Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.
Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2011.
Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.
And thanks, as always, for reading.
|Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, Ben Loory (Penguin) Modern fables, as small and sparkly as pixie dust, that remain in the corners of your brain like creepy corner shadows. The tales have this sort of secret ingredient in them that makes you feel incredibly wise when you read the book. And there’s always a mystery to discuss after you and a friend read the same story. This is dark magical realism/surrealism at its finest, gently forcing us to suspend our digital beliefs in order to imagine octopi living in city apartments and lost children flying up and out of the cold water of deep slippery wells. Loory is a nerdy-cool and sophisticated avant-garde voice, an almost-ancient alien avatar calling into the darkness for more furry candy.|
|The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch (Hawthorne Books) This book blows the doors off the traditional memoir. Yuknavitch subverts the narrative form and invents a new language to tell her story. Her writing is lyrical, raw, and dynamic. Her story is haunting, touching, and heartbreaking. But it is the truth, and it is all here in an expansive, Technicolor dream.|
|Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta (Scribner) Spiotta’s satire is so smart, and her writing achingly beautiful. We love the risks she takes with structure, but her real triumph lies in her critique of the world we live in–full of blogs and 24-hours news, self-curation, and pain tourists. Spiotta proves that fiction about our rock-and-roll hearts can be wise.|
THE COMPLETE LIST
|The Angel in the Dream of Our Hangover, Mark Leidner (Sator Press) Some books are long, some books are short, some books are wound so tightly they explode.|
|Blank , Davis Schneiderman (Jadid Ibis) Schneiderman captures the history of the novel in the spaces between words. If you’ve ever seen/heard him read Blank live, he captures the history of the literary reading as well.|
|The Book of Ice, Paul D. Miller (Mark Batty) Miller, aka DJ Spooky, surveys the way we might construct Antarctica as a mash-up of history, music, and conceptual art. Contained therein is an Occupy movement for the next century in a series of striking images: A Manifesto for the People’s Republic of Antarctica. You’ve never picked up a book quite like this.|
|Blue Nights, Joan Didion (Knopf) Following her recent memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion returns with another, this time writing about her daughter, her experiences in motherhood, and the question of aging. Many questions are asked here, and many answers are presented, and Didion’s style is present as ever, meticulously worded sentences that pull you from your chair.|
|The Color of Night, Madison Smartt Bell (Vintage) Bell finds the shortest distance between two points—in this case, Helter Skelter and 9/11—is a detour to the underworld of Greek myth. Dark, spare, and beautifully written, The Color of Night accomplishes one of the most difficult things a writer can attempt: it makes potentially repellent subject matter entertaining.|
|Drinking Closer to Home, Jessica Anya Blau (Harper Perennial 2011) Blau’s semi-autobiographical follow-up to The Summer of Naked Swim Parties is funnier, more ambitious…and more heartbreaking.|
|Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica, Mick Wall (St. Martin’s) In a year when the music biography emerged as the dominant genre of nonfiction, Mick Wall issued a thoroughly-engrossing, meticulously-researched account of the biggest rock and roll band in the world. Behind a mountain of research and interviews with an army of people intimately involved in the Metallica story, Wall issues a book with acres of new information, wryly rendered in his inimitably entertaining style.|
|Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, Neil Strauss (It Books) How Strauss can be so unlikeable and likeable at the same time is anyone’s guess, but nobody writes like this guy. Whatever he does, whether The Game or The Dirt, it’s always existential in style and somehow hopeful by the end.|
|Follow Me Down, Kio Stark (Red Lemonade) Kio Stark weaves a poetic tapestry of the streets of New York City. Sometimes you get a little dirty when you dig, and sometimes people need to disappear. Hypnotic and endearing.|
|Galerie de Difformité, Gretchen E. Henderson (&NOW Books) This book is both funhouse and curiosity cabinet, art catalogue and choose-your-own-adventure. With the head of a novel and the body of a poem, this extraordinary work interrogates the nuanced concepts of ability/disability, voyeurism/exhibition, deformity/normality—all with a wry sense of self-representational humor.|
|God Bless America, Steve Almond (Lookout) These thirteen stories are more like blessings, written by an author both enchanted and heartbroken by the earnest and irrational souls who populate his country.|
|How the Mistakes Were Made, Tyler McMahon (St. Martin’s Griffin) If rock music conjures anything, it’s the desire for the besotted listener to become one with the music. Anything that expects to be remembered as rock lit needs to touch on this sentiment. How the Mistakes Were Made has this fever dream of rock and roll in spades.|
|Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner (Coffee House Press) The best novel about a hash-smoking, tranquilizer-taking, womanizing Fulbright poet ever written. A slim but powerful and wickedly intelligent novel about the relationship between art and reality.|
