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 AmericaSteve 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 MadeTyler 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 ForgivenessBruce 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.

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Brad Listi BRAD LISTI is the founder of The Nervous Breakdown and the author of a novel called Attention. Deficit. Disorder.
His latest book, Board, co-authored by Justin Benton, is now available in trade paperback and e-book editions from TNB Books.

He is also the host of Other People, a podcast featuring in-depth, inappropriate interviews with today's leading authors. To learn more, visit www.otherpeoplepod.com. And be sure to follow the show @otherpeoplepod on Twitter.

You can find him online at www.bradlisti.com and Twitter

36 Responses to “The 2011 Nobbies”

  1. Art Edwards says:

    Big congrats, Mr. Loory. And well-earned.

    And thank you, TNBrad, for making an annual book award that says something to me about my life.

    • Ben Loory says:

      thanks art! and thanks everybody else! and thanks to TNB in general! there are a lot of really great books on that list and i feel a little silly about winning. I MEAN NOT TOO SILLY but a little silly, you know… and i really like this bit about furry candy!

  2. What a great list, TNB and Brad Listi! Congrats Ben, Lidia and all the rest of the writers who have made reading in 2011 such a stellar year!

  3. Gloria says:

    Congratulations to Ben! But also glad to see that Sean and Jessica were in the running. I loved Drinking Closer to Home!

    • Jessica Blau says:

      Thanks Gloria! XXX!

      • Aaron Dietz says:

        Jessica, I feel really badly that I haven’t been going swimming lately, and here’s why: Your books were my swimming reading books and I loved reading them after a swim while I waited for Pei to finish laps. And then for some reason we stopped going lately. I finished Naked Swim Parties. I’m halfway through the Drinking Closer to Home. I should make that one my drinking book and then I’ll finish it faster!

  4. Amazing list. The best-of where they actually all merit reading. Especially down on the list Kio Stark’s FOLLOW ME DOWN, not just hypnotic but a vision of the city now…

    Thanks TNB for fighting the good fight for good books and reads and writing…

  5. Joe Daly says:

    Coxy’s nomination- DELETED! That’s like an employee or member of the immediate family of an employee of the Walt Disney World Corporation entering a Walt Disney Vacation sweepstakes that specifically renders ineligible any employee or member of the immediate family of an employee of the Walt Disney World Corporation.

  6. Becky Palapala says:


    Yes. This is just.

  7. Richard Cox says:

    Congratulations, Ben Loory! You talented fuck. I mean, friend.

  8. Greg Olear says:

    Congrats to the Nobbiests, especially Ben, and thanks to those who voted for Fathermucker, and those who read it and have supported it all year.

  9. Joe Daly says:

    Well done to all the finalists, nominees and of course, Ben. That story of the moose never fails to put a smile on my face.

  10. pixy says:

    i agree with this winner and list.
    the magic of ben loory = all i had to do was read the 3 lines of “the shadow” to some people in my class this weekend and it made him 5 book sales.

  11. Congratulations to all! Special huzzahs to Jaded Ibis Press author Davis Schneiderman, future Jaded Ibis Press author Cris Mazza, and Jaded Ibis Productions musician Paul D Miller aka DJ Spooky.

  12. Tom Hansen says:

    Good deal

  13. Peter says:

    I liked Ben Loory. I liked Christopher Boucher even more: How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. Why doesn’t it even get a mention?

  14. vanessa veselka says:

    you warm my heart. so honored. now excited to read the others, too.

  15. lidia says:

    i’m seriously seriously hoping this means we all get naked together in a giant warm swimming pool? right? humbled by the extraordinary company…xoxox

  16. Ashley Menchaca says:

    Congratulations, Mr. Loory!
    You deserve it!

  17. Honored, humbled, giddy, tingly. Also, I fully intend to win next year’s Nob.

    In the meantime, right on, Ben.

    Also, it seems very cool that so many of these books are on the shelf (and floor) near my bed.

  18. Shanna says:

    I’m giddy that the only books on this list I’ve read are Ben Loory’s and Lidia Yuknavitch’s. I’m off to Kindle every other one I can get, and make a list for the next time I get to an indie bookstore. *shakes fist* Curse you, San Diego, for your dearth of independent bookstores.

  19. Erika Rae says:

    What a cool list – I feel buzzed just leaving a comment in this proximity to such talent. High fives to all of you – and especially to Ben, Jessica, Sean and Lidia. Nice work. (And Ben – your podcast is AWESOME)

  20. Chris Roberts says:

    I don’t think much of this list, this rather lacking (K)nobbie Job. That said, “Once Upon a River.”

