Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Thoughts on reading in 2012

“There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.”
--Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

2012 was a great year -- for quantity and quality.

The 156 books I read this past year was my highest total in three years.

New books from favorite authors were exceptional, while several new authors (new to me) produced books of stunning insight.

So here are my thoughts on the books I thought were the best reads of the year. First, the top 10 -- an assortment of fiction and non-fiction that are listed in no particular order. If you only read a few books each year, these are the ones to take a look at first.

The Top 10 are followed by recommendations by genre.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. This account of slum dwellers in Mumbai reads like a novel. It is an exceptional work and a celebration of the human spirit. I think it was the best book of 2012.

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl received all the attention, yet Watson's book was the single best thriller of 2012.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This book is two in one. A memoir of a girl gone bad finding her way back to wholeness and a rousing outdoor adventure of a solitary hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior of his generation, was gay. Who knew? This account of the Trojan War is told by Achilles' lover. This re-telling of the Iliad is a powerful and lyrical love story.

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. The third book in Mantel's trilogy on Thomas Cromwell is an entertaining and insightful work.

Railsea by China Mieville. The only sci-fi book of note in 2012. Think Moby Dick, but instead of a ship and a white whale, there's a train and a large, white mole. Mieville is the most inventive sci-fi writer at work today.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. Green put in an appearance this year at the National Book Festival.  The line stretched for blocks as hundreds of teen queued to have their books signed. This is a "young adult" book everyone should read.  The story of a young girl dying from cancer it is a painfully tender, honest book that will bring you to tears.

John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk.  Set during the English Civil War, this may be one of the most unusual books you will read. It's certainly one of the best.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich.  Winner of the National Book Award, The Round House is Erdrich's finest book in a long and distinguished career.

Building Stories by Chris Ware.  A graphic novel of impressive complexity and depth.

Here are other books I enjoyed grouped by genre:

Literary Fiction

Home by Toni Morrison
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
The Bartender's Tale by Ivan Doig
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
1356 by Bernard Cornwell
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared
     by Jonas Jonasson

Short Stories

Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
Dear Life by Alice Munro


Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
What It Was by George Pelecanos
Broken Harbor by Tana French
Give Us A Kiss by Daniel Woodrell
A Killing In The Hills by Julia Keller
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
The Double Game by Dan Fesperman
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
The Blackhouse by Peter May


William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins
John F. Kennedy by Alan Brinkley
(The books by Harrison and Brinkley are part of the American Presidents Series from Times Books. A superb collection of brief biographies of our nation's leaders.)
Superman by Larry Tye
Bill Veeck, Baseball's Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson

Non-Fiction That's Difficult to Categorize

The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

My Cross To Bear by Gregg Allman
Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

Graphic Works

Journalism by Joe Sacco
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire
Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy

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