My Favourite Reads of 2012

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??

10 thoughts on “My Favourite Reads of 2012

  1. Elspeth says:

    The 100 year old man who climbed out the window was my favourite last year! Loved it. There are others on your list I will have to read.

    • It really was ridiculous, in the best way possible, eh?? 🙂 I was so happy to have found the book and I hope Jonasson has more books up his sleeve (this was his debut).

  2. Hi Jennifer

    Sounds as if you had a great year with books! Reading your post made me realise that I need to keep a better record of what I’ve read. All I have at the end of the year are vague memories, and a handful of reviews on my blog.

    I was living in Barbados so read a lot of Caribbean literature, and the highlight was The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace, a beautiful evocation of a moment of change in a Trinidadian community. I also enjoyed Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi – I know because it’s one of the few I got around to reviewing! There were lots of others, I know, but to remember them is hard. I’ve started keeping notes this year, so that in 12 months I can write a more informed roundup of 2013!

    • Hi Andrew. Thank you so much for visiting my blog! Thank you too for sharing some of your great reads from 2012. My Great-Grandmother spent time in Trinidad, in an attempt to help one of her sons regain his health, so I have a fascination with the place. I have made note of the Lovelace book. I began using Goodreads three-and-a-half years ago and it has been tremendous in helping me keep track of my reading. It has also caused my ‘to be read’ pile to grow exponentially, so be warned 🙂 Before using Goodreads, I was like you — remembering that I did like certain books, but not really recalling specific details very well.

      I was happy to find your website and your review for Sense of an Ending. My in-person book group is reading it this month and our meeting is this Sunday. In your follow-up piece, you hit on many of the reasons I struggled with the book. You expressed things very well.

      • Ah yes, Goodreads. I’m on there too, but I think it’s only increased by disorganisation. My “to-read” shelf currently has 922 books 😦 It’s embarrassing! I also forget to go on and make notes on what I’ve read, which is what I joined up for in the first place.

        Not the fault of Goodreads of course – it’s a wonderful tool, but wonderful tools in the wrong hands can be disastrous (think about a chimp with a chainsaw!).

        I think I just need to get into the habit of making brief notes on everything I read, whether on Goodreads or my blog or a pad of paper or anywhere. Your post is a good inspiration for me to try to improve! I’m glad I found your blog.

        • Heh, i understand completely. It took me a while to get into the swing of things, in noting my thoughts or very brief reviews on Goodreads. My “to read” shelf is equally unruly at 931 books. I hope you do find a system that helps. I always intend to be better about using my blog for reviews but as I do that for work too, I find time is spent more on work-related writing than blog-related writing.

  3. I currently have 1,633 books on my to-read shelf and i plan to add many more! But that doesn’t mean i will ever read all of them. I have a quote on goodreads from Gabriel Zaid that says “The truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.” so i say: add to your to-read pile with abandon! Jennifer, you are part of my “problem” with an out-of-control to-read shelf, anyway. 😉
    Even though we are well into 2013, i’m just now figuring out how to use wordpress. but if i may, i’d like to say A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth was my #1 read for 2012. I can’t wait for the sequel.

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