Top Books of 2011: Lists Compared

Best book lists abound, but are they comparing apples to oranges?

Many top ten (or whatever number) book lists are a collaboration between several people, says Lev Grossman in Time.

Often the lists are comparing apples and oranges.  "There are apples-to-oranges problems: how do you compare the moody, seedy greatness of a Kate Atkinson novel with a cerebral wreck like David Foster Wallace’s posthumous The Pale King (which so far, to my surprise, I’ve seen on exactly zero top 10 lists)," said Grossman.

In the end, these book lists at least give an idea of what's being read, and provide choices of what I might want to read.  In that vein, Burke Patch presents a comparison of three 'top book' lists for 2011.

The books listed by Fairfax County Public Library are based on the number of times the titels were borrowed during 2011.  That is not an exact science.  The library does not purchase the same number of copies of each book, and some books on the list were published before -- sometimes years versus weeks -- before others, giving them more opportunity to circulate. (Thus, the year of publication has been provided.)

In addition, the library listed fiction and nonfiction separately, but on this chart we've combined them, listing the five nonfiction titles after the 10 fiction titles.  That means this list is not in order of top circulation, but simply a list of the top 15 circulated adult books of 2011.

The Huffington Post and Publisher's Weekly lists feature books published in 2011. The choices were made by several people.  ("Bossypants" by Tina Fey is the only book which made all three lists.)

Fairfax County Public Library

The Huffington Post

Publisher’s Weekly

The Confession
John Grisham
Doubleday, 2010

Steve Jobs
Walter Isaacson
Simon & Schuster

The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hell’s Corner
David Baldacci
Grand Central, 2010

The Tiger's Wife
Téa Obreht
Random House

The Devil All the Time
Donald Ray Pollock

The Help
Kathryn Stockett
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2009

Press Here
Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books

State of Wonder
Ann Patchett

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Steig Larson
Knopf, 2010

John Jeremiah Sullivan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

After the Apocalypse
Maureen McHugh
Small Beer

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Steig Larson
Knopf Doubleday, 2008

Tina Fey
Reagan Arthur Books

Tina Fey
Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur

Sing You Home
Jodi Picoult
Atria Books, 2011

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore
Benjamin Hale
Twelve Publishers

Catherine the Great
Robert K. Massie
Random House

Toys: A novel
James Patterson & Neil McMahon
Little, Brown and Co., 2011

The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern
Random House

There but for the
Ali Smith

The Reversal: a Novel
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown and Company, 2010

Missed Connections
Sophie Blackall

Hemingway's Boat
Paul Hendrickson

Safe Haven
Nicholas Sparks
Grand Central Publishing, 2010

Karen Russell

One Day I Will Write About This Place
Binyavanga Wainaina

Port Mortuary
Patricia Cornwell
Putnam, 2010

The Sense of an Ending
Julian Barnes

Arguably: Essays
Christopher Hitchens

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
Laura Hillenbrand
Random House, 2010

Salvage the Bones
Jesmyn Ward


Cleopatra: A Life
Stacy Schiff
Little, Brown and Company, 2010



Tina Fey
Reagan Arthur Books, 2011



Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Conor Grennan
William Morrow, 2011



In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
Erik Larson
Crown, 2011



In the end, 'Best Books' lists don't mean best for all time.  "The novel is a highly corrupt medium, after all — in the end the vast majority of them simply aren’t that great, and are destined to be forgotten," said Grossman.  "How many years really see the publication of 10 novels that are actually great?"

In answer to his own question, Grossman suggests 1925: Albertine disparue (Proust); An American Tragedy (Dreiser);The Counterfeiters (Gide); Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Anita Loos); The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald); The Making of Americans (Stein); Manhattan Transfer (Dos Passos); Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf); The Professor’s House (Cather); The Trial (Kafka).  "It was a very good year," he said.

Editor's Note: Other 'Best Book' lists:

Amazon.com: The Best Books of 2011

Time's Top 10 Fiction Books 2011

Time's Top 10 Nonfiction Books 2011

USA Today's 10 Books We Loved Reading in 2011

The All-TIME 100 Nonfiction Books

The All-TIME 100 Novels

The 10 Best Books of the 2000s

What is your 'top' book choice for 2011?  What's your 'must read' for 2012?

Susan Larson January 01, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Julie on Facebook said, "Room, Hunger Games series, The Help, and War Horse were my favorites this year."


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