I did a massive write up of all the contemporary media I consumed over 2011 and posted it to Facebook as a very, very long note for all to see. Here, I figure I might as well break it up by medium. So let’s start with the books, listed alphabetically:
Bossypants– Tina Fey’s autobiography offers further definitive evidence that she’s a fantastic, brilliantly witty person, whose name immediately comes to mind whenever I hear the phrase “positive role model for women.” The whole thing’s great, and I couldn’t get over the anecdotes about her impossibly badass father, Don Fey.
A Dance with Dragons– The fifth book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was massive enough to justify a good portion of the six years since the last one was released. He still hasn’t gotten back the brilliance of the tightly plotted first three installments, and indeed some of the storylines give the impression that his vision is spinning out of control, but when he’s on the money holy hell is it good. The characters are still wonderful and the world they live in crushingly brutal while still suitably believable. It’s already been worth the ride, let’s just hope the final two books really bring it home. And if they’re written sometime in the next decade, all the better.
The Heroes– Joe Abercrombie is the most cutting edge writer in the fantasy genre, and I’m not sure anyone’s noticed yet. His fifth book (since 2006, the gloriously speedy bastard) takes place in the same world as the others, and devotes its entire length to one three-day battle. It’s not quite as bleak as his last effort, but that’s not really saying anything. If you like dark, funny, violent, thrilling, thought-provoking, morally-complex, and all around well put together stories, I can’t recommend this man’s work highly enough. Read everything he’s done now so you can say you were a fan before he was huge, because there’s a good chance he will be one day very soon. At the absolute least he deserves it.
House of Leaves– The strangest thing I’ve ever read? Maybe. If I fell in love with it I’d make an effort to describe it here, and probably fail. As it stands, I found it…yeah, really strange. Pursue at your own risk.
Kraken– The only China Mieville book I’ve read, and I really have to fix that. It’s a very weird take on urban fantasy (think a more bizarre Neverwhere, if that means anything to you) about various factions in London’s semi-magical community fighting over a giant squid for reasons many of them don’t understand. It’s hilarious and disturbing in equal measure, and has a few of the most creatively designed bits of pseudo-fantasy I’ve ever seen. The time spent on a few characters isn’t proportional to the payoff they’re given at the end, which is a bit annoying, but the book as a whole is so unique that it’s definitely worth the read. Oh, and it somehow pulls off a tasteful Holocaust pun.
The Possessions of Doctor Forrest– Fantastic title, awesome cover, enticing description on the back, and yet it managed to be a total letdown. Especially unfortunate since, like House of Leaves, I got it at Shakespeare and Company, possibly the world’s greatest bookstore.
The Postmortal– A terrifyingly real look at what would happen if humanity discovered a cure for aging (i.e. immediately realize why it’s a terrible idea, then use it anyway). If you want a very well done take on the human race living itself to death, here you go.
I read plenty more in 2011, but for this list I was only including books that were released somewhat recently. These aren’t ranked, but I’d say Kraken, Bossypants, and The Heroes are the three I’d most heartily recommend.