JE: Very few titles were fortunate enough to receive the marketing budget or the bigtime roll-out that the Tiger’s Wife, The Marriage Plot, The Art of Fielding, Swamplandia, or (ahem) West of Here received in 2011. Some titles have to make their own way in the world almost exclusively on the strength of the work itself, and the power of good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Since we love the spirit of independence around here, we thought we’d give you something a little different from the run-of-the-mill “best of” list this year. This week we’ll give you  sixteen books you may not see on every-other “Best of“ list this holiday season, though all of them are more than deserving. Each of the guys picked 3 titles and a runner-up, giving you our “sweet sixteen sleepers for 2011”:

The Ringer – Jenny Shank (Permanent Press) Please don’t judge this book by the cover. I happen to know that the author cried for two days when she saw it. As good as Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is (and I wrote a blurb for it which started with the word “spectacular”), The Ringer may be even better. Like Harbach’s Fielding, baseball serves only as a framing device for this promising debut about such durable American themes as race, class, and family. Make no mistake though, Shank knows baseball like the sister of the major league ballplayer she is.

Zazen – Vanessa Veselka (Red Lemonade) At turns hilarious, unsettling, and improbably sweet, Veselka’s debut is, above all, a highly engaging, and totally unique experience, which will have you re-reading passages and dog-earing pages. But best of all, in the end, Zazen is that rare novel which dares to be hopeful in the face of despair, and succeeds. Veselka has a shit-ton of voice, and you know within the first paragraph that you’re in for a ride. She could write about dog turds and I’d happily read it.

Damascus – Joshua Mohr (Two Dollar Radio) The third novel from San Fransisco’s Joshua Mohr is his best to date. Mohr is the bard of the underbelly, and the Mission District is his playground. Part Harry Crews, part Charles Bukowski, and part Franz Kafka, Mohr will make you squirm, laugh, recognize, and take pause. Behind his wayward and dissolute characters, burns the clear-eyed moral vision of a very unique artist. Runner up :

Swell – Corwin Erickson (Dark Coast Press) Melville meets Tom Robbins, except not annoying. Ericson’s debut, from the excellent Seattle indie house, Dark Coast Press, is a wildly imaginative and hilarious romp, unlike any other book you will read this year. This one is a must read for northeasterners.