Tag Archives: Nonfiction

Father’s Day Book Recommendations

9 Jun

Book Shop

I have been compiling a list of excellent books that would make wonderful gifts for Father’s Day. I think there is something on this big list for every reading father, or father-figure, in your life. (If you are stuck on what to get someone who says they are not a reader, you could always try to show them the bookish light! I have had success giving nonfiction books to people who claim to not be readers and it has been met with great success!)

Anyway, here…the giant list:

Fiction Recommendations:

Classic Literature:

  • My Antonía, by Willa Cather
  • East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  • Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes – this Edith Grossman translation, as linked, is excellent!
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley – this Penguin edition I have linked is awesome.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (pére)
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville – Yes, seriously! And, again, advocating for this particular edition to which I have linked you.

Contemporary Literature:

Canadian Literature:

Graphic Novels:

Nonfiction:

So – as you can see, it’s a huge list. I do hope you find something of interest here and would love to know about the books you plan to give as gifts.

If you would like a personal recommendation, I would be happy to make one for you. Just give me three books you (or your dad) love(s) and I will offer an excellent suggestion. Or two. Or three. You can post your request in the comments below. :)

I have linked all the above books to Goodreads. It is a great place to read book descriptions, and see what others think. When it comes time to buy, I encourage you all to visit an independent bookseller for all your book shopping. These stores are vital parts of our communities and it would be wonderful for you to support a local business. (If you need a recommendation here, I would be pleased to help.)

Happy Father’s Day, and happy reading to you all!

My Favourite Reads of 2013

1 Jan

 

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

~ T.S. Eliot, (from: Little Gidding)

While I am definitely thinking about all of the great reading ahead in 2014, I very much wanted to share with you my favourite reads from 2013. Lists are always subjective…I recognize this, but I read some truly wonderful books last year and I wanted to record these stand-outs. Maybe this list will help you discover some new reads, or prompt some interesting conversations; I hope it will do both!

I have broken out my list into four categories (but the books are not listed in any particular order):

  • Literary Fiction Published in 2013;
  • Contemporary Literature.;
  • Classic Literature; and
  • Nonfiction.

I. Literary Fiction Published in 2013:

1. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler. This is a wonderful novel of historical fiction. It is well-researched and Fowler has beautifully imagined (and, maybe, at moments recreated certain aspects of) the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, beyond just the wife of the famous/infamous F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fowler show Zelda forging her own identity while fighting her own personal demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it.

2. Kicking the Sky, by Anthony De Sa. I read this book in October, 2013, and shared my thoughts at that time. Three months later, I still find myself thinking about this story and wowed by De Sa’s talent.

3. The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner. This was my first time reading Kushner, and she blew my mind. I loved everything about this novel – it was tough, edgy and sensitive.

4. The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan.  This novel ticked all the boxes for me: ballet, belle époque Paris, Degas, Zola, La Figaro.  While fictional, I loved the way Buchanan wove the history of the real events throughout this story. I read the book quickly – two very late-night reading sessions that kept me up way, waaaay past bedtime. The subsequent daytime sleepiness was well worth it though.

5. The Crooked Maid, by Dan Vyleta. The Crooked Maid is many things – historical fiction, mystery, literary fiction, homage. Vyleta’s doing a lot with this novel, which could be a worry – but it’s very good, and Vyleta can really write. His ability with description is pretty stellar.

6. The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert. The only word that keeps rolling around in my brain, concerning Gilbert’s new novel, is: LUSH – this book is so lush and enveloping. It was pretty delightful from start to finish. And if you know me, you know I don’t really use the word ‘delightful’! This novel may have been my most surprising read this year.

II. Contemporary Literature:

1. Indian Horse (2012), by Richard Wagamese. I managed a 5 word review, after I read this novel in February, 2013: “Stunning. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Required reading.” Wagamese’s book affected me very deeply. For all its heartbreak, it was also very much a hopeful story. This is a book that can, and should, be read by everyone.

2. The Wreckage (2005), by Michael Crummey. My love for Michael Crummey’s writing runs fairly deep – I think he is brilliant. He wowed me again with The Wreckage. Reading this novel made me want to spend some time in Crummey’s brain…or, at the very least, take a writing class with him.

