Priscilla Nielsen for NPR
In the course of a year, I read and review scores of books. Because I carefully preselect those of greatest interest to me (and, I hope, other readers), most are pretty good, even if they don't fully hit their marks. But by year's end, only a handful have really stayed with me. The five books below — three novels, a memoir and a nonfiction narrative — top my list of keepers published in 2011. While it's no surprise that Julian Barnes and Joan Didion produced books to have and to hold onto, it's the serendipitous finds like Ali Smith's fifth novel, Chad Harbach's first, and Donovan Hohn's Melvillean quest for rubber duckies lost at sea that bring special pleasure. What they have in common is that I've continued to think about all of them long after turning the last page.