I looked over the books I read in 2011 and there were three books that stood out.
The best old book I read was John le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I had no idea how wonderful the book was going to be. I sort of knew a lot about it and John le Carre but had never read a single word of his. Le Carre is such an interesting fellow that every time he a new book out there are always lots of reviews and interviews to read and listen to that I always felt familiar with him without ever reading him. (Slight exaggeration: I started and abandoned The Tailor of Panama when it was published - thought it was awful.) Reading TTSS was like the first taste of lobster after only eating fish sticks. Amazing.
The best new book I read was Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. Like le Carre, Murakami is a darling of journalists and critics. I have read and enjoyed his stories in the New Yorker over the years but for some unknown reason, never attempted to read any of his novels. Clearly a mistake, I now know. 1Q84 is a novel about writing, a love story, a chase story, a revenge novel, a fantasy/alternate reality novel - it is a bunch of things, really, but all in one simple package. It completely captured my attention and I did not want it to end.
The book that had the greatest impact on my life was Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog. As I read it, I started to want a dog. While I was reading it I found myself doing Google searches for dogs. And a month or two later, out of nowhere, I found myself with the chance to get a dog. (Yes, I know people get dogs all the time but such a thing had been completely unthinkable for me.) And now I have one.