3. Sweetness in the Belly (2005), by Camilla Gibb. I read this book for the third time in 2013, and man, it’s great!  Gibb is a fantastic storyteller and through her prose I could truly see, hear, smell and touch the places she created in this book – Lilly’s life in Harare, and her life in London were both so vivid.

4. A Complicated Kindness,(2004) by Miriam Toews.  Another third reading. (2013 was unusual in that regard, I don’t generally re-read much at all.) I LOVE THIS NOVEL SO HARD!  I think this books gets better with each reading. The way Toews captures the voice of 16-year-old Nomi is incredible. Sure she’s wise and precocious, but she’s also still a kid and Toews gets her voice so right.

5. The Round House, (2012) by Louise Erdrich. What a great novel! It’s evocative and hard but using a 13-year-old boy as the protagonist adds a layer of nuance that would be missing in an older main character (I think – given the arc of Joe’s story.) I really loved Erdrich’s perspective on family, love and justice. The supporting characters are all very interesting and well developed, and served to make this a very tightly woven novel.

6. Arcadia (2011), by Lauren Groff. I loved Arcadia a lot. i viscerally responded to the settings and people Groff created here, and i am kinda floored by Groff’s talent. I was totally caught up in Bit’s life. I loved the timeline and following him along life’s path.

7. The Snow Child (2012), by Eowyn Ivey. What a fantastic debut novel! It’s a magical and sometimes heartbreaking story, perfectly set for a wonderful winter read.

8. The Savage Detectives (1998), by Roberto Bolaño.

bolañover

bow-lah-nyoh-verr;  noun

1. weird physical and emotional effects caused by reading the works of Roberto Bolaño. symptoms may include: confusion; anger; awe; dry eyes; headache; idolatry; exhaustion; the strong desire for alcohol, drugs or both; feelings of filthiness and the need to shower to remove the grit; wonder; sadness; curiosity; the unexplained urge to pimp out a 1970s impala. symptoms may ease with time or they may worsen.

2. a thing that has survived from the past.

III. Classic Literature:

1. Two Solitudes (1945), by Hugh MacLennan. What a dense, wonderful important novel. This was a re-read for me, but I had lost so many details over the years it was like a new experience. Following the strands of story arcs concerning ‘two solitudes’, through this novel was amazing. MacLennan wrote about so many important issues and brought heart and humanity to the telling. Certainly a canadian classic, and a book that should continue to resonate for generations to come.

2. Persuasion (1818), by Jane Austen. Late in the book there is this quote:

“Minutiae which, even with every advantage of taste and delicacy which good Mrs. Musgrove could not give, could be properly interesting only to the principals.”

And when I read that line it made me think of the details in Austen’s writing and how, in fact, the minutiae present with her manner of storytelling sucks me right in every time. But…with Persuasion I feel this is very much a novel of Anne’s restraint and resolve, as much as it is a tale of different persuasions. So given Anne’s nature, though we aren’t privy to her inner workings in great detail, I was seeing everything through her eyes and completely immersed in her world.

3. The Grapes of Wrath (1939), by John Steinbeck. Oh for the love of humanity — is there any family as hard done by as the Joads??? The Joads’ humanity and hope, in the face of utter hopelessness, is incredible. And the way Steinbeck conveyed this balance throughout the novel is brilliant. The man was a genius. But i don’t really know what I could possibly say here that hasn’t been said earlier, and better, by others? Read it! Do it!

4. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), by Harper Lee. I made it all the way to page 317 without crying…even though I felt like I could a couple of times earlier on. But page 317 did me in, the bastard! Heh. (I am not really a person who cries while reading – though Grapes of Wrath last week (see above) and this book tonight are turning me into a liarface on this front.) Now, I am all teary and soppy, and I ugly-cried and I got the hiccups and I have to try and write something here that conveys how brilliant this book is to me. So how about this: Harper Lee is so freaking amazing she will make you ugly-cry!  Yeah? Cool!

