Shelf Unbound Top 10 Books of 2011

Nov 23, 2011 11:53 AM EDT

Since November 26 is Small Business Saturday, why not include small presses? With that in mind, Shelf Unbound magazine is releasing our Top Small Press Books of 2011, as follows: 

Shelf Unbound book review magazine’s Top 10 Books of 2011

The e-book revolution may have closed Borders this year, but it opened borders for small and independent presses, giving them an unprecedented opportunity to reach a large, global audience. Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine is part of this digital revolution as well, with each issue going out to more than 100,000 readers in 17 countries. Shelf Unbound’s Top 10 Books of 2011 list includes works by both first-time and established authors, who offer new perspectives on art, reality, war, terror, and love.

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, Coffee House Press,  This cerebral comedy from first-time novelist Lerner explores the authenticity, or inauthenticity, of our relationships to art and to each other through the character of the brilliant, self-doubting Adam Gordon, a young poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid. The book is remarkable for its ability to be simultaneously warm, ruminative, heart-breaking, and funny.

Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus, Last Light Studio, The stories in Quiet Americans look at the impact of the Holocaust on generation after generation, starting in prewar Berlin and moving through time and family up to the present day. In such stories as “For Services Rendered, about a high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor before the war and the moral implications of the actions they take to survive, Dreifus writes with incredible emotional nuance and empathy.  

Airplane Novel by Paul A. Toth, Raw Dog Screaming Press, Is Airplane Novel the 9/11 novel? Perhaps. It certainly makes the short list. Toth brings new perspective to the events with a second tower omniscient narrator, the South Tower himself, who details his birth, life, and death from his singular, elevated vantage point.

Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat, Princeton University Press, In Create Dangerously, a powerful collection of personal essays on writing and exile, Haitian American author Danticat details atrocities in her country of origin and her experience as an immigrant living in one world and tied to and haunted by another. Dandicat writes of such gut-wrenching events as execution, assassination, and torture with such impeccable sobriety as to bring the reader in, to add another eyewitness to tragedy.

The Samaritan by Fred Venturini, Blank Slate Press, A can’t-get-laid coming-of-age tale takes a sharp turn into sci-fi territory when the main character, Dale Sampson, discovers he has the ability to regenerate his own organs and body parts. Fred Venturini does an interesting thing, though, with his over-the-top premise: He keeps his focus on character development, so that you start to care about Sampson and the perpetual breaking of his heart.

Damascus by Joshua Mohr, Two Dollar Radio, Mohr accomplishes the feat of bringing a pathetic dying man, an alcoholic semi-prostitute, and a naïve performance artist to full literary life while intelligently exploring various viewpoints on the war in Iraq. “I hope you dig it,” Mohr says at the front of the book. And we do, indeed, dig Damascus, another stellar offering from Two Dollar Radio.

Iraq: Perspectives, photographs by Benjamin Lowy, Duke University Press, Lowy’s photographs of both daily life and the terror of warfare were taken through the windows of a Humvee and through military-issue night vision goggles. They provide a revealing perspective on what he describes as “the fear and desperation that is war.” The book is the winner of the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography.

Repeat It Today with Tears by Anne Peile, Serpent’s Tail, “The first time I kissed my father on the mouth it was the Easter holiday, the book begins. You know right away where this is going, so when it gets there it is not particularly shocking. Peile under-sensationalizes the mechanics of the incest, the inherent lewdness, focusing instead on drawing an observant portrait of the emotional complexity of young Susanna, who grows up desperate for the love of her perfect, absent father. And then finds him, and his love, or at least, in her mind, an approximation of such. Nominated for the Orange Prize, Read It Today with Tears is an elegantly written, tender, memorable book – a marvel.

Exit by Nelly Arcan, Anvil Press, Nelly Arcan explores depression and suicide in her fifth novel, Exit, completed a few days before Arcan killed herself at age 36. The book’s narrator, Antoinette Beauchamp, immerses the reader in her own pain, which she describes as “unremitting in [its] darkness and exhausting like a swarm of bees that is impossible to brush aside with the back of your hand without getting stung, eaten.” Exit is a dark, moving read, made all the more so by the author’s decision to let Antoinette ultimately desire life, when she herself could not.

The Final Appearance of America’s Favorite Girl Next Door by Stephen Stark, Shelf Media Group, In this sexy, edgy, literary page-turner, New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year author Stark explores love, loss, and multiple realities. Pushcart Prize winner Laura Kasischke calls the book “entertaining, thought-provoking, and beautiful – like no novel you’ve read.” (Disclaimer: The Final Appearance is the first e-book from Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound magazine, but we couldn’t leave it off this list. Read an author interview and sample chapter here:


Shelf Unbound book review magazine is published six times a year by Shelf Media Group. Subscriptions are free; sign up at For more information, contact publisher Margaret Brown,

Media contact: Margaret Brown, publisher, Shelf Unbound,, 972.375.4956

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