Best fiction and fiction-related books of 2011

1. Murakami I now have finished it, don’t think it adds up to anything but it is consistently fun for 900+ pages.  How many other books can claim that?

2. Steve Sem-Samberg, The Emperor of Lies, A Novel.  “I don’t want to read any more about the Holocaust” is not good enough reason to neglect this stunning Swedish novel.  A fictionalized account of the Lodz Ghetto, it looks at the lives of the ghetto rulers and whether they were heroes or collaborators.  I found it tough to read more than one hundred pages of this at a time; by focusing on the suicides rather than the murder victims, it is especially brutal.  Get up the gumption.

3. Audur Ava Olafsdottir, The Greenhouse.  From Iceland, it’s funny and sheer fun to read and short and easy yet deep and moving.

4. Habibi, by Craig Thompson.  I don’t enjoy many graphic novels, but this is my favorite of all those I have read.

Away from fiction proper we have:

5.  The Anatomy of Influence, Harold Bloom.  In part this is a lifetime achievement award, but his best passages are still stunning.

6. Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches, 1998-2003, by Roberto Bolano.  Will make you want to read a lot more Latin American fiction.

Soon I’ll cover the best economics books of the year.


In the fiction-related realm, I'd like to recommend Gabriel Josipovici's "What Ever Happened to Modernism?".

I think his criticism holds up to the best of Bloom and James Wood.

He is very provocative, which is good. I would like to hear what he says about Bolaño and Murakami! “Good to pass the time” maybe? And what would Bolaño say in return?

I don't want to be nit-picky, but you can't possibly have read more than a tiny fraction of the new fiction books that appeared this year. In fact, I'd be interested in seeing your estimate for that tiny fraction is. I'd also be curious to know what makes you confident that the best fiction of year isn't among the overwhelmingly large fraction of books that you have not read.

Seriously? I think you do want to be nit-picky- this is one of the most nit-picky comments I have ever read. You could criticize anyone's "Best X List" for that reason.

I'm sure Tyler expected everyone here to interpret the title as "Best fiction and fiction-related books of 2011 that I have read," and to interpret it as anything else is beyond ridiculous.

If that is what he means, why doesn't he write "my favorite fiction" rather than "best fiction"?

I suspect it is because he wants to make a stronger claim. He doesn't want to simply (and accurately) write "here are the books I liked best out of the relatively tiny fraction of all new works that I had time to read".

Instead he wants (again, pure guess work on my part - Tyler can correct me if I'm wrong) to claim something like "I have good taste in fiction; I know who the serious writers are; I have read all or at least a representative sample of all the new works that good judges of fiction would likely consider to be best; here's what I found".

The second claim is fine, I'm not dogmatically opposed to it; I'm just curious how it can be substantiated, given the sheer numbers of new works of fiction that are
published each year.

Sigh. No wonder we have those "Caution: This drink may be hot" warnings on coffee-cups..........

That's a good argument.

You are being excessively nit-picky, even if you don't think you are.

Just curious, how long do you take to read a book? or a page for that matter?

I have a standing theory that Tyler is a substance-abuser of some sort and *that* is how he manages it all; he doesn't write manic screeds, so it's probably not methamphetamine. Mark my words and watch the headlines! ("Economics professor charged in trafficking; called it 'markets in E(verything)'; weeping commenters hold candlelight vigil in front of prison.")

Everyone should try to read more fiction…especially readers of this blog.

I am a huge Murakami fan (read all his books but have not read 1Q84 yet). I think you can say that all his books are 'fun but don't add up to anything'. Unless you think sheep are something special and profound.

Did you really give up on Reamde? I am only 20% throught it but i am enjoying it. Not one of his great books but interesting nonetheless.

I *was* a huge Murakami fan, but got sick of the "not adding up to anything" part. 1Q84 is the first book of his I've read in a while, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I was hoping it would break the pattern and add up to something,,, sigh.

Not a glowing review of 1Q84... I am reconsidering reading it now!

But it still makes your top list? Care to elaborate a bit more Tyler? It could some of us a heap of time!

They might be.

"Sheep can perform executive cognitive tasks that have never been shown to exist in any other large animals apart from monkeys.”

Sorry, that was to FYI regarding profound sheep.

Demonstrating that a creature is smarter than was erstwhile thought seems the rage in current research.

I wonder if there are any studies that conclude "XXX animal is dumber than we thought it was".......

Humans in behavioural economics? (it took me a while to think of that!)

> I wonder if there are any studies that conclude “XXX animal is dumber than we thought it was”…….

That's actually a ton of studies. The tendency to anthropomorphize is really insidious, which is why the story of Clever Hans or the sphex wasp are so often told - as a prophylactic. Making matters worse, many findings of inability are spoiled by the fact that given a different setup (rewards the animal actually likes eg.) animals *can* solve problems; it's quite a mess, see for a lot of examples.

hehe... but can those sheep invade a man's soul?

I wish I could find a Murakami interview where he explains how he picks his metaphors. Maybe he could even tell us what they actually mean!

Some of you are so focused on "number of books read," please regard information aggregation as a skill too!

Fair enough.

In the context of information aggregation, I suppose then that "best" really means "best", and not, as some commentators suggest, simply "the ones I liked best".

How indeed would you ever determine "best" other than according to some measure determined by the person labeling it as "best". Best is not a scientific term, it's a generalist term. It's always contextual.

re#2, you could also read Dying We Live: Letters Written by Prisoners in Germany on the Eve of Execution , Ed. Helmut Gollwitze (1983). They died by choice, by conscience. Their testimony is stunning, acknowledging and agreeing to execution rather than living quietly under the Nazis. The book bears witness to still mysterious humanity; why did all this civilians die when they could have just fit in? The book also rehabilitates a little the German population at large, a wide cross section of classes and beliefs opted to suffer whatever came for their conscience.

How many other books are consistently fun for 900 pages without adding up to much? Infinite Jest?

I've started the Murakami book, but as a "fiction book to read while doing light cardio" style of book rather than one that I will let myself stay up all night reading. So far it has been filling its role almost as well as Neil Stephenson's and Terry Pratchett's books.

I wish I could find a Murakami interview where he explains how he picks his metaphors. Maybe he could even tell us what they actually mean!

Comments for this post are closed