I’m sure at the beginning of this month, you were all inundated with Best-this-Best-that lists of 2011, yes?  But those lists likely all covered new books that came out in 2011.


How to qualify the best of the backlist?  The folks at Better World Books  (who do GREAT things with library discards – I mention them in all of my weeding workshops), who sell mostly used books, have provided their Top 25 Best-Selling Books of 2011. A list like this tends to reveal the kind of titles that have “staying power” rather than those that are currently topping mainstream lists. Take a look:

Better World Book’s Top 25 Books of 2011

  1. The Shack
  2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  3. The Kite Runner
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird
  5. Lord of the Flies
  6. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
  7. A Child Called “It”: One Child’s Courage to Survives
  8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  9. The Secret Life of Bees
  10. StrengthsFinder 2.0
  11. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2)
  12. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism
  13. Love You Forever
  14. The Help
  15. Holes
  16. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens
  17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  18. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  19. Animal Farm
  20. Into the Wild
  21. Number the Stars
  22. Of Mice and Men
  23. The Pillars of the Earth
  24. The Hobbit
  25. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl


I’m sure that library circulation records would also be interesting to view,  just to see the most checked-out books of the year.  No surprises, of course, these titles all hit the “best of” lists in their respective years, I’m sure.  But interesting all the same.


For my recent program for the Adult Reading Round Table, “Top 5“, I revisited some of the categories and updated the “up and comers”. For Women’s Fiction, I added Kristina Riggle, who happens to have a new book out last month, and I’d like to showcase her first book here.

In Real Life and Liars,  Riggle tells the story of free-spirited Mirabelle, a 60-something woman who decides to not follow through with treatment when she’s diagnosed with breast cancer.  Needless to say, her biggest hurdle with that plan is how her dysfunctional family is going to take the news, consisting of her grown children who have returned to their hometown for Mirabelle and her husband’s 35th wedding anniversary.  Full of family secrets, funny moments, and realistic characters, this is a gem for readers looking for a new voice in Women’s Fiction.  It would also make a good choice for book discussion groups.


This short story collection may be collecting dust on your library’s shelves, because it’s not genre short stories, it’s not a bestselling author, and it’s not even from a large publisher.  But oh, the stories.  Klage weaves the everyday with the slightly bizarre, giving her stories a hint of magic that doesn’t scream “magical realism” or “fantasy”.  (Bordering on, yes.  But not screaming.)  Think modern fairytales.

The opening tale, “Basement Magic”, is the story of a lonely little girl and the friendship she discovers with the family’s maid (and some electrifying revenge on her wicked stepmother).  And the final story, In the House of the Seven Librarians”, is a riff on Sleeping Beauty, with immortal librarians acting as the fairy godmothers.

Hand this one to someone looking for something different than their usual reading fare.  This is the kind of book that cries out for handselling.

(and a big shout out to Neil Hollands for mentioning this title on Book Group Buzz - I don’t think I would have ever come across it otherwise.  Ah, that’s what I love about book blogs!  Finding a gem.  Hopefully ShelfRenewal is doing that for some of you as well!)



You’d think that opening up the organ trafficking business to baboon hearts would be win-win, wouldn’t you? That’s what Landaq Pharmaceutical rep Jerry Landis thought. But, no. Turns out there are biological AND ethical issues involving harvesting monkey parts for the rich. Bill Fitzhugh’s Organ Grinders is a celebration of political incorrectness. One reviewer aptly called this caper a cross between Carl Hiaasen and Michael Crichton. Fans of Christopher Buckley and Adam Bazell will also chortle with delight.


When I picked up Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, I felt like I was reading a documentary. The same weird combination of judgment and envy that exerts a nearly gravitational pull on us when there’s a marathon of “Million Dollar Listing” will keep you turning the pages of this wicked ’80s tome. Wolfe skewers the status-conscious 1980s in the tale of a bond salesman who, literally, finds himself on the wrong side of the tracks. After getting in a car accident on the way home from the airport with his mistress, Sherman McCoy becomes a symbol of white privilege and takes the heat for New York City’s smoldering racial tensions and the divide between the haves and have-nots.


Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander turns 20 this summer, and they’re even coming out with a special anniversary edition next month (librarians, replace those tattered copies!)

A hefty tome, this 600+ page time-travel adventure/romance (inspired in part by Dr. Who) has legions of fans and boasts six follow-up novels and a spin-off series.  Readers who like romance, or fantasy elements, or historical fiction, or women’s fiction, or adventure, or just darn long books will find plenty to love here.

As an interesting side note, did you know that Diana Gabaldon is actually Dr. Diana Gabaldon, possessing  degrees in Zoology, Marine Biology, and a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology?  True story.  She’s also the founding editor of Science Software Quarterly.  Well what do you know!


The first in the somehow gritty and reassuringly familiar Grant County series, Karin Slaughter’s Blindsighted introduces pediatrician and coroner Dr. Sara Linton and her ex-husband, the chief of police in their small Georgia town. Autopsying a local college professor, Linton finds evidence of a sadistic murderer.


This is great example of a book that we forget to recommend because we assume that everybody’s already read it. Here’s the truth. One: they haven’t. Two: the book’s over 15 years old. You will have the mortifying experience of having someone say, “I think I remember my mom reading that book.” But that’s ok. The book was good then, and it’s good now. Left behind at an Oklahoma Walmart by her boyfriend, pregnant 17 year old Novalee Nation camps out at the store until the baby’s birth exposes her. The good folks of Sequoyah adopt her and baby Americus, folding them into the fabric of their tight-knit community. In Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts, eccentric characters, the kind of warmth and acceptance you hope aren’t found only the pages of fiction, a little love, some self-discovery, and a natural disaster fill out this feel-good read.


We all need our readers’ advisory comeuppance every once in awhile. We need to read a book or a series that we’ve dismissed and realize, “Hey! There’s a reason this is so popular. It’s really good.” Humility seeds growth, people. Which is why I need to eat [Book Number 4: Still Life with...] crow and give a happy shout out to the wonderfully creepy Pendergast novels by Douglas J. Preston and Lincoln Child. Relic introduces the man without a past, FBI Agent Pendergast. In New York, there has been a rash of murders in the Museum of Natural History and the perpetrator turns out to be a monstrous reptile from South America. The beast strikes at a gala opening, and supernatural specialist Pendergast and a smart lady scientist race to capture it before it eats everyone in sight. Yummy.


This intense depiction of human desperation is a heart-pounding read. As you race through the pages, you realize that the characters have backed themselves in to a corner, and all you can do is brace yourself for the inevitable destruction. An Oprah Book Club pick in 2000, Andre Dubus’ House of Sand and Fog pits a former Iranian Air Force colonel trying to create a new life for his family against an addiction-challenged divorcee. Kathy Lazaro doesn’t believe that Colonel Behrani had any right to buy her house at auction. She’s behind on payments, but doesn’t think that the last thing she owns in the world should be given away. Her cop boyfriend, also a recovering addict, is particularly incensed that the purported new owner is a foreigner. Deemed “an American Tragedy,” this compelling and provocative read will appeal to fans of T.C. Boyle’s similarly-themed Tortilla Curtain.


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