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Staff Top 5s of 2011

Staff Top 5s of 2011

Convincing a group of booksellers to pare down their lists of favorite books of the year to five each — only five! — may be as tricky as herding cats. Or chickens (very well read chickens, natch). But we did it. And, we might add, we're quite happy with the results. Browse all of our 2011 Staff Top 5s here.



  1. Unsaid by Neil Abramson

    A ghost story, a love story, and a pet tale, Unsaid is raw, heartbreaking, and beautiful. While I read it, I felt as if every pet I've ever loved and lost was sitting by my side. Uplifting and bittersweet, it left me in tears, as only the best books will do.

  2. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  3. Among Others by Jo Walton
  4. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
  5. They Draw and Cook: 107 Recipes Illustrated by Artists from Around the World by Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell


Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page
  1. Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page by Matt Kish

    In 2009, Matt Kish had an idea, a dream, a plan. Every day he would read a page from Moby-Dick, choose one passage, and then create an image based on the text — for all 552 pages! A year and a half later his epic quest came to an end, and Portland's Tin House agreed to publish the whole collection. Moby-Dick in Pictures feels like a psychological journey, with Kish playing the role of both Ishmael the Chronicler and Ahab the Obsessive. I feel lucky just to be an observer on this extraordinary ride.

  2. Open City by Teju Cole
  3. Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews by Geoff Dyer
  4. Half a Life by Darin Strauss
  5. Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run by Matt Fitzgerard

Kim S.

  1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

    Russell's debut novel is in a literary class of its own. Swamplandia! is a mystical, fascinating coming-of-age story told from the perspective of a charming 13-year-old named Ava. A shabby tourist attraction in Florida and unpredictable family members flavor this highly imaginative novel.

  2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  4. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
  5. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Ann E.

I Want My Hat Back
  1. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

    Jon Klassen's charming picture book transcends age. The story is simple but utterly hilarious. The illustrations are pointed and evocative; the way Klassen draws the animals' eyes, alone, is worth the price of admission. I've recommended this book more than any other this year. Hands down: brilliant.

  2. Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku
  3. The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell
  4. The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World by Jay Bahadur
  5. Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean


Ghost Story: A Novel of the Dresden Files (Dresden Files #13)
  1. Ghost Story: (The Dresden Files #13) by Jim Butcher

    Woo hoo! Jim does it again. This Butcher only serves up prime cuts.

  2. The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo
  3. River Marked (Mercy Thompson #6) by Patricia Briggs
  4. Inheritance (The Inheritance Cycle #4) by Christopher Paolini
  5. Magic Slays (Kate Daniels #5) by Ilona Andrews


Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq
  1. Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq by Jessica Goodell

    I first heard Jessica Goodell's haunting voice on NPR and immediately knew I had to read her book. Goodell served in the Marines in Iraq in the Mortuary Affairs Unit and was responsible for retrieving and organizing the remains and personal effects of fallen soldiers. By far the most sensitively written war memoir I have ever read, her story stayed with me for weeks after I read the last page. Goodell covers the horrors of her particularly gruesome assignment and her attempts to reintegrate to life back home. It's rare that we are allowed a glimpse into the culture of the Marines from the perspective of a female soldier, and rarer still to learn what really happens after soldiers are killed in combat.

  2. The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
  3. Bossypants by Tina Fey
  4. Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse #11) by Charlaine Harris
  5. Yoga Bitch: One Woman's Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment by Suzanne Morrison

Adam P.

  1. Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan

    I love collections of essays. I almost always have one (or two or three) in a pile on my bedside table. But not since I first read A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace have I loved a book of essays as much as I loved Pulphead. The subject matter ranges widely, but every essay is great. If you are my friend, you no longer have to wonder what I'm getting you for your next birthday.

  2. Open City by Teju Cole
  3. The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
  4. Habibi by Craig Thompson
  5. A Monster Calls: Inspired by an Idea from Siobhan Dowd by Patrick Ness

Sam W.

Ready Player One
  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

    I had many books on my to-read list, but this one jumped straight to the top as soon as I got my hands on a copy. It has everything I love about video games and cartoons and anime from the '80s. The pacing of the book is great, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorites. Anyone who can make a story based around the Atari game Adventure is my hero.

  2. Save Yourself, Mammal!: A Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Collection by Zach Weiner
  3. Blood Rights (House of Comarré #1) by Kristen Painter
  4. Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice: A Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams
  5. Six Days by Philip Webb


The Warmth of Other Suns
  1. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

    The Warmth of Other Suns is a fascinating epic narrative of the Great Migration by the brilliant and beautiful Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson.