5. Twelfth Night (1602), by William Shakespeare. A re-read (again with the re-reads!!) after many years, and still as great as I remember it to be. Shakespeare can be lots of fun.

IV. Nonfiction:

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012), by Susan Cain. I am an introvert. But I am not shy. So I have been trying to explain the difference to people for years. Instead, I should just carry around copies of Cain’s great, great book. Being an introvert and having a good and thoughtful understanding of what this means, I still learned a lot from Quiet. Cain’s research seems very well done (and so interesting), and her style is very engaging. I think this is one of those books that everyone should read as it will likely help open some eyes and minds, and allow people to better understand and respect one another.

2. The Truth About Luck (2013), by Iain Reid. Sometimes you read a book and it becomes something you connect with so personally and deeply that it becomes nearly impossible to detach from it to assess or review it constructively. That happened with this amazing book by Iain Reid. But, I  thought about it for quite a while, and i think – my personal attachment aside – the strength of Reid’s writing, the flow of the story, and his ability to make us care about what he and his grandma are up to make this book totally worth its 5-star rating. (I wrote about the book in more detail, in March, 2013.)

3. Belonging: Home Away From Home (2003), by Isabel Huggan. This book is wonderful – and was my #1 favourite read for 2013! The majority of the book is a memoir of place – the search for home. Not just the physical: the location and the structure, but also the feeling. Feeling one is home is a big deal. At least it is to me, anyway. And it’s something I have been hoping to find my whole life.  Huggan gives voice to this search, this sensation, and does it so beautifully and naturally. There’s a lot of excavation of memory that goes on in the telling, and it felt very much like I was just listening to Huggan in conversation. Also contained in the story are small snippets of Huggan’s writing life, something I really appreciated.

4. The Arctic Grail (1988), by Pierre Berton. What a great book!!! Pierre Berton is an excellent storyteller and, it would seem, he is also an impeccable researcher. But that’s not really a surprise!! Shamefully, this is the first time I have read a Berton book. OOPS!! He definitely came up during my time in elementary and secondary school, but we were never actually given any of his books to read/study. Weird, right?? I was so amazed by the overwhelming lack of preparedness with which the majority of the expeditions undertook their quests. The British expeditions were stubbornly and fatally wrong-headed in not learning from their inuit contacts, and judging the Inuit, while useful to them, ‘savages’ and ‘unintelligent’.

5. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997), by David Foster Wallace.  Each essay in this collection has its own strength (and each is fairly brilliant), but overwhelmingly evident, when taken as a whole, is DFW’s ability to assess and read people, and analyze a situation or instance in the context of a bigger picture. It’s uncanny, really.

6. My Ideal Bookshelf (2013), by Jane Mount & Thessaly La Force. Or, as I like to call it, porn for book lovers! This is just a beautiful book to look at, and it also gives great satisfaction on the ‘snooping the bookshelves’ front.

7. Bottomfeeder (2007), by Taras Grescoe.  LOVE THIS BOOK!! Seriously; it’s fantastic. It should be required reading for everyone. Grescoe has a wonderful ability with delivering the facts and science in a very engaging and approachable way. The structure of the book is fantastic: each chapter is like a little case study. A species is examined – the supply, the demand, the problems and the science – and explained. Grescoe travelled the world while researching this book and is clearly very passionate about the seafood industry, and about the choices he makes for his diet.

***************

So, there you have it – all of the absolute stand out books I had the pleasure of reading in 2013.  Altogether, I read 121 books last year. This was definitely not usual. Generally, I average somewhere between 60 and 70 books per year. I am not really clear on what happened in 2013 to cause my pace to double, but it was quite the adventure and I will look back fondly on ‘that one crazy reading year’.

A few stats:

  • Total books read: 121
  • Total pages read: 41,839
  • 71 female writers
  • 49 male writers
  • And 1 collection featuring male and female writers
  • 12 works in translation

You can view my full reading list on Goodreads.

Thank you for visiting Literal Life, and continuing to be interested in the books I am reading and talking about.

As always – please feel free to share your favourite reads with me – I would love to hear about them

Happy reading!

