I love all the year-end "Best of" lists, but boy are they hard to compile! Especially when you've had a reading year like mine. I was digging around in dark corners last year looking for forgotten gems. This year it was a matter of paring them down.
Call it laziness, but I'm only going to have two "Best of" categories this year: Audio and Print. In the past, I have had categories of Non-Fiction, Young Adult, Fiction, and Audio (and probably could have even done a Graphic Novel category) but enough is enough.
I'm not necessarily listing every one of my 5 star reads, but the best of the 5 star reads. That is how my year went, amazingly. Also, to put this all into perspective, I listened to 63 audios this year. I picked my top 9. Why not 10? I don't know. This list felt right.
With audio, it bears mentioning that this is a package deal. Would the book have been 5 star if I had read it in print? Maybe, maybe not. The combination of an amazing story and an amazing narrator is really what we are talking about here. And all of these stopped me cold, brought me to my knees, made my heart soar, made me giggle out loud with delight, and every other emotion possible. So without further ado, here they are, in no specific order:
1. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin (narrated by Kevin Kenerly). A delicious, Southern gothic literary mystery that addresses family, prejudice, and friendship, sweetened by Kenerly's smooth easy drawl.
2. A Visit From the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (narrated by Roxana Ortega). Probably the most challenging audio this year, this non-linear puzzle of characters in the music business was creative enough to make my brain buzz. And if you ever doubted that a chapter written in Power Point could be translated to audio, you need to give this baby a shot. Just to hear it for yourself.
3. Revolution - Jennifer Connelly (narrated by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering). This is a story that involves the French Revolution, time travel, and modern music, all mixed up in a way that made my heart swoon. I don't know that reading it would have been quite the experience this was in the capable hands of Emily Janice Card, a new favorite narrator of mine.
4. The House of Tomorrow - Peter Bognanni (narrated by Lloyd James). More bizarre combinations. A geodesic dome, an angry teen with a recent heart transplant, the love of music, and boys coming of age. Sounds strange, but in the hands of Bognanni (and the pitch-perfect voice of Lloyd James) this was a masterpiece, and it charmed the hell out of me.
5. Bossypants - Tina Fey (narrated by Tina Fey). Not your typical celebrity memoir. You would expect no less from Fey than to laugh until your stomach hurts, but what surprises is her candor and wisdom when it comes to working mothers in a man's world.
6. Faith - Jennifer Haigh (narrated by Therese Plummer). A Boston priest accused of molesting a child is not a new topic, but a very unpleasant one, which is why many might avoid this book. It is intensely thought-provoking when you get all sides of the story though, and there is a blurred line between good and bad, right and wrong, innocent and guilty. This is one that is still on my mind five months later, not necessarily for the narrator (who was good) but for the moral questions and conflicting emotions it dug up in my soul.
7. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (narrated by William Hope and Laurel Lefkow). If asked my top 10 books EVER, this one would be on it. It absolutely blew me away, both in its cleverness and it's level of emotion. I can summon goosebumps and tears AT WILL just thinking about it. (It doesn't count if you have seen the movie.)
8. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline (narrated by Wil Wheaton). For me, this audio was a crazy blast of geek euphoria, brought to life by the coolest dude EVAH. Vintage video games? War Games, Monty Python and John Hughes movies? Rush's 2112? I had a huge, goofy grin on my face the entire time I was listening to Wheaton in my ear. That is my language baby.
9. Unbroken - Laura Hildenbrand (narrated by Edward Herrman). There are some amazing true stories out there, but I'm pretty sure none can top this one. In a pure, unadulterated tale of the strength of the human spirit, Louis Zamperini goes from Olympic runner, to a bombadier lost at sea, to a POW camp prisoner, to a man who embraces life and forgiveness. It isn't so much about the writing or the narration here, but the story of the man.
Tomorrow, I will bring forth my best print reading for 2011. Until then...