  2. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
  3. Nica's Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness by David Kastin
  4. The Postmortal by Drew Magary
  5. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Jesse I.

Between Parentheses
  1. Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003 by Roberto Bolaño

    This is the closest thing we'll ever have to an autobiography from the most inspiring literary voice to emerge in my reading life. As reportage drifts into dream-logic riffs on surreal landscapes, and fiction masquerades as topical reportage, the sensitive and intelligent sequencing work of the book's editors knits everything into a coherent (and exhilarating) whole.

  2. Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
  3. Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz
  4. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  5. Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir about Being a John by Chester Brown


Feeding on Dreams
  1. Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile by Ariel Dorfman

    Feeding on Dreams is a candid and powerful account of Ariel Dorfman's years in exile after he fled the horrors of the Pinochet regime in Chile. This exploration of both the immediate and lasting effects of political repression and violence is characterized by an unflinching regard for truth and is expressed in prose that is as illuminating as his subject is dark. A deeply passionate book, Dorfman lays bare his anger, frustration, regret, and self-criticism, as well as his hope, longing, faith, determination, and passion.

  2. Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique by Gonçalo M. Tavares
  3. The Land at the End of the World by António Lobo Antunes
  4. Sông I Sing by Bao Phi
  5. Tres by Roberto Bolaño

Sheila N.

The Sense of an Ending
  1. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

    Julian Barnes won the Man Booker Prize for this lyrical little tome, and, in spite of the controversy surrounding the prize and the 2011 shortlist, I believe he deserved the award. It's the kind of book that one races through, stopping every now and then to relish a particularly elegant turn of phrase.

  2. A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor
  3. An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo
  4. Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill
  5. The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

Michael T.

The Devil All the Time
  1. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

    Donald Ray Pollock toiled in an Ohio paper mill for over 30 years before selling his first book, Knockemstiff. Though most of Pollock's work takes place in Ohio, there's more than a touch of the Southern literary tradition in his writing. His characters, unconventionally religious and by degrees both desperate and resigned, are drawn into a great circular story. They grapple and confront each other in ways that are often violent and sometimes bizarre. Players include a failed faith healer, a desperate husband and a son caught in his wake, and a serial killing couple who document their dirty work on camera. His work has legs. The message: Life isn't fair, but it's rarely uninteresting.

  2. Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens
  3. Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick
  4. The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality by Richard Heinberg
  5. The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson


  1. Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan

    You've never read about American culture quite like this. Sullivan is not just witty, he is smart. Super smart. I guarantee you will find yourself retelling someone, somewhere (or lots of someones somewhere) about something you read in Pulphead. The people you tell will think you are smarter than you are. And, really, don't we all seek that elusive bit of wisdom, brilliantly crafted by someone else, that we can pass off as our own?

  2. Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner
  3. All the Pretty People: Tales of Carob, Shame, and Barbie-Envy by Ariel Gore
  4. The Orange Suitcase: Stories by Joseph Riippi
  5. The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips


Liberty's Exiles
  1. Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff

    Liberty's Exiles is an enthralling story of one of the least-known aspects of the Revolutionary Era. Jasanoff tells the stories of a selection of refugees who chose, after the British were overthrown by the Americans, to leave their homes and families in search of a new beginning — and their own freedom. She also shows how the ideals of the Revolution travelled with them.

  2. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough
  3. The Meagre Tarmac by Clark Blaise
  4. Inseminating the Elephant by Lucia Perillo
  5. Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next by John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay

Heidi M.

Go the F**k to Sleep
  1. Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

    Riotous and perfectly apt, Go the F**k to Sleep is destined to become the rallying cry for parents across the nation. We nod. We guffaw. We stream tears of glee as we pump fists in the air, whisper-shouting, "Yes — been there!" This book speaks the hilarious, straight-up truth and is an absolute must-have for any new, expecting, or current parent.

  2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  3. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
  4. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
  5. The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

John B.

  1. Mercury by Ariana Reines

    This book reads like a story petered out in clear unpretentious style between long works which weave together a sense of communication, as if with a lover, a friend, or oneself. Reines has an uncanny ability to make the mundane a powerful source of emotional relief. I keep turning back to the beginning whenever I turn the last page and am illuminated more with every reading.

  2. A Plague of Wolves and Women by Riley Michael Parker
  3. The Burning House by Paul Lisicky
  4. Between Parentheses by Roberto Bolaño
  5. The Grief Performance by Emily Kendal Frey


The Apothecary
  1. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

    A whimsical adventure with elements of intrigue and menace, The Apothecary is a sweet coming-of-age tale set in Cold War London. Like the tonics and balms in the story, the author deftly mixes the first whispers of love and heartache with just the right amount of teenage awkwardness, melancholy, and frustration. Maile Meloy may be overshadowed by her better-known brother (Colin, of the Decemberists and Wildwood fame), but in young adult literature, little brother could take a few tips from his sister.

