2012 - Year End Book Review
A Wonderful Year Full of Fantastic Reads!
It was a wonderful, terrible, challenging, peaceful, and riotous year -- and that's to say nothing of the 62 books I got through. But, as always, amidst the noisy tumult that is life, I read; rainy afternoons tucked in a corner of The Hubbard Free Library, dark cold lonely January mornings wrapped in a blanket in the back office of my apartment, bright hot days spent near the lake, and long, long, sunny afternoons sprawled on the porch. It is a constant source of joy. But whether on the beach, in my bed, or sitting stiffly in a waiting room chair, when reading, I am magic - not in the world, nor in the book, nor in my head. I am so lucky to live within walking distance of two fantastic libraries (Hubbard Free and Maine State Library), and through the URSUS system I have any book I desire at my fingertips, and that, too, is magic.
Last year was led by a strong and dominant front of female authors. This year I am delighted to find a predominance of nonfiction titles (15 of my 62 reads, with 7 nonfiction titles in the top 25!). My male to female ratio is very even ( 37 men to 25 females), and I was interested to find 3 terrible biographies in my bottom 10. Little is worse than a bad biography, and there seem to be a great number of them out there (yet a biography sits solidly at number 12, a completely wonderful study of Adolph Hitler). To give you a lay of the land the top 35 books are all absolutely fantastic, I would highly recommend them. Things turn pretty sour for me right around 50, and those bottom 12 books I actively disliked. And the middle is...the middle.
As always it isn't about good books or bad books - but just the joy of reading. Hope you enjoy perusing and I look forward to reading your lists and hearing your recommendations. Cheers!
1. The Razor's Edge, W. Somerset Maugham
The main focus of this 1944 novel is the story of a man named Larry who, after a traumatic experience in World War I, finds himself turning away from traditional societal values and going in search of...something more. Maugham, years ahead of his time, has Larry studying with eastern mystics, reading voraciously amid bohemians in Paris, thumbing around Europe, hanging out with benedictine monks, and the like, and this part of the book is amazing. But the real gold for me was how this story was interwoven with the lives of a few key characters that slip out of Larry's life as he goes in search of inner peace. The narrator (a semi biographical character for Maugham) drifts in and out of everyone's lives. His removed candor in tracking all the unforeseen outcomes of all the small choices we make everyday is a truly sweeping view of life, what is valuable, and how easily tragedy can strike down those seemingly least susceptible. The writing is sharp, sparse, elegant and yet evocative and romantic. The settings are strange and beautiful. I relished every page of this masterpiece.
2. Quartet in Autumn, Barbara Pym
Thanks to the influence of a very good friend I discovered Barbara Pym this year (you'll find another of her novels, Excellent Women, a short hop down the list at 17). I am so excited to read more of her in 2013. This book was one of the most touching stories I have ever read. It is about four unmarried office workers on the verge of retirement in England. Simply and beautifully written the book is at it's best when it captures how small, sparse and lonely real life can be, and how small acts of kindness can buoy those who are secretly suffering. The book illustrated for me how sometimes reaching out in friendship is truly a heroic act, and how rarely we know how much those small friendships mean. It is heartbreaking, but also lovely. I will read it again soon.
3. The Beautiful and the Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is far and away my favorite novel by Fitzgerald, it really hit home for me when I read it last winter, right on the heels of The Razor's Edge, and though they are very different books, I felt a real resonance between the two, and from the two to me. It was a trifecta, and it was perfect. This book is largely about a relationship between a husband and wife in the rollicking jazz age. The couple are elite, and from the outside a polished and diffident pair of New York cafe Society swells. But, alas, all is not so rosy beneath the surface, and the sheer velocity of their fall; social, personal, and spiritual, is stunning. The pair are so lost, and suffer so needlessly, and most tragically of all, they suffer alone, despite their standing side by side through it all. A commentary of life, and the times.
