And the winner is....1984 by George Orwell!
Ok, I'm kidding. I thought about doing that, but that wouldn't exactly be fair since I read it nearly annually, and it would be the best book I read every year.
This was actually a lot harder than I thought once I went back to view my list of books I read in 2011. I think I have to go with A World Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips. I've already written a review here. So, I don't think I need to say anything more about it. Everyone should read it though. I'm serious. Everyone.
I had a few runners up that I could talk about though. I very nearly picked What is the What by Dave Eggers. This is the account of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee to Ethiopia (and eventually America) during the First Sudanese Civil War. The book is sold as a work of fiction, but Deng is a real life refugee, who is now a public speaker to bring awareness to the plight of a post-conflict Sudan. He was a very young man when the events of the book took place, and due to the nature of memory he decided not to market his story as non-fiction.
The story opens with Deng being robbed in his temporary home in Atlanta Georgia. The book skips back and forth in time to Deng's childhood in Sudan and Deng's adult life in America as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
This isn't a pleasant book, but it's a book I don't think anyone should skip. There is quite a bit of violence (one should expect this...from a book about a war) and some amount of language. There is also an incredible story of a young boy making his way across a war torn country in constant danger of losing his own life and the lives of the other boys who come with him. It's definitely one of those eye-opening reads that make you so thankful for what we have and more compassionate to those less well off.
One note of negativity though: It's called The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng but it really ought to be called The Biography of Valentino Achak Deng. It's written in his voice (supposedly) but it's definitely written BY Mr. Eggers. I'm not sure what I thought about that...
Also in the running was America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro-Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge. Listen, don't knock it till you try it. And don't try it till you are a football fan (I realize some of us will have to wait till the second coming when your minds will be redeemed, but still...). This book charts the rise of the National Football League's slow encroachment on baseball as America's sport and it's march into the hearts and minds and television sets of modern day Americans. Beginning in the 1920s, the book takes us through the NFL's early struggles to get off the ground in a world skeptical of the drama and violence of a pro-football league and much more comfortable with the saner world of college ball. Some of the early characters in the shaping of the world of pro-football like Pete Rozelle, Bert Bell, Wellington Mara, and George Halas. The book takes the reader through the lean, mean 1980s where the NFL very nearly fell apart due to scandals, infighting, and lawsuits, and up through the present day.
There are so many things I learned from this book! There is a link between the popularity of the television and the rise of the NFL, which produced a game more suited to television. This made complete sense in my mind, but it wasn't something I put together until after read it. Also, I learned that the very first time hotels in Florida was when a team came to Florida with African-American players, and the coach insisted on keeping his team together. At the forefront of equality between players was coach Paul Brown ( founder of the Cincinnati Bengals and coach of the Cleveland Browns back when the Browns were good) who only wanted good players on his team regardless of color.
I could continue raving about this book, but I have a feeling I've already bored about half (if not all) my readership. ANYWAY...I can't endorse this enough.
I read many other good books last year, but I couldn't think of anymore that I'd tout as GREAT or BEST books I read last year. I'd love to hear the best ones you read last year and why.