Nonfiction for Fall

22 Sep

This morning, I had a wonderful opportunity to hear about four fantastic new works of nonfiction. I am so excited for each of these books, and their wonderful authors, that I couldn’t wait to share these recommendations with you!

Many thanks to Ben, of Ben McNally Books, for hosting another successful Authors’ Brunch. Thanks, also, to the Globe and Mail (and books editor Jared Bland) who is an an event sponsor.

Now…on to the BOOKS!

1) First to speak this morning was Charlie Wilkins, and what an interesting man! His new book is called Little Ship of Fools.

From January through March of 2011, a crew of 16 rowers made their way from Morocco to Barbados. The journey was scheduled to take 33 days. It took 53 days. They ran out of food on day 43. No humans were cannibalized during this adventure.  But, desperate for food, Wilkins did consume a vacuum packed piece of chicken, whose packaging had torn, and upon which was clearly written: “If package is ripped or torn, do not consume.”  But hunger can do funny things to people. The issue, to Wilkins, wasn’t ‘What if this chicken is bad?”, but, rather, “What if this chicken is GOOD?” He had to try. He was fine. For two hours.

Since taking on this project, Wilkins noted that so many people have two big questions for him: 1) Why did you do this? and 2) Why would you do this at your age? (Wilkins was 61 at the time of the rowing.)  The short answer: “I felt like it.”  Fair enough.  In chatting with Charlie after the event, I noted that whatever this “thing” is…this thing that makes people want to row across oceans, climb Mount Everest, trek to the South Pole…I just don’t have that “thing” in my DNA. But I have an absolute respect and fascination with people who do. Along with this latest adventure, Wilkins has also walked from Thunder Bay to New York City. He has travelled with the circus, and soaked up the life of the famous Wallenda family. He has worked as a gravedigger. (Wilkins has written books about each of these times in his life.)

Wilkins is a really lovely man! He is curious and interested in our world and often contemplates the importance of our connection to this place we call home. Along with that thinking, comes further wondering: what happens when we become disconnected, fracturing ourselves from the planet? When everything we think about ourselves is stripped away, what happens to us? These are some weighty and important questions. But Wilkins is not a sombre or morose man. Rather, his “compulsion to go”, his inquisitiveness and examining nature have helped him become a wonderful storyteller and excellent human being. I hope you will check out his book!

2) Next at the podium was GQ magazine contributor and eight-time National Magazine Award nominee, Mike Paterniti. His newest book, The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese has been getting all sorts of positive attention since its summer release, and it’s a book I have been very keen to acquire.

While working on his MFA in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Paterniti worked at a well-known deli, Zingerman’s. While Paterniti felt his MFA in fiction was “qualifying him for nothing”, he could make a sandwich. While working at the delicatessen, he was asked for input on the shop’s newsletter. (See, MFA’s can be useful!) Zingerman’s owner was quite particular in choosing excellent food and loved sourcing high quality artisanal products. One item, featured in the newsletter, caught Paterniti’s eye – a small mention of a type of cheese from Guzmán, Spain, that had been made in a cave by the same family for hundreds of years. For nine years, Paterniti carried this newsletter clipping with him until, finally, he ended up in Spain for a work assignment. With one day off, he decided to visit Guzmán, to try and learn more about the cheese and the man behind the cheese, Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras.

During the 8-hours Paterniti spent with Ambrosio, they sat in the “telling room” – a space within the family cave where everyone would “gather to drink and eat, share stories and histories and dreams.”   Paterniti heard the most incredible tale during his visit, and became wholly intrigued with Ambrosio, the cheese and this funny little village which very much resembles a “Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel – full of magical realism.” (They have a resident, named ‘Emmanuel,’ who is ‘the man that flew that one time’.)

Paterniti says this book is about keeping stories alive and reminding ourselves that we are making and writing our own stories every day.

3)  The inimitable Charlotte Gray was our next author. Her new book will, with hope, attract fiction readers who love a good crime tale. Gray joked about her genre-jumping from serious biographies to CRIME WRITER (!!), with her newest book, The Massey Murder. Gray loves bringing Canada’s “rich and detailed history to life” and is on a “self-appointed mission to share the love of Canadian history.”

