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Top Ten Reads of 2011

People often ask what I’m reading, and one of my resolutions for 2012 is to be better about posting recommendations to my Facebook and Twitter feeds. It’s a challenge, though, because like most serious readers, I’ve usually got more than one book going at once. I read a lot, and I read for many different reasons — not just for pleasure, but for research, to prepare for events, to give blurbs or write reviews, and so on.

Looking back on what I read in 2011, it’s hard to narrow things down to a “Ten Best” list — but here is a list of books that deserve your attention.

THE AFFAIR by Lee Child. If Lee Child weren’t such a good guy, I’d have to hate him. Thriller heroes don’t get any better than Jack Reacher. This book is a fascinating look at Reacher’s past, before he became the man without an address.

SWEET JUDY BLUE EYES: My Life in Music by Judy Collins. A fearless and graceful memoir by a woman I’m proud to call my friend — but even if I didn’t know her, I’d be fascinated by this amazing life. I had the chance to interview her a few weeks ago for The Daily Beast.

THE TRINITY SIX by Charles Cumming. Don’t let anyone tell you the golden age of the spy novel is over. This is a terrific old-school espionage thriller, in the tradition of John Le Carre and Charles McCarry.

LOVE YOU MORE by Lisa Gardner. A gripping thriller that focuses on two very different female protagonists: State Trooper Tessa Leoni, who claims to have shot her husband in self-defense, and Detective D.D. Warren, whose sympathy for Trooper Leoni won’t keep her from digging up the truth.

JUST MY TYPE: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield. Even if you don’t share my passion for fonts, you’ll find this history of print types both entertaining and educational.

LAST CALL: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent. The incredible true story of the passage, enforcement and eventual repeal of the 18th Amendment, with enough great stories to fuel several years of new cable TV series.

THE CUT by George Pelecanos. George Pelecanos is a crime writer’s crime writer. The Cut is the first book in what I hope will be a new series featuring Iraq war veteran Spero Lucas, who’s now working as a private investigator for a defense attorney. He specializes in recovering stolen property; “the cut” is the 40% he gets as a reward.

MAKING TOAST by Roger Rosenblatt. This book actually came out in 2010, but somehow I missed it until this year. It’s the saddest, happiest book I read all year, a memoir of how veteran journalist Roger Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, join their son-in-law, Harris, to help raise their three grandchildren after the sudden death of Roger and Ginny’s daughter, Amy. After I finished this book, I wanted to give it to everyone I knew. You’ll want to, too.

BRINGING ADAM HOME: The Abduction that Changed America by Les Standiford and Joe Matthews. Six-year-old Adam Walsh disappeared from a Sears store in 1981. At some point after that, he was murdered. It took 25 years to find the man who did it. This is not only a true-crime police procedural but social history, and beautifully written.

SATORI by Don Winslow. Only a master would dare write a sequel to Trevanian’s Shibumi, but Don Winslow is more than up to the task. In the fall of 1951, the CIA turns to assassin Nicholai Hei, who has been its prisoner for three years, with an offer Hei can’t refuse: kill the Soviet commissioner to China in exchange for his freedom.

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