Local picks for best book of '11

When I emailed some of my news contacts and friends asking them for their best book recommendations for 2011, I had so much fun reading their responses, it was like opening an early Christmas present.


When I emailed some of my news contacts and friends asking them for their best book recommendations for 2011, I had so much fun reading their responses, it was like opening an early Christmas present.

We'd love to know what your favorite books of 2011 are.

Share them with us here .

Note: Not all of these "best books of 2011" came out in 2011. I thought about limiting the recommendations to books published in 2011 only, then decided I was not the book police, so here are all the responses, largely unedited.

Here are our readers' best book recommendations.


- Kathy Coudle-King: I read a lot of non-fiction this year in preparation for my play about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I found it fascinating reading, but not sure how many others would. Recently, however, I snuck in some fiction before the grading of comp papers got too heavy. "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" was delightful. It's a time-travel book set in Wales. A boy travels back and forth from present day to September 1940 when the school was bombed by the Germans. The book has black and white photos in it of the "peculiar children." The children have unique abilities, such as levitation. I didn't LOVE the ending, but it was satisfying. I read that Tim Burton was looking at directing the movie version. But don't wait to see the movie! Read this book by Ransom Riggs. (Coudle-King is a senior lecturer in the UND Department of English, director of UND Moviemaking Camp, a playwright and executive director of Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre)

- Terry Dullum: Although I didn't read many "new" books this year for some reason, I would recommend "In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin" by Erik Larson. It's the story of Chicago professor William E. Dodd who was named America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany and who moved his family to Berlin in 1933. Like Larson's "Devil in the White City," about a Chicago serial killer during the 1893 World's Fair, it's history that reads like really good fiction. (Dullum is a television reporter for WDAZ)

- Marcia Mikulak: The best book I read in 2011 was "The Disappeared" by Kim Echlin written in 2009 and published by Abacus. It is a simply written but powerfully told story of a young girl who fell in love with an exiled musician from Cambodia, who fled during Pol Pot's horrific regime. The book, more than any other one I have read, captures the horror and beauty of the fragility of life. (Mikulak is an associate professor in the UND Department of Anthropology)

- Cindy Jensen: My favorite read of the year was "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. I loved this fictional story of Southern women and their "help" before the Civil Rights movement era. I found the book heartwarming, sad, full of social injustice, friendships, and humor. I read this book with my Book Club (members Dianne Johnke, Nancy Yoshida, Stacy Jensen, and Idette Graham) and it was a great book to discuss and reflect upon with friends. (Jensen is a teacher at Grand Forks South Middle School)

- Rita Haag: "Before I Go to Sleep" S.J. Watson. This book's characters were so real I felt like calling the main character. The premise is that because of a traumatic incident in her life, when the main character falls into a deep sleep, she completely loses her memory. Every day she awakes with no memory of her husband, life before the morning or of anything she has done. Her patient husband starts new each day with her, rebuilding her life but from his perspective. As a psychiatrist comes into her life and works with her by means of keeping a journal, she begins to build a background, and more importantly, a base with which to start each day. But as her journaling rebuilds her life it also highlights inconsistencies that throw her and the reader off balance. The poor reader is not certain who to trust and what story to believe. By the end a deep breath is needed as one evaluates trust and relationships in our transparent world. (Haag is volunteer coordinator at East Grand Forks Campbell Library)

- Paul Boese: The best book I read in 2011 was a biography, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" by Eric Metaxes. (Boese is an orchestra instructor for the Grand Forks Public Schools and a member of the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra)

- Tami Pearson: I read the Hunger Games trilogy: "The Hunger Games," "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay." Loved the books! (Pearson is director of marketing at the Alerus Center)

- Matthew Peterson: The best new book I read in 2011 was "Shadow Tag" by Louise Erdrich, a powerful new novel by a North Dakota raised writer. The title refers to an American Indian game where two opponents attempt to stomp on the other's shadow, and the soul within that shadow. This is a metaphor for the troubled marriage of the two main characters, Gil and Irene America. This American Indian artist/scholar couple live in Minneapolis with their three children, and the book chronicles a disturbing domestic war and its fallout. Perhaps drawing from Erdrich's own experiences with her ex-husband Michael Dorris, the book is her stunning, personal portrayal of the universal tragedy of spoiled love. (Peterson, a Grand Forks native, is a composer who lives in Stockholm, Sweden)


- Janine Webb: I would have to say the coffee table book by Clay Jenkinson, "A Free and Hardy Life - Teddy Roosevelt's Sojourn in the American West." Wonderful images throughout the book and, if you're a Roosevelt fan, a great deal of information on his life that includes his stay in North Dakota. (Webb, of Bismarck, is executive director of North Dakota Council on the Arts)

- Jack Russell Weinstein: The best book I read this year is a remarkable new history of World War One, "To End All Wars" by Adam Hochschild. It tells the story of the war by intertwining the stories of the peace activists and the advocates of the war. If I had to pick a second, I'd pick Steven Pinker book, "The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined." I read that for the radio show. (Weinstein is professor of philosophy at UND, director of the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life and host of the "Why?" radio show)

- Wendy Pederson: " The Girl's Guide to Homelessness" by Briana Karp. It's the memoir of a girl who in many ways could be any of us. She had a job, friends, a beloved (and large) dog, and a home until she lost her job when the economy turned for the worse. It was just six months from security and a paycheck, to living in an inherited camping trailer. However, this book isn't a downer. Briana started a blog that ultimately led to work & has become an activist for the homeless. Another book: "Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher. A high school aged boy comes home one day to find a box has been mailed to him. Inside are cassette tapes, recorded by a schoolmate detailing why she recently committed suicide. This book gripped me. Hard. I could barely put it down and finished it in a day. Marketed to young adults, this book is not just for tweens and teens but for anyone who lives or works with them as well. (Pederson is office manager for Jim Donahue Insurance Agency in Grand Forks)