Gray was in a bookstore when she noticed all of the real estate taken up by crime fiction. “A-HA!”, she thought. And decided, in that moment, her next book would be a work that would bring the story of a crime in Canada’s past to life for readers. She began asking around her friends (judges and lawyers) for interesting crime cases she could research – “the more sex and blood, the better!’ – and was amused to discover that Canada, known for being a polite and dignified country, actually has “quite a lot of sleaze” in its past. Gray “had such fun writing this book” and in the end, she really didn’t know who was the victim in this story. Colour me intrigued!

The Massey murder took place at a crucial moment in Canada’s history and gave Gray the chance to explore three big ideas:

* In 1915, Canada had just sent its second contingency of men to WWI and families were beginning to receive notices about their husbands and sons being killed in action.
* Toronto was in a state of turmoil. During the ten years leading up to this crime, the population had doubled and extraordinary social dislocations were taking place. Many people coming into the city were not all from the U.K, and not all were protestant. Immigrant communities were growing and the pains being experienced were impacting the city.
* The Massey murder occurs during a backdrop of the changing role of women in Canadian society. At this time, “a woman either worked as a servant or had a servant.”

4) Our final author for the morning was Adam Leith Gollner. His new book is called: The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief and Magic Behind Living Forever.

Do you ever have dreams that sit with you for days and days, preoccupying your thoughts? Gollner had such a dream, about a fountain. While thinking and thinking about this dream…he realized it was the fountain of youth, and with this understanding, he had discovered his next book’s topic – immortality. He then spent five years thinking “about this thing that doesn’t really exist, that has no end. Or does it?”

Divided into three sections, belief, science and magic – Gollner spent time with spiritual leaders, people of faith, scientists…and magician David Copperfield. Oh, yes he did. Copperfield, apparently, discovered ‘magic water’ on the island of his vacation home. Dead bugs dipped in this water would spring to life and fly away. Browned, dead leaves would return to green life when put in this water. This is, clearly, some very special water. Gollner was eventually given permission to visit Copperfield on his island. Though Gollner would not be allowed to see the ‘magic water’, Copperfield agreed to talk to him “with great verbal aplomb”, about the water. So…magic water, you guys!!

**********

I hope you are all very intrigued by each of these books!!  This group of authors was truly fabulous and while their books are very different, it was wonderful to hear about overlapping themes and ideas.  Many people avoid reading nonfiction because they feel as though the genre might be dull or the narrative flow not captivating enough. With these four books, I think lovers of fiction and nonfiction alike will be thrilled.

Please do seek out these books, whether at your local library or independent bookseller. Each of these authors are great – engaging, smart, interesting and positive. They are helping bring our histories and social relationships to life and giving voice to people, times, places and ideas we may not ever otherwise know about.

The Truth About Luck – Iain Reid

26 Mar

I have been eager to get a copy of Iain Reid’s new book so when I received a review edition from House of Anansi – a surprise, and a great one at that – I was ecstatic and did not wait to jump into the story. Reid’s previous book, One Bird’s Choice was one of my favourite reads of 2010 and my expectations were sky-high for The Truth About Luck. It rocks! Hard!

From the book’s description:

 In The Truth about Luck, Iain Reid, author of the highly popular coming-of-age memoir One Bird’s Choice, accompanies his grandmother on a five-day vacation — which turns out to be a “staycation” at his basement apartment in Kingston. While the twenty-eight-year-old writer is at the beginning of his adult life, his ninety-two-year-old grandmother is nearing the end of hers. Between escorting his grandma to local attractions and restaurants, the two exchange memories and she begins to reveal details of her inspiring life story.
Told with subtlety, humour, and heart, this delightful comic memoir reflects on family connections; how we experience adversity, the passage of time, and aging; and most importantly what it truly means to feel lucky.

Sometimes you read a book and it is something you connect with so personally and deeply it can become nearly impossible to detach from it to assess or review in a constructive way. That happened with this amazing book. But, I have been thinking about it for a few days now and I feel – my personal attachment wrestled off to the side – the strength of Reid’s writing – the flow of the story and his ability to make us curious and really care about what he and his grandma are up to – make this book totally worth its 5-star rating.

Reid & his Grandmother, © Ottawa Citizen

Along with some eerie similarities between Reid and I (hello worry, anxiety and writerly lifestyle you crazy trifecta, you), our grandmothers are very similar women. Both were born in the U.K. (his in Scotland, mine in England (in 1917) but with her family she moved to Scotland very early on in her life). Both women lived through two World Wars and the depression and both ladies worked hard for most of their lives. As well, they are very smart and funny people. So, in reading Reid’s book, it was like having my grandma here with me again. (Sadly, grandma died in the summer of 2009, at the age of 92.) There were moments in the book that had me laughing so hard, tears streamed down my face and my stomach hurt. In one particularly hilarious scene, Reid’s grandmother somehow becomes entangled in her seatbelt. This quickly brought to mind an outing my grandma and I had together many years ago. It was a very hot summer day and we were going out for lunch. My car at that time was nicknamed ‘Oven Car’ – it was a notoriously bad place to be on hot, unrelentingly sunny days. I helped grandma into the car and as I got settled into my own seat, she suddenly lurched forward, grabbing the dashboard while shouting “My Ass is on fire!” But the dashboard was really hot too. “My hands are on fire!”, she then yelled. “How do you live like this?”, she wondered out loud while simultaneously trying to get undone from the seatbelt in some failed attempt at escape and fumbling with the interior controls, searching for the non-existent air-conditioning. It was so hot. But it was so hilarious and quickly became a funny story we liked to re-tell.

There were other, quieter moments, in The Truth About Luck that were beautiful and heartfelt. I am glad Reid – encouraged by his brother Jimmy – went with the idea of giving his grandmother time together as a birthday gift. They spent five days at Reid’s home in Kingston, Ontario talking, eating, seeing some local sites and learning things about one another they hadn’t previously known.

I have, unintentionally, been on this trend lately of reading books with older people featuring as main characters – here, Reid’s grandma is 92; last week I read Terry Fallis’ newest novel, Up and Down. It features a 71-year-old protagonist. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, which I read a few months ago, was a completely endearing hoot. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and Helen Simonson‘s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand also feature characters of retirement age. Given our demographic trend towards an aging population, perhaps this is the new thing in publishing? If it is — I am a big fan. I can think of quite a few more books I have read and enjoyed in recent years that feature mature characters with interesting stories — I bet you can come ups with some great books too, if you think about it for a moment. As individuals, we have a lot to learn. Within developed societies, we take a lot for granted. Hearing about the experiences, challenges and triumphs of older generations should smarten us up and help us realize that older does not mean already dead. Older does not mean no longer worth our time. On the contrary, our respect, gratitude and time should be used to honour and value those who have come before us.

Helen Edna

Helen Edna

I remember talking with my own grandma about the idea that when people get old they often get forgotten. She used to tell me how lucky she felt to have her family around her and I would feel really sad thinking about those who either had no one or had people who choose to stay away. My grandmother always had more energy and more of a social life than I ever seem(ed) to muster and I really hope to live as excellent a life as she did. So, I thank Reid for his wonderful book but also for the fact that through his book I was able to spend some precious, dedicated time remembering my own grandmother and the shenanigans we got up to together. That is a great gift to a reader indeed!

This is a much more personal review than I usually write. But I suspect this is happening to a lot of people reading The Truth About Luck. I feel that most people will find it a challenge to read this book in a detached manner. Reid’s style invites you in to a comfortable, relatable story that opens you up for reminiscence. Oh, and in a totally weird yet even more personal aside:  I really need to get in touch with Reid’s mum to find out about her use of plain yogourt to help her diabetic cat. My wonderful dog recently developed insulin-dependent diabetes and he’s had a very rough go these past few months. He’s a bit more stable now, thanks goodness, and I am researching ways to help him further. Reading that yogourt could be some sort of miracle supplement to help my dog’s coat and general health, well — I need to know more!

Edited to add: Reid recently spoke with the 49th Shelf about The Truth About Luck. It’s a great article!

