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Top Ten of 2011
Teresa Weaver picks Georgia’s best books of the year
[TOP FIVE FICTION]
Paradise Dogs by Man Martin (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press)
DeKalb County schoolteacher Martin follows up Days of the Endless Corvette with this comic caper set in pre-Disney Central Florida. His bumbling hero, Adam Newman, springs from an imagination somewhere between Carl Hiaasen and A Confederacy of Dunces.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “His peeling scalp clung to a few strands of red hair as fine as cornsilk floating up from his head; his nose had been mashed out of shape and one ear slightly cauliflowered from fistfights at Sisters of Mercy Academy . . . his head looked like a beach ball someone had partially inflated before giving up.”
Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The author of The Creation of Eve offers another lush, beautifully crafted historical novel set in sixteenth-
century Spain. Cullen’s inspiration was Queen Juana, who spent four decades confined in the palace.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “A birdcage might be gilded, but it is still a cage. And so it is said of the palace at Tordesillas. For all its lovely balconies overlooking the churning waters of the Duero, its sun-warmed tile roofs, its royal pennants of scarlet and gold snapping merrily in the breeze, the townsfolk know the true purpose of the building. This is why farmers cross themselves as they pass before it with their wagonloads of wheat.”
The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen (Mulholland Books)
In a genre-bending, time-jumping futuristic thriller, Decatur author Mullen has great literary fun as the fate of Earth hangs in the balance.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “At the Mall this afternoon, the tourists around me snapped pictures and struck poses in front of their inflated tributes to former presidents and judges and warriors. I tried to enjoy this unprecedented ability to tour an ancient time, to take in wonders that would soon cease to exist.”
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
In her third novel, the author of Leaving Atlanta explores two parallel lives on an emotional collision course, told by the very different daughters of a bigamist.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “It was not love at first sight, at least not on my mother’s part. She didn’t meet my father and feel a shift in her personal chemistry or a change in the rhythm that connected her heart to the rest of
her body . . . What she had with my father was a sort of creeping love, the kind that sinks in before you know it and makes a family of you.”
The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams (Bantam Books)
In the first of a projected series of thrillers, Williams introduces a fascinating, deeply flawed character named Keye Street, a former FBI criminal profiler and recovering drunk.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “More than thirty years ago, I sat on an old tiled floor watching as my grandparents’ blood drained from them and pooled up around me. I don’t really remember them or anything much before that moment. It’s like being born into a crime scene at five years old.”
[TOP FIVE NONFICTION]
American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare—The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott (Random House)
Former Atlantan Abbott teases out some truths behind the entertainer’s outsized personality while painting an indelible portrait of her times.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “A forty-foot-tall billboard flaunting her image looms above the entrance, those skyscraper legs and swerving hips a respite from the hard lines and stark angles of this futuristic fantasy. She wears an expression both impish and imperious, a baited half smile that summons them closer yet suggests they’ll never arrive.”
Burial for a King: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Funeral and the Week That Transformed Atlanta and Rocked the Nation by Rebecca Burns (Scribner)
The former editor in chief of Atlanta magazine re-creates in intricate detail one extraordinary week in the history of a city and a nation.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “When the procession reached Morehouse, so many people had crowded around the mule wagon that the coffin could not easily be removed. ‘Stay back!’ marshals called out. People pressed closer and closer, towering over the King children, who were shoved up toward the back of the wagon. Dexter and Bunny held hands, staring straight ahead at the back of the wooden mule wagon as the adults shouted back and forth in the space over their heads.”
In the Time of Bobby Cox: The Atlanta Braves, Their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades, and Me by Lang Whitaker (Scribner)
A smart, semiobsessive sportswriter charts his own life by the stars of his favorite team.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “We are in this together: Bobby, the players, and me. Whether they know it or not, they need me as much as I need them. Because if I don’t watch every game, if I don’t stand and cheer in my living room, if I don’t work the home plate umpire, if I don’t call out suggestions at the televised image of Bobby Cox, the Braves just might fall completely apart.”
No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene (Sarah Crichton Books)
Best known for writing about civil rights and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Greene shares the amazing story taking shape right under her own roof, as she and her husband supplement their four growing children with five “ringers” adopted from Ethiopia and Bulgaria.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “This is my twenty-first year in elementary school. For twenty-one years, I’ve carried in cupcakes, enclosed checks, and provided emergency phone numbers. I have staple-gunned and hot-glued. I have given standing ovations, volunteered at the school library, and stood in the cafeteria line as the servers dropped balls of Thanksgiving-flavored foods from ice-cream scoops onto my wet tray.”
Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America by Cameron McWhirter (Henry Holt and Co.)
In this absorbing history, a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal investigates the complex events—an explosion of white violence and black resistance—that would become the civil rights movement.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “In the late morning of this particular April Sunday, Joe Ruffin was the embodiment of this new class, having spent a lifetime navigating the racial restrictions of Southern life . . . By the late afternoon of that April 13, however, almost every white man in Jenkins County wanted Joe Ruffin dead.”