My 5 Favorite Reads of 2012 (in order of year published)
John Williams’ 1965 novel “Stoner” focuses on a rather melancholy and emotional story about the journey of a Missouri farmer turned English Literature professor. It is filled with beautiful inspirational passages about the moment we discover our life’s passions. It took me on a very personal journey through my own memories.
William Goldman’s “The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway”, although published in 1969, is still incredibly relevant to the present day behind-the-scenes world of the Great White Way. A must read for anyone interested in the theatre.
Lionel Shriver’s “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (2003) is a startling novel about a Columbine-esque school shooting. Balanced amidst the horrors of this event, it is also a very thought provoking and brutally honest portrait of motherhood.
James Frey’s 2008 “Bright Shiny Morning” is a harrowing and riveting tale of life in Los Angeles. It’s like the West Coast version of Hubert Selby’s “Last Exit to Brooklyn” although without the ultra-violence (although there is some).
Erin Morgenstern’s 2011 magical debut novel, “The Night Circus”, was influenced by the Punchdrunk production of “Sleep No More”. She creates a wonderful mystical world that truly brings Le Cirque des Reves to life on the page as well as in our imaginations.
To Do List: What Earned a Dog Ear in 2012
- Best short stories: Alice Munro’s Dear Life (and also Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, which did not come out this year, but which I only got around to reading this year).
- Best short stories not written by Alice Munro: Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank or Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her
- Best history: Anne “Patron Saint of Writing on Eastern Europe” Applebaum’s Iron Curtain (the actual best history book I read this year was Tony Judt’s Postwar, but that was not published in 2012.
- Best novel: Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, forever and ever, amen
- Best novel that did not feel like a novel and sort of defies genre: Zadie Smith’s NW
- Best novella, which I am considering a novel even though it has “A Novel” on the cover: Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending (it came out in 2011, but I read it this year—let me live)
- Best biography: John Lewis Gaddis’s George F. Kennan: An American Life, because it took on sort of religious significance for me, and because I was able to get John Lewis Gaddis to come speak at my school, ostensibly to support civic engagement for the Columbia Political Union, but mostly because I wanted to hear him. (Came out at the end of 2011, fine, blah blah whatever.)
- Best books that I should be ashamed (but am totally not) to have read: The Hunger Games. OH LIKE YOU DIDN’T.
A year in reading
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff was one of the most entertaining reads this year, and to this day, I’m amazed that this actually happened in real life and grateful that Zuckoff did so much work into making it such a compelling read. Equally as enjoyable for a vastly different reason was Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, a fascinating look into the story of Achilles and Patroclus. This was well-written and researched, but what I most loved about this was that it was the book I’ve been writing in my head going on for years now of what I thought really happened between them. The difference in the version I had in my head and in her book were inconsequential because the resonance was the same, and that’s more than good enough for me.
Alice Munro’s Dear Life was a comfort and a treat at the same time. I’m never nervous when I crack open an Alice Munro. This wouldn’t be my favorite of her collections — that’s probably still Runaway, but comparing one collection to the other has always seemed slightly redundant to me when they’re all various versions of excellent. I can’t wait to go dive into her older work as I only started reading from The Love of a Good Woman onwards.
The best book I read this year though was We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. A strange thing to say for a book I couldn’t finish on my first attempt. Who writes like that to her estranged husband? Who uses such words when talking to a person you’ve shared your life with for years, no matter how strained the relationship is now? I put the book on my second attempt pile and when its turn came up again, I resolved to read at least 50 pages after where I stopped the last time. And that paid off, because after I hit those pages, I couldn’t put the book down. The book is unflinchingly honest — an admirable feat considering how unreliable Eva Khatchadourian is as a narrator — and the last chapters when Eva is at her most vulnerable were heartbreaking. This was one of those books where I stopped reading for about 3 days after I finished it to let it all percolate in my head.
I’m now going to see if I can finish one or two of the following: Swamplandia by Karen Russell, NW by Zadie Smith, Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie, or Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber. Maybe there’ll be a late addition to this list.
Off to do more reading!
Nothing I read in 2012 left me more shocked, more horrified, and more creeped out than the twist in Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson.
The novel slowly cranked up the tension, building, and building, and then BAM! Twist! Shout! The End!
After the plot jumped off the cliff, it did not try to crawl back up the mountain (I’m looking at you Gone Girl) and it left me completely flabbergasted and satisfied.
A Year of (Unintended) Reading
I said last year I’d take a break from reading so much. I should have known that wouldn’t happen. I will say, however, that I read far less “serious” books and many more fun re-reads for the soul. I also allowed myself to put down books I wasn’t feeling (except in one notable case) and shove them to the back of the queue for later. Here is a brief run-down; a longer, ramblier review of the year, as well as a list of everything will eventually be up at my long-form blog, likely after the first of 2013 (see link below the lovely sidebar picture).
Wish I Could Read for the First Time Again: A Song of Ice and Fire, Books 1-5 (George R.R. Martin).
Surprises: The Invention of Everything Else (Samantha Hunt). Angelmaker (Nick Harkaway). The Harry Hole Novels (Jo Nesbo). The Revisionists (Thomas Mullen).
