December 26, 2011 12:00 PM

The Sense of an Ending

by Julian Barnes

1 2011’s Booker winner follows a middle-aged Brit’s slow awakening to the crimes and self-delusions of his past. That long-ago ex who jilted him? The friend who just drifted away? Turns out things weren’t quite so simple. Barnes’s taut, incisive novel reminds us that when it comes to the stories we tell ourselves, unreliable narration is the rule.


by Tina Fey

2 “It’s so hard to believe it’s 2011 already,” Fey confides. “I’m still writing ‘Tina Fey, grade 4, room 207’ on all my checks!” Even harder to believe: that the 30 Rock star was once the hairy, sweaty mess described in her hilarious memoir. She shares pictures to prove it-and it’s nice to learn that she wasn’t spared an awkward phase. (Hint: Unless you like how you look when you fall over laughing, read this one at home.)

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

by Rob Lowe

3 A teen idol and a Brat Pack mainstay, Lowe went on to acclaim in The West Wing and showcases his comic chops on Parks and Recreation. This year fantastic storytelling got added to the mix. From his Malibu childhood with those wacky Sheen brothers to encounters with Tom Cruise and JFK Jr., Lowe’s tales are smart, funny, irresistible. He’s candid about his scary-good looks-and their downside. No one would take a “boy as pretty as I was seriously,” he writes. This memoir dispels any lingering doubts.

The Family Fang

by Kevin Wilson

4 The Fang kids grew up serving as props for their parents’ performance art-pretending to be lost at malls, cross dressing for beauty pageants, that kind of thing. Wilson’s delightfully quirky novel makes their path from devotion to outrage and beyond seem completely relatable.

Then Again

by Diane Keaton

5 As revealed in these pages, Keaton both is and isn’t what you’d expect: kooky and self-deprecating like Annie Hall, but also articulate and remarkably candid (she was so blown away by kissing Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give that she kept forgetting her lines). It’s pure delight.

The Stranger’s Child

by Alan Hollinghurst

6 Poet Cecil Valance charms everyone he meets, including the Cambridge classmate he’s been sleeping with and the classmate’s sister, who doesn’t realize Cecil’s gay. Hollinghurst’s captivating novel moves from pre-World War I England to the present, tracing the damage Cecil leaves in his wake and its reverberating effects.

Steve Jobs

by Walter Isaacson

7 The brilliant innovator, the adoring husband, the spiritual seeker, the brutal boss-Isaacson’s page-turner of a biography helps make sense of Apple’s multifaceted founder.

State of Wonder

by Ann Patchett

8 Sent to the steamy, buggy Amazon to track down her former mentor, pharmacologist Marina Singh uncovers Heart of Darkness-like secrets. The Bel Canto author’s latest is a captivating adventure.

In Zanesville

by Jo Ann Beard

9 Adolescence is like white-water rafting: Some people hold on tight, some go with the flow, some panic and tumble overboard. From its seductive opening line-“We can’t believe the house is on fire”-to its redemptive final pages, Beard’s mesmerizing novel about misfit girls in ’70s Illinois captures the thrill and terror of the ride.

The Paris Wife

by Paula McLain

10 What was life like for the first Mrs. Ernest Hemingway? In McLain’s delicious reimagining, you can almost taste the croissants.

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