The best book I read is actually not yet in print. Wait for it! But here are the highlights--in no particular order--of what money can buy.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy -- So maybe a mom suffering from postpartum depression should not spend three days in the bleak midwinter reading Cormac McCarthy (he also wrote No Country for Old Men, of movie fame). This novel is, however, just fabulous. Set after some un-named apocalypse in the near future, it is the story not of the rape of nature or even of the worst in man, but of the very best. Written by a man often described as a nihilist, it is anything but nihilistic. He is dark, but he is not dark about nothing. I loved it.
Arise from Darkness, Benedict Groeschel -- After reading McCarthy, this was absolutely necessary.
Sigrid Undset -- Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy is possibly my favorite fiction of all time (Brideshead Revisited is the possible rival). I was so excited to discover that she wrote a biography of Catherine of Siena, the peculiar mystic who ordered popes around. Undset is a master class in medieval thought, customs, and imagination, and she brings all of her skill to her work. She is not afraid to offer natural explanations for some of the phenomena surrounding Catherine, but never dismisses the supernatural either.
The Rage Against God, Peter Hitchins -- Christopher Hitchins' less famous, but possibly more interesting, brother. The book is less a point-by-point argument against atheism than it is a painting. Peter Hitchins draws a sketch for us of his life behind the Iron Curtain and his own encounters with a world without God. It's ugly, and you suddenly see--with the eye of the artist--the suddenness with which the world can change. Worth a gander.
Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy Sayers -- I re-read all of the Sayers mysteries during my battle out of depression last winter. In the dark hours, I would read and read and read her whimsical prose. Perhaps I was being obsessive, but it worked. And, aside from its therapeutic qualities, her fiction is wonderful, grown-up brain candy. Busman's Honeymoon is my favorite: It has to be one of the best treatments of sex in modern fiction. It's real and beautiful without glossing over the humor of the conjugal act. She maintains a perfect modesty without being prudish in the least. Oh, and it's a great mystery. You learn a lot of Donne while having a lot of fun. (Oh, that was bad.)
Doomsday Book, Connie Willis -- I read this on Melanie's recommendation. I haven't read science fiction since high school, but I enjoyed the novel enormously. The basic story involves time travel, exchanging deadly viruses across centuries, medieval Oxfordshire, and the bubonic plague. Anything set in England, 1348, is bound to be slightly nauseating. I am grateful for Purell and soap on a deeper level.
And that's the Best of 2011. The Booklist for 2012 is already much longer--I'm feeling ambitious as per usual during Christmas vacation. If you have any suggestions, please send them this way.