  2. Mouse and Lion: Aesop Retold by Rand Burkert and Nancy Ekholm Burkert
  3. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier
  4. Me... Jane by Patrick McDonnell
  5. City of Orphans by Avi and Greg Ruth

Linda C.

The Chronology of Water
  1. The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

    The Chronology of Water was not what I was expecting or hoping for. It was more beautiful, poetic, and painful than anything I've read in a long time. I picked it up looking for debauchery and depravity; I found breathlessness.

  2. Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
  3. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  5. Rebel Bookseller: Why Indie Businesses Represent Everything You Want to Fight For — from Free Speech to Buying Local to Building Communities by Andrew Laites

Mary Jo

Among Others
  1. Among Others by Jo Walton

    Serious readers spend half their lives consumed by what they are reading. I haven't seen a novel that so vividly illustrates this as Among Others does. I've been reading science fiction and fantasy since a young age, and I loved how Walton, a constant reader herself, makes what the main character is reading so central to the story. A rich and satisfying tale that has stayed with me long after the last page.

  2. The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
  3. The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
  4. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  5. God's War by Kameron Hurley


A Dance with Dragons
  1. A Dance with Dragons (Song of Ice and Fire #5) by George R. R. Martin

    Even five books into the series A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin is still able to produce a complex and interesting tale. Dance with Dragons offers what all his books do: an amazingly well-crafted story with interesting and believable characters set in a dark yet realistic fantasy world. One can't help but love even the most despicable characters in Dance with Dragons. I can't say enough about Martin's works. This book was worth the five-year wait. I'd recommend it to anyone, as long as you've read the first four books, which you should (and watch the TV show, too).

  2. The Crippled God (Malazan Book of the Fallen #10) by Steven Erickson
  3. Metal (Northlanders #5) by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli
  4. The Outcast Dead (Horus Heresy #17) by Graham McNeill
  5. Ganymede by Cherie Priest


  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

    Part of the thrill was the anticipation. After waiting for over a year for its publication, I grabbed 1Q84 and swallowed it whole. While it read simply and progressed slowly, it filled like a three-course meal. Being a long-term Murakami fan, I have seen the same themes and images reworked and woven into a variety of dreamlike states. This novel revisits the innocence of Norwegian Wood, but its mild-manneredness tricks the reader into believing it is a simple love story. Instead, Murakami gradually reveals the sinister nature of his characters and entwines the dance of love with the act of murder.

  2. The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them by Wayne Pacelle
  3. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
  4. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
  5. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson


  1. Zazen by Vanessa Veselka

    There were several books I liked this year that I expected to like (such as Murakami's 1Q84), but this book came out of nowhere and absolutely floored me. Zazen is a brutally honest story about the heartbreak that follows the failure of idealism. However, don't be put off by that description, as there is an astringent wit at play here and gallows humor on nearly every page, making Zazen the perfect manifesto for these Occupy (insert location) times.

  2. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
  3. Damascus by Joshua Mohr
  4. West of Here by Jonathan Evison
  5. Swell by Corwin Ericson


Hark! A Vagrant
  1. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

    Kate Beaton's comics have been making me excruciatingly happy since the first time I read them. Deftly rendered characters with wryly twisted lips and infinitely expressive eyebrows parade through the pages of Hark! A Vagrant. Literary and historical characters abound, from Beaton's batty Nancy Drew to the culturally clueless Robinson Crusoe. Also present? Sacagawea, Dracula, Shakespeare, Wonder Woman, Raskolnikov, and Ben Franklin. What can I say? With Hark! A Vagrant, you learn, you laugh — and then you cut out strips and tape them up everywhere.

  2. The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
  3. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  4. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
  5. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

Kim H.

  1. Zazen by Vanessa Veselka

    Vanessa Veselka's lyrical debut novel is a brilliant meditation on our current cultural state: the constant anxiety of societal threat, the blind consumerism and environmental destruction, the hollow gestures of activism, and the emergence of a new lost generation. Her prose is smoldering and urgent, laced with enough dark humor and philosophical poignancy to keep readers rapt long after they've turned the last page.

  2. The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
  3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  4. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
  5. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Jordan S.

  1. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

    Wonderstruck is billed as a middle reader, but it isn't, really. Readers won't find enchanted trinkets, supernatural powers, or extraordinary worlds (unless the magical world of a museum counts). Mr. Selznick tells the parallel tales of two characters who live 50 years apart. Though he tells one narrative in words and the other through illustrations, by the end he has seamlessly united the two. Gentle, heartwarming, and soulful, this is just the kind of story we need in today's (and tomorrow's) increasingly fast-paced reality.