|My New American Life, Francine Prose (Harper) This chronicle of the assimilation of Lula, an immigrant from Albania and one of the more delightful inventions in recent memory, into George W. Bush’s America—or, more exactly, George W. Bush’s suburban New Jersey—is Prose’s best novel. And that’s saying something.|
|The Necessity of Certain Behaviors, Shannon Cain (University of Pittsburgh Press) The winner of the Drue Heinz Literary Prize for 2011, this collection of superb short stories speaks to us about love, need, and irreversible actions.|
|Once Upon a River, Bonnie Jo Campbell (Norton) This coming of age novel, set in rural Michigan, is mythic and magical, yet all-too-real, setting a teenage girl against a world of natural predators.|
|Other People We Married, Emma Straub (FiveChapters) A collection of stories by an emerging writer whose style is frank, expansive, and commanding. Quirky stories about everyday people. Originally published by FiveChapters, this will be re-released next year by Riverhead, who are also publishing her first novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures. A force to be reckoned with.|
|Repeat Until Rich, Josh Axelrad (Penguin) Every bit as fine as Bringing Down the House, Axelrad raises the ante with this dizzying account of addiction and algebraic beat-the-odds insanity.|
|Resurrection of Cash, Graeme Thomson (Jawbone Press) Finally, someone gets the legend right. As Cash’s legacy ages, the man in black needs contrast. Thomson brings it here.|
|Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson (HarperCollins) An injection directly in the mainline of anyone who grew up on the East Coast in the eighties and had even a passing dalliance with punk rock, or, more accurately, the Hardcore scene.|
|There Is No Year, Blake Butler (HarperCollins) If Blake Butler’s brain was a kind of cheese, it’d be Swiss, and the holes would be moaning human hair.|
|Tongue Party, Sarah Rose Etter (Caketrain Press) A blurb on the back reads: “Sarah Rose Etter isn’t a writer; she’s a witch, and this is a house and storm of spells.” It’s the truth! Winner of the 2010 Caketrain Chapbook Competition, judged by Deb Olin Unferth.|
|This Vacant Paradise, Victoria Patterson (Counterpoint) Against a backdrop of the O.J. Simpson trial, anti-Clinton conspiracy theories, and gorgeous beachfront property, the wonderfully-realized characters in Patterson’s debut novel struggle to reconcile their own individuality with the privileged circumstances of their blue-blooded births. Beautifully written and elegantly plotted, This Vacant Paradise is an engaging glimpse into a world few of us will never know, and proves Patterson is a master of the form.|
|Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, Cris Mazza (Emergency Press) Mazza’s latest is as gripping as her recent work, yet this book takes on a dark subject properly suited to antagonize any lingering visions of California as promised land. In Various Men, Mazza collates the sexual dynamics of suburbia with a border sex trade that stands just on its periphery.|
|The Wake of Forgiveness, Bruce Marchart (HMH) A beautifully written and spare take on life in East Texas at the turn of the century. Not a cliché to be found in this fascinating book, which is full of treachery, violence, and unexamined manhood. It’s just the sort of thing everyone should read if only to remind us that less than a hundred years ago–about the lifetime of a grandfather–no one had it easy. They worked hard, suffered greatly, and endured more in one day than most contemporary Americans would be willing to in a lifetime.|
|We the Animals, Justin Torres (Houghton Mifflin) This debut coming of age novel “goes down like strong liquor,” as Tayari Jones says in her blurb. One of the most intensely poetic, crystallized prose pieces we’ve read in a long time. And the subject matter is gritty and heartbreaking.|
|You Deserve Nothing, Alexander Maksik (Europa Editions) A story of a teacher-student affair that feels vital and wholly original. Few contemporary writers treat their characters as Maksik treats his: as fully complex human beings, rather than literary artifices, who struggle and fail and keep struggling.|
|You Killed Wesley Payne, Sean Beaudoin (Little, Brown) This book kills. The clever reworking of the noir format, the crisp plot, the rich and off-kilter world of Salt River High that Beaudoin has painstakingly created, the memorable characters, the cliques from hell, the dark and allusive humor bursting on every page—to label this “YA” is to limit its ambition. Would that we had a guide like Beaudoin when we were in high school, to help navigate our nerd rowboat along the rocky and perilous shoreline of the Island of Cool.|
|A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, Peter Mountford (HMH) This expat novel set in Bolivia covers high finance, politics, and morality. It takes on the issues of our times better than any book we’ve read in years.|
|Zazen, Vanessa Veselka (Red Lemonade) Zazen is a satire, a Leftist utopian fantasia, a Leftist dystopian fantasia, a piece of performance art in novel form, a prophesy, a valentine, a meditation. It’s also really funny (although Della, the empathic geologist narrator, is not in on any of the jokes, poor thing). Veselka notices things other people don’t, and she has a way of describing those things that is at once poetical, witty, and profound.|
Also receiving votes, although ineligible because they were written by TNB editors and/or were published by our imprint, TNB Books, were: Fathermucker, by Greg Olear; My Dead Pets Are Interesting, by Lenore Zion; Thomas World, by Richard Cox; and West of Here, by Jonathan Evison.