Books of the Year 2011

The Atlantic’s literary editor picks the five best of the crop.

By Benjamin Schwarz

The Hare With Amber Eyes
Edmund de Waal
FSG

This rueful family memoir is also a vividly episodic history of 19th- and 20th-century Europe, and a plangent consideration of the pleasures and fleetingness of aesthetic and familial happiness.

Letters to Monica
Philip Larkin, edited by Anthony Thwaite
Faber and Faber

Even as this book chronicles an almost passionless and far from conventionally happy relationship, it yields moments of exquisite tenderness and acuity, while obliquely showing the civilizing effect that even the most trying woman can exert on even the most impossible man.

The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan
Richard Nickel and Aaron Siskind, with John Vinci and Ward Miller
Richard Nickel Committee

This publishing feat illuminates some of the most beautiful and influential art that America has produced. With painstaking clarity, it reveals the ways Adler and Sullivan balanced the severe, massive elegance of their façades with the rhythmic grace of their exuberant, often whimsical ornament.

Saints and Sinners: Stories
Edna O’Brien
Back Bay

In prose as rich as loam, O’Brien discerns the various drives that coexist amid the welter of human behavior. The world she summons is a piercingly beautiful combination of yearning and disappointment, violence and endurance.

Emily, Alone
Stewart O’Nan
Viking

With this quietly devastating, precisely observed novel that traces the course of three-quarters of a year near the end—but decidedly not at the end—of a widow’s long life, O’Nan, too long overlooked, has firmly established his place as one of our finest and most humane novelists.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/12/books-of-the-year-2011/308712/