  2. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
  3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  4. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
  5. How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain

Amy W.

Ready Player One
  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

    Set in the year 2044, Ready Player One tells the story of a Steve Jobs-like character, his death, and the game that's played in a virtual world he created. The winner gains control of his company, and players range from big corporations with money, loner kids, and teams from across the world. It's a fun book filled with characters you love to cheer for and lots of '80s trivia.

  2. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
  3. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
  4. The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
  5. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson


  1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

    I had never read a book about an alligator-wrestling theme park before, but, boy, did I ever love this one! Thirteen-year-old Ava is faced with the task of not only wrestling gators, but also of saving the theme park, her home, and her family. By turns hilarious, pensive, chilling, and redemptive, Swamplandia! starts out as a sort of swampy coming-of-age story, but, after wandering very far afield, ends up so much more. Truly wonderful.

  2. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
  3. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  5. Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch


  1. Shadowcry (Secrets of Wintercraft #01) by Jenna Burtenshaw

    One of the last books I read in 2011 turned out to be my favorite! Shadowcry is the first volume in the Wintercraft series by British author Jenna Burtenshaw. In this dystopian world, a town's people live with the constant threat of war. When war does come, young Kate Winter gets pulled into the fray, only to learn that she is one of those known as the "skilled," all of whom possess the power of life over death. I was so taken with this story I had to order a second copy from the U.K. since it had yet to be released in the U.S.!

  2. Ganymede by Cherie Priest
  3. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: Blackwood's Guide to Dangerous Fairies by Guillermo del Toro and Christopher Golden
  4. Encyclopedia Gothica by Liisa Ladouceur
  5. The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists edited by Ann Vandermeer and Jeff Vandermeer

Jen M.

  1. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

    Wonderstruck is a treasure of a book. A master artist and storyteller, Selznick beautifully weaves together the lives of Ben and Rose. Set 50 years apart, their stories, one told in pictures and one in words, each take them on journeys that lead to the Natural History Museum in New York. It is an emotionally moving story that was a joy to read.

  2. Americus by M. K. Reed and Jonathan David Hill
  3. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
  4. Legend by Marie Lu
  5. The Emerald Atlas (The Books of Beginning #1) by John Stephens

Jill O.

State of Wonder
  1. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

    State of Wonder is Ann Patchett's best book yet (yes, even better than Bel Canto). Brimming with mystery, philosophy, intrigue, ethical questions, the flora and fauna of the Amazon jungle, and absolutely beautiful prose, Patchett's new novel should be at the top of your reading list.

  2. Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews by Geoff Dyer
  3. Methodist Hatchet by Ken Babstock
  4. Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
  5. The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo


Junkyard Dogs
  1. Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson

    Gripping, gritty, and hilarious, Junkyard Dogs is the sixth in the Walt Longmire series, but you can dive in and thoroughly enjoy it without reading the previous books. Though once you've read one Craig Johnson novel, you'll feel the need to read all of them. A fellow Johnson addict pointed out that his writing is similar in flavor to Richard Russo's, another master of character. I have to agree that if Walt Longmire ever met Hank Devereaux from Russo's Straight Man, they'd probably be the best of friends.

  2. Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick
  3. Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar: Stories of Food during Wartime by the World's Leading Correspondents edited by Matt McAllester
  4. Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen by Sara Foster
  5. The Odyssey: A Pop-Up Book by Sam Ita

Kathy H.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
  1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

    Laini Taylor writes more poetically than anyone I've read since Ursula K. Le Guin, without ever losing the momentum of her story — and what a fresh, evocative, and engrossing story. Taylor's characters live in a very believable world and struggle with decisions that have serious consequences. She doesn't offer much assurance that anyone will live happily ever after. But there is hope.

  2. A Monster Calls: Inspired by an Idea from Siobhan Dowd by Patrick Ness
  3. A Conspiracy of Kings (Thief of Eddis #4) by Megan Whalen Turner
  4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  5. Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger


Ready Player One
  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

    I had a hard time choosing a number one pick, but this book won out because it was fun and nostalgic and possibly the most joyfully entertaining book I read all year. A quest story set mostly in a virtual world, it's a geeky celebration of all things '80s — a decade when video arcades and John Hughes movies reigned supreme. Is it the best book I read? Probably not. Is it the book that made me happiest while I was reading it and that I most want to force on friends and strangers alike? Absolutely.

