One good thing I can say about 2012: my reading was stellar, from start to finish. Though the year's not technically done, and I am still reading, I think I'll wrap it up anyway, just because I can. No one can stop me! I am mad with the power of it and can justify myself by noting Best of book lists are positively pouring in right now from all corners. If you're a list-o-phile, as I am, check out the blog Largehearted Boy for a list of lists, something to drool over. You WILL be amazed.
My official book count for 2012 - as logged on GoodReads - isn't completely accurate but it is close. I missed a few I read via my Kindle, and perhaps a couple actual book books but I'll just go with what I have and call it even. I'm always happy to do the least I can do.
GoodReads clocks me in at having read 67 books. I set my goal for this year at an easily attainable 52, figuring any more would be gravy, making me look like an over-achiever. Little things like that boost my ego, sadly, and as I no longer suffer bad books easily, that's 67 pretty darn good reads to choose from. Culling my 10 Best has been no easy feat.
Interestingly, of these 67, 33 were written by female authors, almost breaking even for what may be the first time ever. Generally, male writers top my list, for no particular reason I can name. Eleven reads were nonfiction - a rising favorite genre - and there was only one collection of short stories. Fourteen books were read for professional review (which tells me right there I definitely didn't keep up with all books read).
On the flip side of my 2012 list, my absolute worst reads of the year scream out to me: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling and The Receptionist by Janet Groth. I kept on with the Rowling only because it was Rowling but can't say why I went on to finish Groth's ultimately unsatisfying memoir of her days spent as a secretary at The New Yorker, which should have been titled I was a Lot Hotter When I Was Younger: Or, Let Me Tell You a lot of Uninteresting Details about Why I Never Made it Big. I kept thinking it must surely get better, at some point she'd start telling me fascinating inside information about the guts of the great magazine, what made it the icon it was and is. Spoiler: it never did.
Rowling was the bigger disappointment. We all know she's cornered the YA market but she has a long slog coming near writing quality books for adults. That she's made so many Best Books of 2012 lists illustrates how skewed - and political - these lists really are. While some of us are unafraid to tell you the emperor has no clothes, others fall all over themselves praising a crap book that happened to be written by a record-breaking, blockbuster novelist. I have no vested interest, no reason to impress. I don't have a single qualm telling you the book was bloated and in need of a good editor. What editor in his or her right mind would dare touch the work of SHE WHO MUST BE NAMED? Talk about a career-ruiner. But me? No such worry.
So, which were the best? La crème de la crème of 2012?
In no particular order:
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
Try as I may, I can't pick one VERY favorite. These books are so diverse; I loved each for very different reasons. Ordinarily I'd say, hands down, Sebastian Barry's book has no peer - and, in some ways, it doesn't - but he's had a serious run for his money in 2012.
Now that, my friends, says quite a lot.
Only one book - Darwin's Ghost - is nonfiction. If you're interested in Darwin the man, what lead him to his conclusions and which scientists who came before directly influenced his work, this is your book. It wasn't technical at all, or I certainly couldn't have read it, having only the most minimal background in science. Rather, it's riveting, written for the general public, containing much about how personal successes and failures personally affected him. Very revealing.
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens (nonfiction) was the closest follow-up, not making the list by a hairsbreadth. As far as books written by writers actively dying - a slim genre, I'd bet - it's a masterpiece. Its 4.4/5.0 rating on Amazon (190 reviews) is indicative of its power. Even those who actively despised Hitchens had to bow to this honest and forthright account of his last months. And the man racked up a seriously long list of enemies in his lifetime. This is one to stand beside Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, another in the same vein.
Another fun fact, I've met two of the authors on my list: Erin Morgenstern and Sebastian Barry, and interviewed four: Alison Moore, Peter May, Wiley Cash (will be up on BookBrowse.com soon) and Sebastian Barry. None of that had any bearing on choosing their works, mind. I swear it!
The question remains: what am I still reading? Mostly:
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks (fascinating science, again, written for the unscientific)
The World Without You by Joshua Henkins (book group discussion)
The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman (book group discussion)
Lastly, what are my reading plans for 2013? As a preview, much different from 2012. I'll post separately but one of my resolutions is to purchase far fewer books, instead reading - then donating or selling - hundreds of books I already own. Each book was bought for a reason, drawing me for a specific purpose, yet I've gotten to such a small percentage of them, as the new books roll in and complicate everything that much more. I can't control review books I'm sent but I can reclaim vast areas of my house spilling forth with the beloved beauties I've bought or received as gifts. How I'm going to do that I'm still in the process of deciding but it will be creatively fascinating, and you won't want to miss a minute.
That sums up the bulk of my 2012. I could hardly have had a better reading year and look forward to a new, and hopefully equally wonderful, 2013.
Have a list you'd like to share? Stick the link in the comments and I'll come see it. Agree/disagree with my list? Tell me!