Top ten titles of 2011

Philip Tew, Selection and Access Librarian, shares his top ten novels of 2011.

Best Reads of 2011

Explore the favourite reads of our staff and customers, and lists of the year’s best books.

Have your say

Tell us your favourite books of 2011.

CoverThe submission Amy Waldman
A competition to design a memorial for 9/11 in New York runs aground when the winning design is by a Muslim. The whole mess of religion, politics, and ethnic differences is brilliantly handled in this timely and intriguing novel.
CoverOther people’s money Justin Cartwright
One of the best British writers around deals with the financial crisis through the story of a British bank where the elderly patriach is kept out of the loop while the bank moves into hedge funds and unsecured lending. The fallout of all this is told with skill in this gripping tale of our time.
CoverThe spoiler Annalena McAfee
If you are a sucker for stories about the shamelessness of journalists you will like this sharp and very timely tale of a young naïve journalist sent to interview a venerable woman writer and war correspondent and getting it all wrong. Set in 1997 as the internet is about to change the world of print journalism.
CoverA death in summer Benjamin Black
Black is the pseudonym of Irish novelist John Banville and the gloominess of his ‘serious’ novels carries over into his pseudonymous mysteries. This one is set in the 1950s and is all secrets and lies and quite gripping.
Palladio Jonathan Dee
This first rate American novelist hit the jackpot last year with his novel The privileges. This is an earlier novel republished and it’s a witty and clever story of an advertising agency run by a crazy visionary who wants to turn advertising on its head and two people who are caught up in the middle of it all.
The death of Eli Gold David Baddiel
A venerable elder statesman style author – a sort of Philip Roth character – is dying and the family gather at his bedside in this novel by the English comedian. There’s comedy here but also something deeper in this impressive if overlong novel.
Bed David Whitehouse
If you have seen any of those endless reality shows which parade the tragic circumstances of grossly fat people with a spurious concern masking a leering voyeuristic freak show element, you might see this novel about a man who decides not to leave his bed and gradually grows obscenely big as more of the same. It isn’t and this intriguing novel explores family dynamics beautifully.
The borrower Rebecca Makkai
A librarian and a customer feature in this highly original American novel. The customer is a boy from a fundamentalist family whose mother is putting him into a course that will change his probable sexual orientation. What happens when the librarian kidnaps the boy makes for a funny and touching novel.
The report Jessica Francis Kane
A fictionalised account of a little known English wartime tragedy when a large number of people were killed by asphyxiation in an air raid shelter in the East End’s Bethnal Green. The background to this, the enquiry and the people dynamics of the time are explored in this intriguing and touching novel.
Half blood blues Esi Edugyan
This interesting novel by a Canadian author was shortlisted for the 2011 Booker. It deals with a jazz band in wartime Germany and moves through time and locations, Berlin to Paris to Poland. The survival of the band and the whole world of betrayal and racism is gripping.

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The most disappointing

Alan Bennett’s Smut
After his plays, family memoirs and that delightful novel of QEII visiting a mobile library, publishers will jump at anything he produces. This one is two self-consciously naughty stories and they really show he needs to get out more. I particularly thought the story of a middle aged widow who waives the rent of a young couple by being able to watch them having it away was more creepy than droll.

I’m glad I missed …

  • CoverPaul Henry’s autobiography (unaccountably popular)
  • Anything by airport bookshop short sentence writers (James Patterson especially)
  • Vampires
  • Zombies
  • ‘True stories’ about visits to heaven
  • Mysteries featuring ever more grotesque serial killers
  • Slush merchants like Nicholas Sparks … enough already!