  2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  3. The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicles #2) by Patrick Rothfuss
  4. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
  5. Silk Is for Seduction by Loretta Chase

Jordan G.

A Visit from the Goon Squad
  1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

    Jennifer Egan captures the complexity of the modern human experience and startles readers with the depth and emotion she finds in even the most banal aspects of the 21st century. Bennie Salazar has devoted his life to his record label only to discover that, as the music industry is crumbling around him, his efforts were in vain. Soon, his personal life follows suit. In Bennie, and among his clients, friends, and family, the pressures of modernity and the drives of the individual clash in a mélange of marriage and divorce, triumph and failure. Time and place are both central and irrelevant, as Egan switches between each character's setting and consciousness in a seamless style reminiscent of Mrs. Dalloway. A Visit from the Goon Squad is truly a literary triumph worthy of its Pulitzer Prize.

  2. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
  3. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  4. The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
  5. Fashion Cats by Takako Iwasa

Benjamin H.

The Great Typo Hunt
  1. The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson

    Mentioning that I've read this book many times might be a little misleading, and not just because I was looking for typos. See, the Benjamin recommending this book is also the Benjamin who co-wrote it. (Hi!) In 2008, I joined my friend Jeff on a cross-country road trip to correct typos in signs. I like to think we managed to blend our self-effacing humor, the breezy fun of the travelogue, and a serious examination of all things grammatical. If you speak and/or write in English, then this is the book for you!

  2. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
  3. City of Dreams by William Martin
  4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  5. Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Dennis M.

Rebel Youth
  1. Rebel Youth by Karlheinz Weinberger

    This is a book of photos from the 1950s and '60s of Swiss juvenile delinquents sporting their interpretation of American culture. The large, handmade belt buckles featuring Elvis and Brando, the chain and rope-stitched fly denim jeans, fur vests, and DIY jewelry all transcend fashion and expose a style that's still being ripped-off today. Proof that fashion is for people with no style of their own who appropriate it from the so-called lower class. Criminal.

  2. A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell
  3. Genes, Giants, Monsters, and Men: The Surviving Elites of the Cosmic War and Their Hidden Agenda by Joseph P. Farrell
  4. The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook by Denise Alvarado
  5. Marvel Firsts: The 1960s by Stan Lee

Kevin S.

  1. Divorcer by Gary Lutz

    A breathtaking suite of sentence-driven stories that are as refreshingly funny as they are emotionally eviscerating. Linked by themes of broken relationships and mistrustful lovers, Lutz's newest stories are full of descriptions and observations so bitter and dark that they're hilariously charred.

  2. The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
  3. Heavy Petting by Gregory Sherl
  4. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  5. Irma Voth by Miriam Toews

Nathan W.

The Pale King
  1. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

    If I told you this book consists of 500+ pages detailing the inner workings of the massive bureaucracy that is the Internal Revenue Service as well as the interior lives of the people who work there, you'd probably tell me it sounds like a great way to cure insomnia. But Wallace successfully invests his characters and their surroundings with an almost mystical air, suggesting that what lies on the other side of utter dullness is brilliant transcendence — a point that is driven home when you reach the end of the book and realize you don't want to stop reading.

  2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  3. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell
  4. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
  5. The Instructions by Adam Levin

Doug C.

The Sisters Brothers
  1. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

    This entertaining and heartbreaking story is told by a fabulous narrator, Eli Sisters. Eli and his brother Charlie are hired killers in late 19th-century Oregon and California, and this is the tale of their final job.

  2. The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
  3. Zazen by Vanessa Veselka
  4. Pogo: Through the Wild Blue Wonder: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, Volume 1 by Walt Kelly
  5. The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicles #2) by Patrick Rothfuss


The Tiger's Wife
  1. The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

    The postwar chaos in the Balkans provides the backdrop for Obreht's superbly crafted debut. A young physician seeks to unravel the mystery that surrounds both her grandfather's death and the mystifying Deathless Man he encountered throughout his adult life. Mesmerizing and wholly original, The Tiger's Wife is a profoundly rewarding read.

  2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  3. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  4. Townie by Andre Dubus III
  5. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

Lynn R.

The Murder Room
  1. The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo

    The Murder Room is an absolutely riveting story about the history of the Vidocq Society, a group of forensic scientists, cops, FBI agents, etc., that come together to solve unsolvable crimes. I'm not usually a fan of true crime, but The Murder Room is more than that. There are real heroes on these pages, and, once you open it, I dare you to put it down.

  2. Ghost Story (Dresden Files #13) by Jim Butcher
  3. Fallen by Karin Slaughter
  4. The Night Season by Chelsea Cain
  5. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
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