My favourite books of 2011

At the end of the year, it's fun to look back at the books that I've read and pick out the ones I liked most. In 2011 I read 105 books, most of which were non-fiction. Here are my ten favourites, in no particular order:

Bookends: A Partial History of the Brighton Book Trade by John Shire is a fascinating description of an obscure topic. Shire's book runs from the early days of the town through to current times, and brought back memories of bookshops that I loved. As well as being a good history it is also entertaining and personal, with some entertaining asides, such as the observation that all books on Brighton are required to mention Aleister Crowley.

Thirteen by Sebastian Beaument came highly recommended by Scott Pack. It's a novel about a Brighton taxi driver who finds himself in a slowly developing Lynchian nightmare. The end of the book was a little disappointing, but the opening was one of the weirdest, creepiest things I've ever read.

Erinna Mettler's Starlings is a 'daisy-chain novel' set in Brighton. It's well researched and contains a fascinating range of characters and periods (although it did let itself down a little by not mentioning Crowley).

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi was a somewhat frustrating book, in that I hated the first half. I found its metafictional aspects glib and irritating and considered drowning it in the bath. I'm glad I didn't since the second part made up for it. Death In Varanasi was a fascinating description of a city I've visited in the past and where I plan to spend some time in 2012.

Another book which I half-liked was Cambodia: A book for people who find television too slow by Brian Fawcett. The book is once again divided into two. The top half is a collection of post-modern short-stories, some of which I found a little dated. The bottom section of each page contained a devasting analysis of the Khmer Rouge's atrocities and the West's response, .

I meant to write a long post about Jane Bussman's The Worst Date Ever, but that is currently lost in my drafts folder. Partly this is because the topics Bussman deals with are so huge. The Worst Date Ever is a clever book pretending to be dumb. It's very hard to talk about the book without getting trapped in complicated issues. In short: a celebrity journalist explores the conflict in Uganda. I regret not taking the time to finish my post about it and will try to do so in the Spring. It's well worth reading – I was shocked at the West's shameful complicity in the conflict.

Another book I failed to write about was Kenneth Goldsmith's Uncreative Writing. The book's title sounds like a gimmick but it is a fascinating and exciting account of what the Internet means for writing. Goldsmith started as a fine artist and this background gives him some amazing insights into where literature might be headed. It's surprising, approachable, fun.

I love pop-economics books and The Undercover Economist is one of the best I've read. The section of Fair-Trade coffee was particularly shocking. Grant Morrison's Supergods was just the mix of memoir, metafiction and comics criticism that I hoped for, and I'm looking forward to reading it again.

The book that's likely to have the most long-term effect on me is London Calling, Barry Miles' counter-cultural history of London. This is a fascinating history of underground movements in London during the  20th century. I read it on a beach in February and one particular paragraph stuck in my head, sparking some ideas that may take up much of the next few years:

"…with the coming of the Internet, underground publication has effectively disappeared. There can be no avant-garde unless there is a time-delay before the public knows what you are doing… whereas artists in the sixties could work for years with no media coverage, the hardest thing now is to not have thousands of hits on Google or a page on Wikipedia."

I received a Kindle as a Christmas gift. I'd always avoided them before, scared of being seduced, but it's going to come in very useful in my travels over the coming weeks (books are heavy). I suspect that it will change the way I read significantly. I'm looking forward seeing what is one my list of favourite books of 2012, and what form they take.

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