Monday, December 12, 2011

The Best Books We Read 2011

As with most of us here, it is hard to narrow down the best book I read in 2011. But amid all the Faulkner and Bolaño, the DeLillo the Ondaatje, a new collection of Ambrose Bierce from Library of America, the latest from César Aira and Jean-Philippe Toussaint, and a new found favorite, The Land Breakers, (my new staff favorite that was recommended to me by Michael Ondaatje) by John Ehle. In all that fantastic reading and more I have narrowed it down to a new collection of classics and a new beloved author; Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (TASCHEN) and The Armies (New Directions) by Evelio Rosero.

The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
Leave it to TASCHEN to make the magical world of fairy tales that much more magical. They have pain-stakingly collected twenty-seven of these beloved Grimm fairy tales, newly translated for book lovers of all ages, paired with stunning vintage illustrations from the 1820's to the 1950's. Each story is separated and decorated with intricate silhouettes that were commissioned just for this edition. This is the perfect gift for children and adults alike to cherish these classic tales. For the art lover in you, TASCHEN has chronicled the artists and their history in the back of the book making this more than your typical collection of fairy tales. This book has also been Brain Pickings #1 pick for best illustrated children's and picture books of 2011.

The Armies by Evelio Rosero
Evelio Rosero has quickly become one of my favorite authors and Anne McLean one of my favorite translators. I picked up Rosero's latest short novel Good Offices and couldn't put it down. It is a dark and satirical look at the Catholic church, the politics of Colombia and the perceived worth we put on human life. And yet it is funny. The main character is a hunchback who is extremely smart and perceptive and not your typical Catholic hunchback. After finishing Good Offices I immediately (against my normal reading practices) read the first novel of Rosero's that New Directions translated in 2010, The Armies. This book kicked my ass. I have passed it on to others, and the response has been unanimous - this is a haunting masterpiece of writing and translation - everyone should read this book. Again Rosero writes of a small town in Columbia, this time it is a town caught in the middle of a war. Soldiers, paramilitaries, and guerrillas treat Bojayá and it's people as if they are nothing but a receptacle for their violence. Despite the violence and atrocities this book contains, you are constantly held by the stunning imagery and voice that Rosero brings to The Armies. This is the best book I read in 2011.

No comments: