Good morning, darlings. How are your hangovers? Mine is definitely in the “raging” range, so I decided what better time to get on the bandwagon with all the other book bloggers (a day late, but shut up) and present my list of the ten best books I read this year? A quick note: these are, obviously, books that I read in 2012, not books that came out in 2012, and the reasons for placing them on the list are pretty arbitrary. Some are listed, not because I loved them all that much, but because they stuck with me long after I read them. They are a mix of fiction, non-fiction, short stories, etc, because I’m quirky like that. None of these have corresponding reviews on this blog, because I’m still working through my backlog of reviews, so that’s something to look forward to. So without further ado, we present
Loud Bookish Type’s Ten Favorite Books of 2012, in No Particular Order:
1. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
This book was billed as a female version of Heart of Darkness, which turned me off initially (sorry to all my former English teachers, but Heart of Darkness is easily in my Top Five Worst Books of All Time). But I had read and loved Patchett’s Bel Canto, so I gave this a shot, and it was worth it. It follows Marina Singh, an employee for a pharmaceutical company who is sent into the Amazon to track down a researcher who is developing a fertility drug. The researcher, a former teacher of Singh’s refuses to communicate with the company about her progress or even the location of her camp, and Singh is sent to find her after another employee dies at the reseach station under mysterious circumstances. It’s exciting, full of plot twists, and the descriptions of the Amazon are gorgeous.
2. The Years by Virginia Woolf
Fuck, you guys, I love Woolf so much. I love her because she writes like no one else, and no one else is capable of producing passages like this: “But what vast gaps there were, what blank spaces, she thought, leaning back in her chair, in her knowledge! How little she knew about anything. Take this cup, for instance; she held it out in front of her. What was it made of? Atoms? And what were atoms, and how did they stick together? The smooth hard surface of the china with its red flowers seemed to her for a second a marvelous mystery.”
3. Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell by Janet Wallach
Before reading this, I had no idea who Gertrude Bell was. Now I tell people to read this book whenever I get a chance, because everyone needs to know who Gertrude Bell is. She was the only woman at the Cairo Conference of 1922, and was instrumental in creating a new government for the Middle East, and drew the borders for modern-day Iraq. Wallach’s biography of her is detailed and fascinating, and gives Bell the recognition she deserves. And luckily, Bell might become more commonly known one day, because apparently there’s a movie about her in the works. I don’t know much about it, but apparently they’ve cast Naomi Watts to play Gertrude Bell, and I will be seeing it the day it comes out.
4. A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1) by George RR Martin
This was the year I finally jumped on the ASOIAF bandwagon, and I spent the summer gleefully ripping through all five books in the series, as well as catching up on the HBO show. I’m a full-on fangirl now, and am already getting antsy waiting for the sixth book.
5. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
I had never read Rushdie before this, but I was immediately blown away by this book. It’s one of those masterfully crafted story where every scene, every character, and every action has been deliberately placed in that exact spot, and everything all comes together perfectly in the end. Also the story is just cool: Saleem Sinai, born at midnight on the day India became independent, chronicles his family’s history and tells the story of his own life, which is intertwined with the story of India’s post-independence struggles. Also, Sinai discovers that he and every other child in India born at midnight on independence day have powers like time travel and psychic abilities. It’s Middlesex crossed with X-Men, and it’s awesome.
6. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
This is usually described as Harry Potter for adults, but I’d say it’s more like a natural continuation for the fantasy lover. We start out worshipping Hogwarts and Narnia, and then, when we’re ready, we read The Magicians and realize why those worlds are not as great as we first thought they were. The story follows Quentin Coldwater, who gets accepted to a Hogwarts-like school for magicians, and later travels to a Narnia-like fantasy world. The first half is a brilliant deconstruction of the too-perfect fantasy world of Harry Potter, and the second half is an extra-brilliant look at the too-perfect Narnia. Warning: if you aren’t ready to let go of Hogwarts and Narnia, you might want to give this one a pass, because Grossman takes your childhood love of those books and smashes them into bits. It hurts like hell, but it’s a good hurt.
7. Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser
Probably the best short story collection I’ve ever read. Millhauser does this very cool thing where he presents an idea, and then takes that idea far past its logical conclusions and explores every aspect of it in detail. One of my favorite stories in the collection, “A Precursor of the Cinema” is about the career of a Belle Epoque painter who created hyper-realistic paintings, and then started making paintings that could move on their own. It’s all beautifully written and really, really cool.
8. Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
There were a lot of chances for this book to go horribly wrong for me – it’s about a spoiled seventeen-year-old girl whose playboy father gets unexpectedly engaged, and when the girl realizes that her hedonistic lifestyle is being threatened, decides to ruin her father’s relationship. Somehow, though, everything works, and I sympathized with the girl rather than finding her a heartless monster. The writing is beautiful, and it’s a lovely, heartbreaking story.
9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Yes, I finally read it, having not read any Mark Twain since middle school when I had to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This one is better – it’s smarter, funnier, and much more affecting. Huck is a fantastic narrator, and Twain’s descriptions of the Mississippi river are so wonderful that the river almost becomes another character.
10. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I was hesitant to start this one, after hating Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, but I overcame my apprehension for one reason: this book is about a butler who spends a week taking a driving trip around England while reflecting on his career working for a lord during World War One and Two. That was all I needed. Look guys, Downton Abbey is my crack, and if you hand me a book that could be retitled Mr. Carson Takes a Road Trip, I’m going to devour that thing and I’m going to love it. The writing here is gorgeous, and unlike Never Let Me Go, the slow pace and lack of conclusion actually works, and I loved every page.
Honorable Mention: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
Everyone and their mom read this book this year, me included. Yes, it’s lovely and tragic and funny. Yes, I loved it. But it’s been on everybody’s Top Ten lists, and I wanted to be different. But you should read it.