Unsurprisingly Wonderful: 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami). Broken Harbour (Tana French).
Finally: The Hunger Games 1-3 (Suzanne Collins).
Old Reads: The Beautiful and the Damned (F. Scott Fitzgerald). Hyperion (Daniel Simmons).
Best Non-Fiction: The Right Stuff (Tom Wolfe). The Violinist’s Thumb (Sam Kean).
If I Had to Pick a Favorite: 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami). Of course. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this one since The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It was the first book I read this year and nothing has yet to top it.
Next in the Queue: City of Bohane (Kevin Barry). Shine Shine Shine (Lydia Metzner).
“The Golden TARDIS for Excellence in Time Travel The George Wallace Commemorative Airhorn for Multiple Shout Outs “Mr. Consistent” The Bob Ross Memorial Golden Paintbrush The George Washington Cup for Honesty”—Find out who took home these awards in Nick Moran’s Year in Reading Wrap-Up
My 2012 Reading Highlights
I loved college because 98% of my classes were about reading and writing. On the first day of a freshman year literature class, the professor asked us to write a biography of ourselves as readers - essentially, when and why did we fall in love with reading and what were some of the things we had read.
When he read my paper, the professor recognized that my love of books was profound. But he also recognized that I almost entirely read books authored by men, a fact that I had never realized (that’s how sneaky the patriarchy is). “Where are the women?” he asked.
Since then, the majority of my recreational reading has been written by women. I know authors are all on one big supportive team or something, but what can I say, I prefer the ladies.
That’s why I can’t believe the first book to make my 2012 list was written by a man, and a poet to boot.Crush, Richard Siken. Even if you’re not into poetry, you will be into this collection. Check it:
Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.
How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forget that they are horses.
It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio,
how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.
The Jessica Darling series, Megan McCafferty. Holy lord, these books are great. If at your high school you were the smart one, the cynical one, the outsider, the cautious rebel, then this series has your name all over it.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery. Oh the tears. I cried for a good fifteen minutes when I finished this book. If you’re searching for a book that will teach you philosophy and make you sob, here you go.
Birds of a Lesser Paradise, Megan Mayhew Bergman. These stories have all the best ingredients: conflicted women, animals, wilderness, and beautiful sentences. I read “Yesterday’s Whales” three times in a row, which also says a lot about my year.
Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison. Some human beings are evil and Dorothy Allison is a badass. The end.
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett. This is one of the only books I’ve been compelled to rate on Goodreads because I loved it so hard. I told everyone to read it and even mailed a copy to my sister. In the middle of reading, I had to stop and ask my boyfriend, “How is it possible that someone can be so good at writing?”
The Secret History, Donna Tartt. Somehow I had never heard of this book and learned about it thanks to the Lazy Book Reviewer. (Lazy, I know you’re busy at The Hairpin, but your blog was awesome. Please come back.) The Secret History is a very long but very fast read. It’s an incredibly well-written, highly acclaimed soap opera for aspiring classics nerds.
The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg. I love the cover, I love the characters, I love how it made me laugh but also made me empathize with each individual’s struggles.
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn. Yes it’s true, everyone’s girl crush is now my girl crush. I could not put it down, halfway through I texted my reading pal Kerry to exclaim, “This is crazy!” and when I finished the only thing I wanted to pick up was Flynn’s other books. Sadly, my bookstore didn’t have them at the ready, but they’re on their way, certain to fill my life with more thrills and horror.
Illustration via We Heart It.
My Favorite Narrator of 2012
Without a doubt, it’s Mr. Eli Sister from the Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. Eli Sister is a sensitive hit-man for hire. He’s rethinking his career choices and looking to settle down with a nice woman (to this end he’s watching his weight and looking out for his dental health to make himself a more attractive mate). But Eli works with his brother Charlie, who he loves (and enables), and he is reluctant to leave the partnership, both because he’s not positive his brother would talk to him if they weren’t partners, and because he’s afraid no one else would be able to back Charlie up in a gun battle the way he can.
I loved this book so much. I read it twice, each time in a single sitting. It (deservedly) won the extremely competitive Tournament of books which is a pretty good arbiter of awesomeness. Will Wheaton, judged the first round of the tournament and summed up The Sisters Brothers thusly: “The Sisters Brothers made me feel like I was sitting in a movie house in Red Dead Redemption, watching an episode of Deadwood that was written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by the Coen Brothers”
I can’t describe it any better myself. Mr. Wheaton is right, this book is goddamned fun. It’s violent and more than a touch sad, but also deeply funny.
A Book for People Who Like Magical Realism but Are Tired of Gabriel Garcia Marquez & His Whores
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake cast its delightfully quirky spell over me and I read the whole thing within a few hours of purchasing it.
My thrifty boyfriend asked, “Why did you buy that if you were going to read it so fast?”
- You can never have too many books.
- I didn’t want to ever stop reading it.
- There’s no way of knowing when a book will have the power to do a complete takeover of your life, it just happens (much like falling in love with a book hoarder).
- Now that I own it, I can lend it to the entire world.
I’ll put it this way: I loved Aimee Bender’s book so much that I rated it on Goodreads (5 stars!), and I am far too lazy to rate books. It’s seriously magical.