- Susan Thompson Underdahl: I would say the best book was the young adult sci-fi novel, "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. It depicts a post-apocalyptic world in which randomly-selected teenagers from different districts are pitted against each other annually for a publicly-televised fight-to-the-death competition. Not only is it a compelling story reminiscent of Stephen King's "The Running Man:" and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," but also a commentary on where we might be headed as an increasingly voyeuristic society. ?The Hunger Games" is the first book in Collins' trilogy, followed by "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay," but of the three books in the series, I enjoyed the first book the most. (Thompson Underdahl is an author of "Summer on Lake Tulaby" and "The Other Sister," a clinical neuropsychologist and a clinical supervisor of graduate students at UND)

- Christopher Jacobs: I actually haven't gotten around to reading a compete new book in 2011 other than my own (co-written with Bill Goodykoontz), "Film: From Watching to Seeing," published earlier this year by Bridgepoint Education specifically for Ashford University's Intro to Film course. The best new book I've started to read is "The Fox Film Corporation, 1915-1935: A History and Filmography" by Aubrey Solomon. (Jacobs is a filmmaker and instructor for Intro to Film and other classes in the UND Department of English)

- Alexander Platt: Definitely Max Hastings' "Faces of World War II." (Platt is musical director of the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra)

- Naomi Dunavan: The best book I've read in 2011, without a doubt, is "Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever," by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. I did not know that I could lose myself in the details of the Civil War until I picked up this book. If I had had this book in high school I might have been more interested in all of history. Things that hit me the most: After Lincoln was shot and the several doctors surrounding his chair in the theater box ascertained that he needed to lie down someone suggested taking him next door -- which happened to be a tavern. "No," said another. "Our beloved president will not die in a saloon." I have been to Ford's Theater in Washington D.C., and to the room in a boarding house where Lincoln was taken and where he would die in a matter of hours. This book brings to life all of that plus the vivid details of the bloodiest war in U.S. history. I was captivated by how peaceful was Robert E. Lee's eventual surrender to Ulysses S. Grant and by how many people were co-conspirators with John Wilkes Booth in Lincoln's assassination. "Killing Lincoln," is a must read. (Dunavan is a writer and a Herald columnist)

- Anita Poss: The children's book "Three Hens and a Peacock" by Lester L. Laminack is a beautifully illustrated contemporary fable for pre-schoolers and early elementary age children. The fable centers on wanting what others have and using your own talents to make a contribution. (Poss is program coordinator at East Grand Forks Campbell Library)


- Kate Wilson: With 100 straight weeks on the New York Times' Bestsellers List, "The Glass Castle," a memoir by Jeannette Walls, is a book that has made the biggest impact on me this year. When I was a little girl, I struggled greatly with reading and it was because of the encouragement and support from my teachers and family that I was able to not only overcome the obstacle but develop a love for reading. "The Glass Castle" is about a young girl who grew up in poverty, around a very unstable family, and surrounded by challenges much larger than mine. I admire the author for living such an inspired life and for writing in a beautifully straight-forward way. This reminds me of the blessings in my life. The greatest blessing is my support system, my family and friends that were there for me when I was overcoming my first life obstacle of reading and now continue to be there for me as I begin my journey in the Miss America Organization as Miss Grand Forks 2012. This year, I hope to use my love for reading to inspire audiences of all ages. (Wilson is a student at UND and Miss Grand Forks 2012 who supports a platform of literacy)

- Bruce Gjovig: "Early Exits: Exit Strategies for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors," by Basil Petgers. Other authors have written about how to invest in private companies, but Peters in one of the few who has outlined how to get your money back out of a venture in three years or so, and how to prepare for the exit. Often books are written for one side or the other, but Peters wrote the playbook for both the entrepreneur and the angel investor, aligning their interests. He also introduced the concept of making an early exit (that is an early return) by thinking about the time value of money along with ROI. We are so used to thinking about the big exit, we forget to think about the advantages of an early exit. With so much emphasis in entrepreneurship on startup and financing, it was refreshing to read about successful harvesting, (Gjovig is entrepreneur coach and director, UND Center for Innovation, Grand Forks)

- Heidi Czerwiec: "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell. I fell in love with Karen Russell's work after reading her collection of short stories, "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves," and fell madly in love with Karen herself when she participated in the 2009 Writers Conference. This is her first novel, and expands the first story from St. Lucy's, "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," into a fully imagined world. Also, "On the Outskirts of Normal" by Debra Monroe -- this memoir, of a single middle-aged woman in rural Texas adopting and raising a black baby girl had me equal parts laughing and crying. And one more: "Hot Sonnets," edited by Moira Egan. This anthology of sexy sonnets written by contemporary women takes a form that traditionally makes the female an aloof object and turns it on its raunchy head. (Czerwiec is associated professor of English at UND and co-director of the UND Writers Conference)

- Ann Porter: "The Faith Club: A Muslim, a Christian, a Jew--Three Women Search For Understanding," by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner. These young women began their faith journey together to write a children's book about the connectedness of their three different faiths. However, they soon found they struggled with their own preconceived notions about their faith and the faith of others. Thus, it began. As they read, researched, and had monthly conversations, faith and friendship grew. So, my faith deepened. My hope is that they will write that children's book. (Porter is a retired educator)

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