Dragons Galore: The Best-Selling Fiction Books of 2011

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The 2011 bestseller list was dominated by books that were pushed to the top by movie releases. But they all deserve to be there on their own merits anyway and many of the ones at the top of the list are different volumes in series and trilogies. That meant the top choices for 2011’s top five best-selling novels were clear.

5 The Hunger Games

Although this series is aimed at tweens and teens, when you hear what it’s about you’ll probably think you’re not old enough for that kind of thing. It describes a post-nuclear war North America, where a single city subjugates surrounding districts. Every year, each district is forced to send two teenagers to fight to the death in a giant booby-trapped arena while the whole thing is broadcast to the watching public. Although the potential was there for this book to feel distastefully voyeuristic, it actually manages to remain just within the bounds of good taste. Instead it is a less-than-subtle commentary on a superficial culture of materialism, marketing and reality TV. So while it may not be the most nuanced literature you’ve ever read, it’s still a step ahead of Twilight, the teen vampire romance it’s often compared with. Plus the main character is a seventeen year-old female Robin Hood, so what could be bad?

4 A Dance With Dragons

Although this one hasn’t been made into a movie just yet, it is the long-awaited fifth book in a series that is currently a popular TV show on HBO. Both the show and the novels are known for their length and their graphic and frequent depictions of violence and gore. This book continues to travel around a large and varied world, complete with varying cultures and climates, by presenting each chapter from the point of view of a different character. There is no safety in the thought that “He can’t die, he’s a main character” as the author, George R.R. Martin seems to have no problem killing people off right and left, which is probably easier to do when you seem to have a never-ending supply of people who can kick-ass.

3 Water for Elephants

If you ever want to be talked out of the idea of running away to join the circus, this book is for you. Granted, a lot’s changed since the 1930s: Animal Cruelty legislation has been passed and we’re not in the middle of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, the story rings true. We’ve still got cruel people, drunkards, jealous, love triangles and student loans. The story follows Jacob, whose parents are killed forcing him to drop out of veterinary school and join the circus, where he falls in love with the wife of the unstable head-trainer. After a series of violent and creepy incidents, everything comes to a climax one night during a performance when the animals stampede. Spoiler Alert: They then live happily ever after. Or at least until Jacob is 90 and gets stuck in a depressing nursing home. But we never claimed this would be a light-hearted tale.

2 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The first in a crime trilogy by Swedish journalist Steig Larsson, this book is a bit of a slow starter. But it picks up once the author gets past the backstory. This is a story of two people who each need some vengeance of their own while they investigate the history of a family with a fortune and a possible murder. Violence, kidnapping and rape are sprinkled liberally throughout the fairly creepy tale. Big chunks of the book are autobiographical but the author never got to see it in print. He died in 2004, one year before the novel was published in Swedish and four years before it was translated and became a worldwide hit.

1 The Help

The Help was actually released in 2009 but the film adaptation was released in 2011. The book tells the story of three women living in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. Two black housekeepers and a young white college graduate set out to write a book that will tell the stories of the domestic workers of Jackson. Although the book has been criticized for cleaning up the experiences of black women living in the South at the time, it doesn’t make any pretensions to being a historical tell-all. Instead it focuses on storytelling: What different perspectives a story can take, the motivation to tell your own story and the impact it can have.

Think we missed something from 2011? Let’s hear it!

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