20 Best Books of 2011

From December 5th through December 23rd, please enjoy a 20% discount on our selections for the best books of 2011. This offer is available in-store only at 57th Street Books. However, you can also receive the discount when ordering online by typing "20best" in the comment section of your order.

ISBN: 9780316126694
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Published: Little, Brown and Company - September 1st, 2011

The Art of Fielding is storytelling at its most pure; there are no literary tricks or devices to distract from the strength of Harbach's writing. I don't think Harbach could have used any other vehicle besides baseball to propel his story forward. As with other great stories that utilize baseball in their plotlines, the game becomes indispensable to each of the characters as their reason for living. Baseball, and life, promise us delicacy, speed and a sudden rush of action, dispersed by periods of waiting, work and tedium. Fielding moves through these same phases seamlessly, allowing us to sink into a world that is astonishingly real and close to home. If you choose to read Fielding, know that the writing is pure and self-assured, the story gripping and breath-taking. At the risk of sounding dramatic I have to say that there is something transcendent about the perfect execution, be it the swing of a bat or a brilliant first novel. - Nicole

By Lidia Yuknavitch, Chelsea Cain (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780979018831
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Published: Hawthorne Books - April 12th, 2011

This is the book I've been evangelizing for all year, and will continue to reread and talk up for the foreseeable future. Lidia Yuknavitch's brilliant memoir The Chronology of Water completely explodes the genre of the grief/addiction/abuse memoir, eradicates all the cliches, and is a stunning floating experimental piece that takes the metaphor of swimming (Yuknavitch was a competitive, nearly Olympic swimmer) to invent a new language and form for this genre, or really for prose writing in general. It's ecstatic and devastating and visceral and just read it, please, it may be impossible for a blurb like this to do it justice. - Hannah

ISBN: 9780374532888
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Published: Farrar Straus Giroux - August 30th, 2011

One of the best parts of this job is coming across something you never saw coming: a book that knocks your socks off, is so compelling you can't put it down. Crimes in Southern Indiana is one of those finds. The stories it contains - the half-Southern, half-Midwestern fully compromised world it creates - are urgent and addictive. There is a spare, savage beauty to the writing that demands every ounce of praise we can and should muster. I've been lucky to encounter a number of great, new (to me, at least) writers this year. Frank Bill is one of the best. I can't wait to read what he's cooking up next. - Tom

ISBN: 9780345524492
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Published: Del Rey - May 17th, 2011

China Mieville is one of the best fantasy writers working today, but for this book he turns his attention to a thoroughly science fiction story of aliens and space travel. The book is set in a small human outpost on the edge of a strikingly alien city inhabited by creatures who speak with two mouths and are incapable of speaking untruths. Like all good sci fi, however, it is grounded in bigger questions, like the nature of language and the value of metaphor. Mieville's philosophical bent is harnessed into an exciting tale of cross-species exchange and political rebellion filled with exotic creatures and daring characters (human and otherwise). - Ross

By Paul Madonna, Paul Madonna (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780872865150
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Published: City Lights Books - April 19th, 2011

Paul Madonna's All Over Coffee series for the San Francisco Chronicle, of which this book is a collection, redefines the boundaries of visual storytelling -- his beautifully rendered drawings of streets and cities are paired with elliptical stories that at first may seem to be non-sequiturs, but in fact rely on a peculiar & slippery logic of places and stories and memory. Broken fences, telephone wires, and shadows become uncannily expressive in Madonna's depopulated landscapes. - Hannah

By Paula Wolfert, Mark Marthaler (Illustrator), Quentin Bacon (Photographer)
ISBN: 9780061957550
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Published: Ecco Press - October 4th, 2011

This is the only book on Moroccan cooking that you will ever need. Never been intrigued by the food of Morocco? You will be. This is a beautiful and utterly comprehensive guide to an exotic and delicious cuisine. There's a debate in the food world about the value of authenticity over innovation; Paula Wolfert wants to hear no part of that. This book is extremely exacting, unapologetically authentic, and thoroughly detailed, but each recipe is an absolute winner. Unlike her first cookbook, the landmark Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, this one is filled with pictures, one for almost every recipe. - Ross

