These are the top ten best books I read in 2011:
#10 BRUSIER by Neal Shusterman
Brewster has the ability to take on the physical and mental damage of those he loves. He uses his power to protect his little brother from their abusive father. When Brewster becomes friends with Tennyson and twin sister Bronte, his life becomes even more fragile and his future uncertain. Each character is allowed to tell their part of the story in their own unique voice and style. A quick read with strong characters and an unpredictable ending.
#9 MIND’S EYE by Oliver Sacks
This is a collection of several case studies by a famous neurologist. Truth, as always, is stranger than fiction. These cases deal with our brain’s ability to perceive our surroundings and various complications which arise from abnormalities that interfere with this perception. One patient that stands out is a woman who got on a bus and found every passenger’s face intensely familiar. Lots of intriguing situations and many thought-provoking concepts.
#8 PARASITE REX by Carl Zimmer
The majority of life on the world is parasitic. This is no sci-fi story. This is a non-fiction book about the life of parasites. It will amaze you and creep you out at the same time. There are several pages devoted to the theory of evolution, but the rest is based on specific research that will often make you want to take several showers. A horror story that is all the more frightening because it’s real.
#7 RAINBOW’S END by Vernor Vinge
In the near future there is a cure for Alzheimer’s. Even though he is seventy-five, Robert Gu finds himself suddenly clear-headed in a world stuffed with technology. He gradually becomes involved in social movements on a collision course. This is a book that is an extremely realistic extrapolation of our current world. One of the most intriguing concepts is being able to “wear” your computer. The technology is part of your clothing and your screen is provided through your contact lenses. The possibilities of this and many other ideas in the book are fascinating and disturbing at the same time.
#6 ALONE TOGETHER by Sherry Turkle
This is an extensive look at the way technology is affecting us. The first part of the book deals with the way humans react to robots. Children in particular reveal some of the more significant revelations of how we interact with artificial personalities. This leads to further analysis of how cell phones and social networking is severing ties even as they “connect” us.
#5 THEOPNEUSTIA by Louis Gaussen
Written in 1841, the author allows the Bible to have input on the matter of its own inspiration. Interestingly enough, the duplication of the book had to rely on faulty copies and there are several illegible pages. The rest is a valuable resource in supporting the fact that the Bible is the Truth.
#4 THE SHALLOWS by Nicholas Carr
Another book examining technology, this one focuses on the internet in particular. Whereas there are many who claim that the net is an improvement, there is solid research here that strongly indicates the net is interfering with clarity of thought. This is no doomsday jeremiad. The commentary is calm, but pointed. The net has changed the way we read and the way we think. Scrolling through screen after screen, we skim more than anything and our deep memory is compromised.
#3 THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls
An incredible, true story about the author herself. Growing up in the Southwest, she had a childhood that was kind of wonderful and kind of terrible. Her parents were both dreamers. This led to a wildly fun and carefree lifestyle, but it also had a great deal of hardship and neglect. One minute you like her father for his perspective of the world and the next you despise him for drinking the money away. This is kind of modern version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It begins with the author in a limo, waiting at a light somewhere in New York City, on her way to a dinner party. She looks out the window and sees her mother digging through a dumpster. An amazing story that is occasionally and unfortunately crude, but a tale that will amaze you.
#2 ASSASSINATION VACATION by Sarah Vowell
A fun history book. Who would have thought? The author is painfully and militantly liberal, but she is also quite hilarious and well-informed. Going on a tour of sites made famous because of presidential assassinations, she digs up the quirkiest and oddest historical tidbits. The behind-the-scenes details are fairly stunning and she is nothing short of brilliantly clever.
#1 WINTER’S TALE by Mark Helprin
There is a genre called magical realism. It reads like straight fiction but it’s also like a fairy tale. This tale is about Peter Lake, a thief who is the king of the shadier parts of New York City. His enemy Pearly Soames is bent on killing him. Peter has a flying horse. He’s in love with a girl who is terminally ill. They face a snowfall that leaves behind drifts twenty-feet deep. It’s kind of a like a tall tale. But what makes this book so good is the author’s ability with words. It reads more like poetry than prose. Warning—this is not a light read. It might even be best to read it in doses. And to be honest, for many, this will not be your cup-of-tea. But for some, it is nothing less than magic.