    But of course it really is about the river, it is the true protagonist in this down home telling. The flesh and blood girl Margo takes second billing. I was not convinced that Margo was natural born in the rural Michigan environs, she is super-imposed and quite doesn’t blend in. Author Bonnie Jo Campbell is a puppeteer quite dropping the girl into each encounter and so we are left with an inauthentic series of forced adventures.

    Rather bold, in the right hands, is the Annie Oakley idolization by Margo, but as the girl is a bit slow, I don’t see her drawing much from the biography and so we are decidedly beat over the head with the volume and it becomes a running joke. In the end, it is hard for a character to compete with the audacious breadth of nature. If you want a man larger than nature tale, read “Deliverance.” *

    * As I have stated in past reviews, I don’t recommend any works completed since the beginning of time. I mention “Deliverance” only as a better man/nature novel, but it is inherently flawed.

    Chris Roberts, God of Brad Listi’s Mother

  21. Siobhan Steen says:

    In regard to “You Deserve Nothing”, a letter I wrote to Ms. Sebold, to which I am still awaiting reply.
    Oct. 13, 2011
    Dear Ms. Sebold,

    I am writing in regard to the novel, “You Deserve Nothing,” recently publish by Tonga at your selection. I’m sure you already know everything I’m going to say, but I could not in good conscience let it go unsaid. I was a student in the author’s senior AP English class at the American School of Paris, 2005-2006, as well as a close friend of the girl he had an affair with during that time. I wonder if you had done much research into the author’s past or his time at the American School of Paris (ASP). I would like to think that you may not have published this manuscript as a novel had you known it was strictly true.

    It’s not a bad book, I read it in one 5 hour sitting; but then again I had the advantage of already knowing the entire story. Within the author’s retelling of my senior year of high school every plot point of significance was lifted directly from reality. The characters can all be generally identified as real teachers and students, all the major events are true, and the chronology is accurate.

    Everyone from ASP has been talking non-stop about this book from the first press-release on. Rumors and speculation have been making the rounds, and now that we all have read it, there is more gossip still. This book stirred up a lot of unnecessary and unwanted memories for everyone, especially for the young woman in question. I happen to know that she has received emails from former teachers inquiring how she “feels” about the book. I am simply bringing this up as evidence that I am by no means the only one who acknowledges the extreme similarities between the book and reality. And because of the lack of disguise, there is speculation about what is factual and what is fiction. Of course there are things that were invented, but those readers, who were not as close to the events and cannot distinguish, are likely mis-attributing actions and dialogue. Because of the sensitive nature of the events, it seems wrong to bring them up again like this, without the author clarifying his intentions.

    Ironic, that the main theme of the book is bravery vs. cowardice, and yet the brave thing to do would have been to publish it as a memoir, or at least based on a true story; for the author to put himself out there and really confront the repercussions of his actions. Lucky for him, he wasn’t fired from the school, simply asked to resign, which I will attribute to the cowardice of the school board and their aversion to negative publicity. From what I understand the incident never went on his record.

    Let me be clear, I am not moralizing about the events portrayed in the book. I am questioning the ethics of labeling this book as a novel when I think you will find many, many people who can verify almost every occurrence and character. There can be no doubt that the author wrote this in part to process the events and his role in them. The writing and even the publishing of this book is not so much what concerns me. Call it what it is, some type of non-fiction. I am quite a fan of yours and that’s part of the reason I was surprised that you would have been involved in this project if you knew what I’ve relayed. Despite being two completely different situations, the fact that you bravely wrote a memoir about your experience and this author chose to shield himself with a work of fiction pretty much sums up my point. This book could have been a more authentic and demanding experience for the reader and more cathartic for the author had he followed your lead by writing a memoir or at least a “based on a true story”.

    With fiction, the author has freed himself to explore character’s voices and thoughts that he would not otherwise be able to had he written a memoir. I understand that this is what makes the book so appealing and intriguing. Considering that his characters are primarily real people, we can safely say that he has put words in their mouths and even distorted those things they actually did say. All of us from ASP are painfully aware that this is not fiction and that the young woman is having this period of her life put under a microscope again, as if it wasn’t bad enough the first time around.

    I hope I have made some points that you will take into consideration when working with this author in the future. I have tried to keep my own feelings about the events out of this letter, although I’m sure you can guess them. But I sincerely believe that this was the wrong way to go about things and I hope you can see our side…those of us for whom this wasn’t a novel.

    Siobhan Steen

  22. […] that post. As we perused the many “Best of 2011″ lists out there, we came across “The Nobbies”– a compilation of admirable titles pulled together by the folks at The Nervous Breakdown, an […]

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