4. Quiet : The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain
This amazing book is a study of western culture, specifically how the western ideal of the extrovert personality has become a standard for success and happiness. The book traces when this "extrovert golden boy" image came into being (it was not always the ideal), and how it has shaped our culture. It clearly defines extrovert and introvert types, along with a slew of overlaying personality types (extroverts can be painfully shy, introverts can be unshakable confidant, and so on). The book is thorough, very well researched, draws on many different sources (from child psychologists to stock market analysts), and the author writes with grace and honesty. A really remarkable work. Susan Cain has a great TED talk on this subject, check it out, and then read her book. http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html?quote=1378
5. Sexing the Cherry, Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson is one of my all time favorite authors. A truly unique writer who seems to effortlessly create characters that I instantly love and respect from the most bizarre and sometimes grotesque folks doing the most futile, magical, and preposterous things in lunatic places that are shadowy projections of real places, and then splashes the whole train wreck with screwy sexual overtones. And viola, she just always manages to make it great. Last year she topped my list with The Passion, and showed up again at 18 with Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. My third go at her in 2012 brought me more of the same. Sexing the Cherry is an entirely strange story of a mother and son, a journey, with time travel, unconventional love, adventure, strange gender blurring, mayhem, and sorrow. What most amazed me in this novel was her ability to create a character (the Mother) who is obtusely grotesque, foul, and horrible - and yet who comes across in the end a genuine heroine with a gentle heart and a honest nature.
6. The Sun's Heartbeat, Bob Berman
7. The Gian'ts House, Elizabeth McCracken
8. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
9. The Path to Love: Spiritual Strategies for Healing, Deepak Chopra
10. The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obreht
11. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
12. Explaining Hitler, Ron Rosenbaum
13. The Awakening and other stories, Kate Chopin
14. The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
15. The Story of a Marriage, Andrew Sean Greer
16. Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
17. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
18. Creatures of the Deep Sea, Klauss Gunther, Kurt Deckert
19. Hunger: An Unnatural History, Sharman Apt Russell
20. The Clear Light of Day, Anita Desai
21. A Woman's Worth, Marianne Williamson
22. Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron
23. A Mercy, Toni Morrison
24. The Sweet Relief of Missing Children, Sarah Braunstein
25. A Perfect Stranger: And Other Stories, Roxana Robinson
26. Extremely loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
27. Runaway: Stories, Alice Munro
28.The Nobel Prize: A History of Genius, Contorversy and Prestige, Burton Feldman
29. Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertant Education of a Reluctant Chef, Gabrielle Hamilton
30. The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
31. Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World's Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples, John Robbins
32. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
33. The Caprices, Sabina Murray
34. The Curse of the Blue Figurine, John Bellairs
35. Alone: A Novel, David Small
36. Lisey's Story, Stephen King
37. Inventing the Abbots and Other Stories, Sue Miller
38. The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen
39. Everything Matters, Ron Currie Jr.
40. Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples, Rodger Streitmatter
41. Swann's Way, Marcel Proust
42. Wing's of the Dove, Henry James
43. The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges
44. This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude, and More, Augusten Burroughs
45. The Echo Maker, Richard Powers
46. Rabbit, Run, John Updike
47. Dogwalker: Stories, Arthur Bradford
48. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
49. The Flame Alphabet, Ben Marcus
50. Justine, Lawrence Durrell
51. Sweetwater: A Novel, Roxana Robinson
52. The Pedant and the Shuffly, John Bellairs
53.The Lemon Table, Julian Barnes
54. Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, Charles Brockden Brown
55. Darkness Visible, William Golding
56. House Made of Dawn, N. Scott Momaday
57. Andy Warhol, Wayne Koestenbaum
58. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
59. Fifty Shades of Grey, E. L. James
60. Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read, Stuart Kelly
61. Daphne du Maurier, Richard Michael Kelly
62.Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn, Donald Spoto