The Most Criminally Overlooked Books of 2011


Unfortunately, hundreds of great books come out every year to little or no critical attention, a fate that is perhaps unavoidable given just how many books are published all over the world (hundreds of bad books come out to no acclaim either, but no one really minds about them). Perhaps at the crucial moment, a critic finds himself too busy with the most recent Franzen behemoth or the latest posthumous sensation to notice a little book that flits across his desk, or perhaps (and we know this to be the case) there’s simply not enough space or time for her to talk about every book she’d like to. Of course, for any one person, the amount of hype a book gets is, to a certain extent, subjective — that is, it depends on which media outlets you pay attention to. So in an effort to draw your attention to a few books that we felt didn’t get quite enough hype in the last twelve months, click through to check out our list of the ten most overlooked books of 2011, and let us know which diamonds in the rough you’ve uncovered this year in the comments.

Luminous Airplanes , Paul La Farge

La Farge’s newest novel, which he has dubbed a “hyperromance,” is accompanied by an entire universe of “immersive text” at the book’s website, which expands on the printed book in all directions, a seemingly infinite web that can be explored in any direction. Even if this weren’t the case, La Farge’s prose is a delight: deft, sharp and thoughtful — he is a writer’s writer in many ways, but he’s also a reader’s writer. And don’t worry, you don’t have to finish all of the Internet stuff. But you might want to.

Popular Hits of the Showa Era , Ryu Murakami

Haruki wasn’t the only Murakami to come out with a fantastic novel this year. Six loser teenage guys who’ve “given up on committing positively to anything in life” battle six divorcées, an increasingly bloody war that goes on, it seems, mostly because it’s something for them all to do. Irreverent and hilarious, we are constantly amazed that this author hasn’t ever really hit it big in America.

Zazen , Vanessa Veselka

In an alternative universe that seems always moments away from utter disaster, Della is a 27-year-old paleontologist-cum-waitress at the vegan diner. With the world crumbling around her, Della begins to poke at its edges, trying to destroy herself as much as she is trying to survive, each impulse tied to the other. Vital and explosive, this book is not to be missed.

[sic] , Joshua Cody

Though perhaps slightly less overlooked than others we will mention (this book alone on our list received a notable book hat-tip from The New York Times), we haven’t heard half as many people talking about this memoir as we should. In it, a mildly perverse young musical prodigy is struck down by aggressive cancer and must drag himself back up tooth and nail. But don’t be fooled — this memoir is not your typical illness auto-biography. Instead it is wild and nebulous, feverish and winkingly self-conscious and yes, quite good.

Remembrance of Things I Forgot: A Novel , Bob Smith

In this mildly science fictional tale, a man decides to break up with his boyfriend on the same day said boyfriend invents a time machine. So maybe there’s hope for them after all — and a way to keep George W. Bush from becoming president in the process. As far as description, we must yield the floor to the book’s blurb, courtesy of Edmund White: “If H. G. Wells had been funny and Oscar Wilde obsessed with time travel they might have mated and produced Bob Smith, who has written the funniest and wildest ride imaginable through the recent past and near future.”

The Call , Yannick Murphy

Again, we admit that this book hasn’t been completely overlooked, but then again, we’re not sure even mountains of praise could ever do it justice — as far as we’re concerned, this subtle, beautifully rendered novel is one of the best books of the year. When the eldest son of a family in rural New England is left in a coma after a hunting accident, the father, who tells the story through his daily log, must keep the family together at all costs. Though in the hands of another writer this tale of family and small-town life could become sentimental, Murphy’s prose is extraordinarily sharp, tender without being too sweet, dark and wonderful.

Everything Happens Today , Jesse Browner

Here are the things that will happen to Wes today: “he will lose his virginity to the wrong girl and break his own heart, try to meet a Monday morning deadline for a paper on War and Peace, and prepare an elaborate supper he hopes will reunite his family.” A new and wonderful installment in the much-loved teen angst genre, Everything Happens Today‘s Wes is a much-more-lovable Holden Caulfield with a penchant for French cuisine.

Unpossible , Daryl Gregory

Gregory’s first collection of stories, featuring two brand new tales, is full of wonderful, unpredictable characters, from superhero sidekicks to teenagers on futuristic drugs. Largely science-fictional and fantastical, Gregory’s playful use of language and deeply human sentiments make each page a delight.

The Samaritan by Fred Venturini

Dale Sampson has no luck with anything — ailing mother, absent father, can’t even talk to a girl without a major disaster. But he does have one special quality: the ability to regrow his limbs and organs. Well. This funny, awkward first novel of friendship, love, and trying to be a superhero is brutally honest about the human condition, and about the things that both do and don’t grow back.

Bohemian Girl , Terese Svoboda

In 1861, Harriet’s father sells her to a Native American man to settle a gambling debt. She escapes, and tramps through a bleak and beautiful picture of the American West, searching for her good-for-nothing father, trading and exploring and adventuring all the way, a tough heroine for the ages.