Sunday, December 11, 2011

Best of 2011 Countdown: #14

Yesterday Gianna suggested that her best of 2011 list is better than mine.  Feel free to weigh in on how wrong she is.  I mean, she's picked amazing books for her list, but our regular reader (...or readers?) knows that the answer for "Gianna or Liz?" is always Liz.  Here are our #14 picks.


Open City
Teju Cole
Random House

Morningside Heights

This novel was a wonderful surprise to me when I read the galley earlier this year; in fact I think it was on the last list I sold for Random House. It's a mature, original, and completely realized book, and readers will be shocked that it is also author Teju Cole’s debut novel (yes, think Zadie Smith, it's okay…I know you want to).

Teju Cole
Julius a thirty year-old Nigerian student, has been in the United States for over a decade. He spends nearly every evening on long walks in his New York neighborhood (Morningside Heights). The novel spans about a year, and during that time we walk and talk with Julius as he talks with other immigrants and emigrants in Morningside Heights. We also get to know him through his inner dialogues about the city; people, music, art, literature, and I hate to sound pretentious, but the human condition. He is incredibly introspective and you (well, me at least) want to aspire to be more like him. [It's okay if you also aspire to be more like Liz.  So does Gianna.]

While the book is very intellectual and certainly not a quick read (you won’t want it to be anyway), it is engaging on a high level. 

For fans of Zadie Smith, W.G. Sebald, and Tea Obreht. 


Zone One
Colson Whitehead

Much like the book Gianna recommended today, my pick also involves a man who relocates to New York City and wanders the streets contemplating his fate.  Mark Spitz works for a civilian corp tasked with cleaning out a portion of the city....and by cleaning out, of course, I mean that his job is to remove the straggler zombies after the zombie apocalypse.  I've written about both Zone One and Colson Whitehead for our blog before; this is the smartest zombie book out there.  This is a literary novel from a Pulitzer Prize finalist who chose to talk about isolation and identity in the context of zombies.  

Colson Whitehead
Think about it: zombies have wiped out most of the humans on earth, so the idea of clearing out an island--in this case Manhattan--offers the potential of a safe zone.  The natural boundaries could allow humans to rebuild a civilization in the wake of their losses and traumas.  This is the real world though ( much as a zombie novel can be "real"), and the advantages of an island are also the perils.

There is no question that Colson Whitehead is one of the smartest, most talented novelists writing today.  His wit, vast pop culture knowledge, and word play add another layer to his works.  Zone One's plot and its hero Mark Spitz unravel gradually to a frenzied peak and horror that makes Zone One also one of the most intense books I've read.

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