ISBN: 9781590514344
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Published: Other Press (NY) - March 29th, 2011

I've talked about Galore a lot lately and have pushed it on everyone I can over the past months. So let me just say this: Galore is a great novel. Not "very good," or "must read," or any of the other lesser versions of greatness. It is a Great Novel. You can tear into it and approach its richness from any angle you want, but at the end of the day we're talking about a novel that is as well-realized and fundamentally excellent as anything out there. Pretty much any superlative applies, so let's just stick with "great." - Tom

ISBN: 9780393081923
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Published: W. W. Norton & Company - November 7th, 2011

This book is staggering. It is a seriously thorough and wildly readable account of humanity's worst historical moments. It is not for the faint of heart. Expect to read about: death, death, more death, cannibalism, and pyramids of severed heads. Matthew White, a librarian by profession, is committed, in the broadly humanist sort of way that all librarians are, to the accuracy and accessibility of information. Having undertaken an internet project to collect historical maps and statistics, he became troubled by the fact that the death counts of atrocities are often mis-estimated for political or ideological reasons, and so he wrote this book as an attempt to set the record straight, or at least straighter. As you read The Great Big Book, and the raw weight of humanity's awesome horribleness bears down on you, you realize what White has created here: a passionate act of witnessing, a testimony to the suffering of millions, a serious scholarly inquiry into who perpetrates atrocities against whom and how and why they do it, and a bold challenge to the human race to do better. - Dana

ISBN: 9780811218436
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Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - February 25th, 2011

Framed as episodes in the life of the author's fictional friend, this inventive novel is like One Thousand and One Nights in turn-of-the century Hungary. The incorrigible Kornél Esti comes alive in these pages as he recounts the fantastic tales of his daily existence. Here, a kleptomaniac translator steals fictional objects from the books he translates and a retired scholar who can sleep only during lectures is returned to his post to get a good night's sleep. By turns wry, hilarious, and sinister, this book is a work of profound and comic genius. - Jeff

ISBN: 9781594488078
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Published: Riverhead Books - September 29th, 2011

A different kind of narrative . It's about writer whose stories generally concludes with him beheading his main female characters. he's approach by a female who tells him he needs to develop a different ending to his stories & tries to proceed to help him in this endeavor. The twist to this is that we don't know if his muse is just his imagination or actually a real person as it is told thru a variety of vignettes. If you like interesting & quirky this is a story that you will truly enjoy. - Cheryl

By Yotam Ottolenghi, Jonathan Lovekin (Photographer)
ISBN: 9781452101248
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Published: Chronicle Books - March 23rd, 2011

Part of what makes Yotam Ottolenghi's book Plenty so fantastic is his ability to create recipes that are new and innovative but also accessible, not too fiddly to the point where they feel like intimidating projects to undertake. Ottolenghi presents imaginative spins on combinations of flavors and textures, offering up recipes that are bold and often surprising in the best sort of way. Be sure to try the recipe for soba noodles with eggplant and mango, which is to die for! - Sophia

ISBN: 9780802119810
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Published: Grove Press - April 5th, 2011

Poignant, painful, and unforgettably personal, Goldman’s book teaches us to see his wife and their short life together through his eyes. This is an obsessive almost-biography, an autopsy of a beautiful marriage, and above all, a pitch-perfect love song by an enormously talented writer. I’ve rarely read a more affecting or powerful book. No one writes this well. - Jeff

By Amos Oz, Nicholas De Lange (Translator)
ISBN: 9780547483368
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Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) - October 18th, 2011

