how politics justifies itself by culture.

The Best American Non-required Reading An eclectic volume introduced by Guillermo del Toro and compiled by Dave Eggers and students of his San Francisco writing center, who don’t leave a stone unturned in their search for nonrequired gems.

Why Read Moby-Dick?, by Nathanial Philbrick Philbrick, a Nantucket resident himself, skillfully navigates Melville’s world, illuminating the book’s humor and unforgettable characters by finding the thread that binds Ishmael and Ahab to our own time and, indeed, to all times.

Memoir

Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller, by Tracy Daugherty  From the Jewish immigrant community in frenetic Coney Island, where Joseph Heller took refuge in books as a boy, to the military base on Corsica from which he flew 60 missions as a WWII bombardier, from the high jinks of the Borscht Belt to high-stakes Madison Avenue, literary biographer extraordinaire Daugherty traces the slow brewing of Heller’s now-classic satirical war novel, Catch-22.

Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love, by Matthew Logelin   Logelin writes a courageous and searingly honest memoir about the first year of his life following the birth of his daughter and the death of his wife.

Best of 2011: Fiction Favorites

Tis the season for Best of Lists. Your inner cynic may question the need for yet another. But this list is special. Really! You see, this list was hand crafted by the seasoned staff of the Everett Public Library.

Why is that so special you ask? Let us tell you.

As any good librarian knows, you always need to question the source of information. Publishers are pushing their products, literati are feeding their vanity, but our selectors are creating their lists based on the sheer joy of reading, watching, and viewing.

Secondly experience is key. You don’t want someone who reads ten books a year to make a top 10 list now do you? Our staff is exposed to hundreds of titles a year and has carefully sifted them down to the best of the best for you to enjoy.

As you can imagine, a list of the best that has been written, recorded and filmed in all of 2011 can be a bit long. So as not to overwhelm, our list will be published here on A Reading Life in seven easy installments. Today we start with all things fiction.

Fiction

Before I Go to Sleep, by S. J. Watson   debut  When an amnesiac attempts to reconstruct her past by keeping a journal, she discovers dangerous inconsistencies in the stories of her husband and her doctor.

Turn of Mind, by Alice LaPlante   debut  Jennifer White, a retired surgeon with dementia, has been implicated in the murder of her best friend. She struggles with fractured memories of their complex relationship and wonders if she actually committed the crime.

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides  Madeleine Hanna breaks out of her straight-and-narrow mold when she falls in love with charismatic loner Leonard Bankhead. At the same time an old friend resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is his destiny.

Stone Arabia, by Dana Spiotta  For Denise and her brother, Nik, now in their forties, no other relationship has been more significant than the one they share. Nik makes his art in private, with Denise as his only audience. Denise is also her family’s first defense against a world in which friends die, their mother’s mind unravels, tragedy haunts them. Spiotta examines what it means to be an artist and redefines the ties that bind us.

The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht   debut Natalia becomes convinced that her grandfather once spent his last days searching for “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal. As Natalia struggles to understand why her grandfather, a deeply rational man, would go on such a farfetched journey, she stumbles across a clue that leads her to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

The Submission, by Amy Waldman   debut When an American Muslim wins a contest to design a Ground Zero Memorial, the city and the country are thrown into a debate about grief, art, and the nature of Islam.

Say Her Name, by Francisco Goldman   Goldman’s wife died in an accident just before their second anniversary. In this autobiographical novel, he obsessively collects every memory of her, especially her writings, with the hope of keeping her alive in his mind and assuaging his grief and guilt.

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami  An ode to George Orwell’s “1984” relates the stories of Aomame, an assassin for a secret organization who has been transported to an alternate reality, and Tengo, a mathematics lecturer and novice writer.

Faith, by Jennifer Haigh   When her older brother Art, a Catholic priest and the popular pastor of a large suburban parish, finds himself at the center of a scandal, Sheila McGann, estranged from her family for years, returns to Boston, ready to fight for him and his reputation.

Crime Fiction

Legal Thriller   The Fifth Witness, by Michael Connelly   Mickey Haller expands his business into foreclosure defense, only to see one of his clients accused of killing the banker she blames for trying to take away her home. Mickey puts his team into high gear to exonerate Lisa Trammel, even though the evidence and his own suspicions tell him his client is guilty.

Thriller   The Troubled Man, by Henning Mankell When Kurt Wallander is called into the case of the disappearance of a retired naval officer, coincidentally his daughter’s future father-in-law, he becomes embroiled in a story of Cold War espionage.

Suspense   Iron House   by John Hart At the brutal Iron Mountain Home for Boys, Julian survives only because his older brother, Michael, is fiercely protective. When a boy is killed, Michael takes the blame for his brother. Now an enforcer in New York’s world of organized crime, the life Michael has fought to build unravels when he falls in love and wants to escape the mob.

Suspense   The Informant, by Thomas Perry   Years after the Butcher’s Boy wipes out several mobsters and disappears, Justice Department official Elizabeth Waring is approached by the mythical hit man, who asks her for crucial information in exchange for helping her to crack an unsolved murder case.

Mystery   Killed at the Whim of a Hat, by Colin Cotterill Forced to relocate to rural Thailand with her eccentric family, crime reporter Jimm Juree fears that her career is over. Then the bodies of two hippies are discovered in a local farmer’s field and a Buddhist abbot is murdered.

Mystery   Bent Road, by Lori Roy   debut Celia Scott and her family move back to her husband’s hometown in Kansas, where his sister died under mysterious circumstances twenty years before. Celia and her children struggle to adjust–especially when a local girl disappears.

SF, Fantasy & Horror

Fantasy   The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern   debut Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love in a fantastical and fateful romance.

Fantasy   Among Others, by Jo Walton Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds: with the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins, and in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. When her mother tries to bend the spirits to dark ends, Mori confronts her in a magical battle that leaves her crippled–and her twin sister dead.

Fantasy   A Dance with Dragons, by George R. R. Martin   New threats emerge to endanger the future of the Seven Kingdoms, as Daenerys Targaryen, ruling in the East, fights off a multitude of enemies, while Jon Snow, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, faces his foes both in the Watch and beyond the great Wall of ice and stone.

SF   Leviathan Wakes, by James Corey  When Captain Jim Holden’s ice miner stumbles across a derelict ship, he uncovers a potentially deadly secret. Attacked by a stealth ship, Holden must find a way to uncover the motives behind the attack, stop a war and find the truth behind a vast conspiracy that threatens the entire human race.

SF   The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi   debut Freed from a nightmarish distant-future prison by a mysterious woman who offers him his life back if he will complete the ultimate heist, con man Jean le Flambeur is pursued in worlds where people communicate through shared memories.     

SF   Embassytown, by China Miéville  Avice Benner Cho is a human colonist on a distant planet populated by the Ariekei, sentient beings with a unique language. Cho is torn by competing loyalties when hostilities erupt between humans and aliens.

Horror   Zone One, by Colson Whitehead  Mark Spitz and his squad of  “sweepers” must must take care of the handful of zombies that remain in the aftermath of a zombie plague, as well as a second-tier of the infected known as “stragglers”: zombies who have bypassed the cannibalistic urges of their more lethal fellows in favor of a hollow-eyed, eerily nostalgic repetition of some mundane act.