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Picking up where I left off a few days ago, here is my top ten books of 2011.  It took a lot of deliberation to cut it down to these ten.  You can check out my honorable mention list here and the full 75 here.

#10: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre

The quintessential Cold War spy story, replacing the glitz and glamor of James Bond with the grit of the real world.  Le Carre’s story of a washed up spy used as a pawn in power politics is surprisingly poignant.  This book is absolutely a modern classic.

#9: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Kesey’s novel about the inner workings of an insane asylum is one of the most disturbing but inspiring books I have ever read.  The book features anti-hero Randle Patrick McMurphy, one of the great modern literary figures.  Read the book, watch the movie, and thank God for whatever dash of sanity you possess.

#8: Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy is an author with a tremendous reputation in modern literature.  I am happy to say that this book lived up to McCarthy’s fame.  Telling the story of Cornelius Suttree and his band of homeless associates, Suttree is a darkly humorous look at humanity from the underside.  This book’s ranking suffered in comparison to The Road, also by Cormac McCarthy (and appearing higher on my list).

#7: Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s heartbreaking story of Howard Campbell is both humorous and depressing.  Through subtle wit, Vonnegut reminds us that the person we present to the world is the person we are, whether we realize it or not.  Read it and remember the value of sincerity in everyday life.

#6: Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The very first book I read in 2011 remained one of my favorites throughout the year.  It follows Oleg Kostoglotov as he undergoes treatment for cancer in a Soviet hospital.  At once an examination of the harsh nature of Soviet rule and a look at the frailty of all existence, this book is not easily forgotten.

#5: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Gibran’s slender volume about a fictional prophet preaching a final sermon before departing a village is more like poetry than simple prose.  The philosophy espoused by the titular prophet is one of inclusion and love.  We all would do well to take his words to heart.

#4: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Though For Whom the Bell Tolls still ranks as my favorite Hemingway book, A Farewell to Arms runs a close second.  Hemingway uses the heartbreaking love story to highlight the depth and power of emotion.  Set against the backdrop of World War I in all its dehumanizing horror, this story reminds us all that an individual’s feelings can be overshadowed by war but not destroyed by it.

#3: Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

This book is Nietzsche at the top of his philosophical game.  It is direct and profound, calling all accepted social and ethical norms into question.  Whether or not you agree with Nietzsche, you cannot ignore him.

 

#2: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This book is beyond all description.  McCarthy has turned the story of a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world into a timeless epic that offers hope in the face of unspeakable horror.  If this man doesn’t win the Nobel Prize in the next few years there is no justice.

And the number one book I read in 2011 is…

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

 I tend to become obsessed with authors, and Kazantzakis was my obsession for 2011.  Zorba presents the classic struggle between spirit and intellect, with the titular Zorba representing the wildness within us all.  Stunning in its originality, this book will make you both laugh and cry out at the strictures society has placed on our individual spirits.

Hope you enjoyed the list!  I look forward to many more excellent books in 2012.

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