This is a masterpiece. I don't really feel qualified to explain how good it is. But let me try. It is a village much like any other village, but distorted so that a quality of loneliness edges above all, permeating the landscape with the cries of dogs, the ratatat of gun fire, an incessant drilling in the basement. Things proceed as normal, until unexpectedly a man crawls under a bed at a house party. And really, you think, is that even all that abnormal or unexpected? Really, isn't that exactly what life is like? Everything is proceeding normally until suddenly it's not? Until suddenly you've crawled under a bed at a house party? Yes. That is what this book is. A quality of loneliness. - Dana

ISBN: 9780393064476
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Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 26th, 2011

Well-written historical narrative of how Lucretius' ancient poem The Nature of Things was rescued by Poggio Bracciolini, a Renaissance humanist (and sort-of book dealer) who realized the importance of a manuscript he "hunted". Steven Greenblatt writes wonderfully, bringing both Lucretius' world and Bracciolini's story to life. Reads much like a historical novel, in the best sense of that phrase. (Grab a copy of the Lucretius also if you really want to get the whole picture.) - Laura

ISBN: 9781400068784
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Published: Random House - November 15th, 2011

First Patti Smith wrote Just Kids (and won the National Book Award.) Now Diane Keaton has written Then Again. Much more than a memoir, it is a beautifully written and intricately constructed love letter to her mother. Encompassing her mother's life and contrasting and comparing it to her own, Keaton does include the Hollywood romances, films and tough times, but adds so much more depth to her story than most "celebrity" books. Photos and collages add to this work of art. - Laura

ISBN: 9781568989976
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Published: Princeton Architectural Press - September 28th, 2011

This book makes common household appliances into foreign and enigmatic objects with long histories and big footprints. While Thwaites raises serious questions about sustainability, his real focus ends up being on the inscrutability of the global supply chain. Between the mild existential angst brought about by too much contemplation of the source of things, the botched but cavalier attempts to smelt at home, and the long transcripts of phone calls with confused customer service representatives at BP from whom he tries to purchase one single barrel of oil, the overall effect is charming and a little dark. Thwaites has no solutions to our environmental crisis, but he is willing to play with the problems. - Dana

ISBN: 9780547576725
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Published: Houghton Mifflin - August 30th, 2011

We the Animals is a deceptively slight book. Practically a novella, its story of three boys growing up more than half wild is staggering in its intensity. Episodic in its construction, each chapter functions like a riptide: it lets the reader wade in a bit, paddle about before pulling you into the deep water and the unknown. This is a beautifully written, deeply engaging book that, like all great fiction, resonates in the weeks and months following its conclusion. - Tom

ISBN: 9781594202988
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Published: Penguin Press HC, The - August 18th, 2011

This is a biography of one of the more influential playwrights in the 1980's. She was popular during this time but not much was known about her personally. Julie Salamon gives us some insight on her personal life but also the influence that her family had on her body of work. I found the book very engaging. If you're a fan of the theater or not you will find the story of Wendy entertaining & engaging. - Cheryl

By David Shrigley, Will Self (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780393082470
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Published: W. W. Norton & Company - October 24th, 2011

he Essential David Shrigley...hm, what is there to say about his work, other than to describe it? And how can I possibly describe it? Shrigley has certainly cornered the market on strange, child-like drawings paired with disarming text, all the more shocking because of their surface layer of simplicity. Wait, is there a market for that? On closer inspection his art ranges from uproarious to outrageous, leaving you feeling more than a little uncomfortable, either at his audacity or your own titillation. You either love him or you don't. - Nicole

ISBN: 9780756406691
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Published: Daw Books - June 7th, 2011

If I must compare I'd say Octavia Butler meets Chinua Achebe in this spellbinding literary masterpiece, but in all honesty Nnedi Okorafor is in a class of her own. This is a quest novel at the very least; it is fantasy that echoes many actual horrors of our history and present. The protagonist, Onyesonwu, is proud, stubborn, dangerous, and prone to anger, yet she is the most refreshing, kind, admirable heroine you will read of and you will find yourself rooting for her despite her faults. - Dormowa