My Favourite Reads of 2012

2 Jan

2012 was another wonderful year for reading so I thought I would share with you the list of books I really loved. I don’t claim this list to be comprehensive or exhaustive…it is just reflective of my reading over the past 12 months. Some of the titles were newly published in 2012 and others are not quite as recent. But, each of these titles resonated with me strongly. Whether through beautiful prose, memorable characters or compelling stories, each of these books found a place in my heart.

Fiction:

#10. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. This is a dark, challenging and unsettling novel. Like David Foster Wallace, #3 on this list, Bolaño really challenged the idea of the traditional form of the novel with this book.

#9. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Johnson. This novel was an unexpected gem. Fun and funny, this book made me hope for more Scandinavian translations coming to English markets. It’s a fantastic contrast to all the “noire” books Scandinavian writers have become more well-known for in recent years.

#8. The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler. Anne Tyler just gets human beings and hits readers in the heart.

#7. Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift. I reviewed this book for work nearly a year ago now and loved it so much. I feel like it really flew under the radar so like to tell people about it. Sure, it’s a difficult subject, but Swift’s prose is perfect.

#6. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Okay, it’s a bit of a cheat because it’s two books — but I loved them both a whole lot and couldn’t choose one over the other. They really are as good as you keep hearing and I am suffering withdrawal waiting for the final book in Mantel’s planned trilogy.

#5. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. This is Harbach’s debut novel. It pretty much made me want to quit writing because I could never do anything this amazing on my first go. You do not have to have a love of baseball, or even a passing interest in the sport to appreciate the story and its beauty.

#4. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I really don’t read Young Adult fiction very often at all. It’s all too supernatural, sparkly and fang-y for my tastes. BUT…this novel blew my mind. I read it to see if it would be appropriate for my 15-year-old niece (it is!!) and it ended up capturing my heart. Green treats his teenaged readers as smart, capable people. This novel is – in my mind – an elevated form of YA and gave me hope for the genre.

#3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. BOOM! This novel is next to impossible to explain or summarize. It’s incredible and a big challenge for readers. I think it’s safe to say DFW was a genius and very interested in challenging narrative form and structure. Do not be afraid of the footnotes. And don’t even think about skipping them.

#2. Ru by Kim Thúy. What a quiet, beautiful story.

#1. In the Orchard the Swallows by Peter Hobbs. Hobbs’ novel has been sitting with me for months now. Another quiet, beautiful story, Hobbs accomplishes so much in a brief amount of space and with elegant yet simple prose. Another novel that flew under the radar, I would love for you to read this special book!

Nonfiction:

#5. Why Be Normal When You Could Be Happy? by Jeannette Winterson. Winterson’s early life was bleak but at no point is she trying to elicit our sympathies.

#4. Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in The Klondike by Charlotte Gray. I loved the stucture of this book. Gray uses six different people to weave a bold picture of life in the Klondike.

#3. Every Love Story is A Ghost Story by D. T. Max. I read this right after finishing Infinite Jest and it really added to that novel. I knew a lot about DFW prior to reading this biography but Max adds humanity and compassion to the man and his very troubled life without straying into sensationalism.

#2. Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch. while this wasn’t the best written book, the access Gooch had to O’Connor’s archives and personal letters made this a fascinating read.

#1. Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear. I love Potter and Lear did a fantastic job giving readers a big, full picture of Potter’s life – beyond her wonderful children’s books.

Honourable Mentions

* A History of the Present Illness by Louise Aronson – a short story debut collection from Aronson – an associate professor of medicine at University of California at San Francisco. I loved how the line between fact and fiction blurred for me while reading these stories.

* State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – now, I love Patchett and spend a lot of time wishing I was her. Haha — what’s not to love? She’s a tremendous author and, as of last year, owns and runs a successful independent bookstore in Nashville. This novel features some very thought-provoking subjects.

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I am quite liking that all of my 2012 favourites have to do with connecting. Whether it was because of a fiction writer creating strong characters trying to find their way in the world or nonfiction works that served to help me feel a kinship with their subjects, all of my choices were very personal reads for me this year and huge for the heart in their stories. (Though i am puzzling over how Mantel’s books fit this, exactly. Haha!!)

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I would love to hear your recommendations! What were the best books you read in 2012??

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