Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Observations on a Year of Reading, 2012

In past years, I’ve taken the log of books that I read (I keep a spreadsheet—I’m a little bit anal like that) and compiled a long list of them, with a top-ten list and assorted other tallies and trivia. (Like this one I did for 2011.) But 2012 was the year that I stopped working at the bookstore, moved from the suburbs to New York City, and started grad school, thus depriving me of my three biggest sources of reading time (i.e. breaks at work, regular hour-long train rides, and time not spent doing schoolwork). So it pains me a little to say that I only read 50 books this year (or 48 or 52, depending on how you count—two of the books were issues of One Story, and one of the books was an omnibus of three novels, specifically Markus Zusak’s Underdogs...and speaking of which, we're now going on seven years since The Book Thief--dammit, you Aussie bastard, where the hell is Bridge of Clay?).

But I digress. This was the year that I read two books which I probably would have liked even more if I had ever read Moby-Dick: Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (a book which--like 2011 favorite The Night Circus--totally lived up to the hype). This also was the year that, for the first time, I read some ebooks on my own time instead of just while covering the table at the bookstore--and I reviewed some of them for this here site: Henry Franks, Since You Left Me, and Prepare to Die!.

There were a couple of books I read this year that I disliked enormously: Alex Adams' White Horse (a grossly unpleasant work of post-apocalyptic adventure), Yves Meynard's Chrysanthe (a fantasy novel with brilliant world-building, incomprehensible plotting, and zero character development), and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things (endless and pointless). I was also disappointed twice: once when I finally read Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, widely considered among the funniest books ever written, and didn't laugh once; again by the curious resolution to the primary plot of The Beautiful Mystery, the most recent work by the usually superb Canadian mystery novelist Louise Penny. (By comparison, earlier in the year I read her previous book, A Trick of the Light, which was no disappointment at all, even following the extraordinary Bury Your Dead.)

But more than that, I read a lot of books this year that I liked: in addition to all the books I mentioned earlier, I have to commend (in no particular order):
Scott Westerfeld's Goliath, the enormously satisfying conclusion to the trilogy of steampunk war novels that began with Leviathan.
Matt Ruff's The Mirage, a bizarre and hilarious work of alternate history that begins with a group of Christian fundamentalists hijacking four jetliners and steering them into the World Trade Towers in downtown Baghdad and then goes on from there.
Nick Harkaway's practically indescribable Angelmaker.
Ernest Cline's batshit insane Ready Player One.
Shalom Auslander's ruthlessly funny Hope: A Tragedy, which may not be suitable for gentiles.
Dennis Lehane's Mystic River, which probably doesn't need an introduction at this point other than to say that it's accurately regarded as a contemporary classic of crime fiction.
Paolo Bacigalupi's intense Ship Breaker, the thoroughly worthy winner of the 2011 Printz Award. (Yes, I have a copy of The Drowned Cities; no, I haven't read it yet.)
Paul Murray's odd and splendid Skippy Dies, best described as a novel of sex, drugs, and string theory.
And our very own Colleen Mondor's curious and deeply moving book The Map of My Dead Pilots.

Above all, though, my favorite book this year was--as I suspect it was for a lot of other people--John Green's newest, The Fault in Our Stars. Sure, you can complain that Green's characters often sound the same and not quite like real teenagers. But the fact is that I described this book to more than one friend as being "like having your heart ripped out and stomped on and being completely grateful for the opportunity."

So that was 2012. And now I get to start 2013.


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1 comment:

Debra said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who keeps a spreadsheet of reading. I made bar graphs, too.