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GOOD editors are constantly reading the latest news, but they also manage to squeeze in some pleasure reading every now and then. Check out their favorite books of 2011.
Amanda Hess, lifestyle editor
by Joan Didion
$25.00. Knopf. 208 pages.
In Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Joan described herself as "so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests." That admission has only grown more interesting since Joan placed herself as the main subject of her own work. In her latest memoir—exploring the death of her only daughter, and her own mortality, too—Joan dances between building and shaking down her legacy.
Megan Greenwell, managing editor
The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
$25.99. Little, Brown and Company. 528 pages.
"It's hard not to be romantic about baseball," Brad Pitt says while playing Billy Beane in the movie Moneyball. Even non-baseball fans will be taken with the beauty of the game in this debut novel from Chad Harbach, a founder of n+1. Although some of the action takes place on the field and the clubhouse, The Art of Fielding isn't, at its core, about baseball at all—it's about college and the Midwest and friendship and America and love and being young. As someone who tries to make sports haters care about sports every week, I'm in awe of Harbach's mastery of the form.
Ann Friedman, executive editor
by John Jeremiah Sullivan
$16.00. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 384 pages.
My favorite narrative nonfiction collection of the year.
Zak Stone, The Daily GOOD editor
State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett
$26.99. Harper. 368 pages.
When I received this book in the mail from my best friend's mom, my first thought was "Oh no." I knew of Patchett's last book, Bel Canto, as a favorite of every mom's book club and assumed this novel would only appeal to lovers of The Help. But by the time I had read ten pages of State of Wonder, I was hooked. Turns out it's a contemporary take on a jungle adventure story. A page-turner but so serious and tense, I found myself comparing it to Heart of Darkness (if ivory traders were replaced with scientists, and the setting shifted from the Congo to the Amazon).
Liz Dwyer, education editor
The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Invisible Journey from Black to White
by Daniel J. Sharfstein
$27.95. The Penguin Press HC. 416 pages.
This is one of the best books I've read in years. In tracing the journey of three families from being identified as black to being seen as white, Sharfstein demonstrates why the way we perceive and use race is an illusion. We tend to think that racial identity is governed by hard and fast rules, but this book shows that that's not the case—there are more families in America who've made the journey from black to white than anybody realizes.
Tim Fernholz, business editor
by Haruki Murakami
$30.50. Knopf. 944 pages.
This book is pretty much obligatory for a year-end guide, but there's a reason: It's quite good! Murakami's latest opus brings the author's compelling, hypnotic style to a tale of cults, writing, murder and love set in Japan in 1984... or is it?
Nona Willis Aronowitz, associate editor
A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan
$14.95. Anchor. 352 pages.
Okay, okay, this book came out in 2010, but I snapped it up when it was published in paperback this year, so I'm counting it. This novel rounds up many of my guilty and unguilty pleasures—time travel, music, 1970s California—and weaves them together in one wonderful mindfuck. In Good Squad, impatient hope and cranky nostalgia come from the same people. I think we can all relate to that.