The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart by Glenn Taylor: Glenn is newly my colleague, but I am not merely being a good department-mate when I say I thought this was a pretty terrific book. What I think is best about it is that the novel thinks critically about the stereotypes of Appalachia that it traffics in, without losing the degree to which the region is deeply steeped in story. A book both suspicious of and inflected by postmodern storytelling, this book put Taylor on the scene from out of nowhere for a reason.
A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb by Amitava Kumar: A look at the war on terror from the vantage point of the bumblers and ne'er-do-wells caught on the wrong side of a global exercise of power. What Kumar does that I haven't seen elsewhere is that he looks at the injustice for those who were roped into and sometimes even entrapped in terrorist activities. So that human rights doesn't necessarily presume innocence, which is, I think, an important point to bring in. His approach is also transnational in ways that model an ethic rather than just preaching one. The book has its problems, but it's definitely worth a read.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: Egan's book, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was most interesting to me as one of a growing category of contemporary fiction that is taking the formal experiments of an earlier generation of writers, and and turning them to somewhat less solipsistic, more humanist concerns. Here Egan uses formal play with narrative time to actually comment on the ravages, possibilities, and unexpected left turns that the inexorable movement of time plays on all of us. More formally interesting interesting than I think it's given credit for, but for me, also somewhat less affecting.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: Can you believe I had never read it?
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker: So I read this while I was teaching the poetry unit in the Foundations course, and I kind of wished my students had been reading it with me, but I also know that assigning it would have been deadly. The plot is reed-thin, but it's a love letter to poetry that I was feeling pretty deeply at the time. Irrationally, perhaps my favorite read of the year.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit By Jeanette Winterson: Oddly, it took me forever to polish this one off...Partially, the crazy evangelical thing in this book hits close to home, though not in a way that is uncomfortable, but rather leaves me somewhat blase (more than one traveling evangelist prophesied a preacherly future for me...there's still time, I guess). Still, as a bit of a Winterson completist, it was important to finish and I think it picked up as it went on.
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht: While I very much enjoyed reading this, I did not find it the brilliant fabulism that the reviews sold it to be. But, she's a storyteller, and moments and threads in this were really lovely and wonderful. If by the time Obreht is done writing, this is her best book, then meh. But the potential here is really great. I do want to read her next one.
The Weight by Jeanette Winterson: I read this very early in the year...it's a bit slight by Winterson standards, but a nifty little book, nonetheless. The image of Atlas watching Laika, the Russian astro-mutt sticks with me...
So those are the ones I remember. Up for 2012: Atwood's Penelopiad, Arthur Phillips's The Tragedy of Arthur, Julian Barnes's England, England, Safran Foer's, Tree of Codes, and maybe David Foster Wallace's The Pale King (we'll see). Of course, recommendations welcome.