Sunday, January 06, 2013

Best Books of 2012

I'm a bit late with this, but I thought I'd drop on by to briefly mention a few of my favourite books of the past 12 months. It was not a prolific reading year for me, having read only a total of 38 books. Usually I hover in or around the 50 mark. But I did read some terrific stuff, for sure.
Among my favourites -- and really, it's so hard to choose, my four favourite novels were:

The Secret History -- Donna Tartt
Middlesex -- Jeffrey Eugenides
The Elegance of the Hedgehog -- Muriel Barbery
The Woman in White -- Wilkie Collins

Most of these are not current releases [especially the last one] -- but the criteria of "current release" very rarely factors in to my reading choices. To me, it matters not if a book is ten years old already, I wander my To Be Read piles, and just select one and BOOM, I am off.

Donna Tarrt is an author I would read without reservation, meaning, I am already interested in whatever her next project is! The Secret History was just so superb -- such memorable characters, and a story that effortlessly swept me along.
Funny, one evening in July I was reading it in a Starbucks, and an old man looked over at me and said, "That is a good book!" I looked up and sort of instantly knew that there is no way he had read the book. But he persisted…. "There are things going on that we do not know about…" giving me a sort of conspiratorial wink.
I said to him, "This is a novel -- a fiction." He was not getting it. He thought I was reading about the Illuminati or something. Non-fictional secret societies. I smiled and returned to the book, but he took out a slip of paper and asked me for the ISBN number. So I recited it to him. Poor guy. Afterwards, I imagined him making a trip to the library, checking it out, and then sitting down with it and thinking "What the frigging hell is this?"
Middlesex was my introduction to Jeffrey Eugenides, and made an instant fan out of me.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog was a wonderful philosophical journey. Not only a great novel, but relevant. Meaningful. Worthwhile. Elegant.
And The Woman in White was everything a great old Victorian novel ought to be. Old Wilkie Whiskerface… you gotta hand it to the guy. He may have been high on laudanum at the time, but he sure could write!
There are so many other books I loved -- it seems like a betrayal to not mention them here.

In the non-fiction department, two books stand out to me as just -- remarkable.
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, is the story of the WWII American soldier, Louis Zamperini. To read what this [still living] man went through as a P.O.W. in Japanese camps is just amazing. I could not put the thing down, from page one onwards. Hillenbrand could not have given us anything better. Her extensive research and writing style have joined in a book that reads like the most engaging novel, ever.
Then there is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot -- again, one of the most unputdownable TRUE stories I have ever read. I cannot recommend it too highly.

There are so many other books, non-fiction ones that reached into the very fiber of my mind and heart.
Isn't it difficult to just select a few to highlight, when all of us are reading so many great books each year? For me, it is difficult.

Happy Reading to y'all, in 2013!



Sam Sattler said...

"Secret History" knocked me over when I picked it up a few years ago. I read the whole thing on a flight from Houston to London, never sleeping even for a moment when everyone else doused their seat lights and sacked out for three or four hours. I was hooked immediately and could not put it down until I saw how it was going to end. I passed it on to my boss, who passed it on to his, and we tracked that thing through half a dozen readers before losing track of it for good. It was unanimous in that all eight of us loved the book.

Cipriano said...

Sam, I couldn't agree with you more. I was the same way with the book, yet not quite as quick with the reading as you were. Even when I am fast, I am slow.
But for me it was just that kind of book that you want to recommend to others. So far, one other person I know has read it entirely upon my advice, and loved it.
What do you think? Should we contact Donna Tartt's agent and ask for kickbacks?

Melwyk said...

I still haven't read "Secret History"...oops! But I agree with your assessment of Wilkie Collins entirely -- I loved Woman in White but think my favourite Collins is still Armadale. Great villianess in that one!

Anonymous said...

Hey Cippy,
I read The Secret History when I was in a reading funk and it pulled me right out of it. Thanks for suggesting it. I'm back to my old self again and have been through several books since so vive le Cipriano and your recommendations.
My latest was french but the one before that was Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence. It was terrific!

Stefanie said...

Loved the Secret History. The guy at the bookstore probably got quite the surprise. Maybe he thinks there are Dionysian cults at all universities now and their members will soon be making bids to rule the world. And Wilkie, isn't Count Fosco one of the best bad guys ever?

Nikki Steele said...

Hahahah -- let's hope the universe was trying to give the older man a sign. Like, get out of the conspiracy theories and pick up some literature. Here's to hoping he actually read it, because like you, I absolutely loved that book and have re-read it every year since I read it first.

Alyce said...

I loved both of those nonfiction books too. I tried reading Middlesex, and even though I was impressed with his writing abilities the sex scenes made me cringe.

patricia said...

LOVED Secret History. Read it while in Nunavut a few years back. Donna Tartt is a genius. If you haven't read her other book The Little Friend, Cippy, YOU MUST. It will blow you away. How I WISH Tartt would write more books...

Also loved Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Cipriano said...

It's really so nice to see such a consensus on the greatness of The Secret History. Thank you, friends, for writing and telling me of your opinions.

Melwyk -- now you make me want to read Armadale!

"C" -- I'm so glad you liked The History also. I know at the start, it was not grabbing you, but I'm glad she reeled you in. Rushdie is currently at 50/50 with me... one book of his I liked [Haroun and the Sea of Stories] but another [Satanic Verses] I found very difficult slogging.

Stefanie -- hah hah! That poor guy at the store. I wonder if he ever got the book! And agreed... Count Fosco is forever ungorgettable.
Nikki -- wow! RE-reading it! That's hardcore. But for sure, The Secret History deserves it!

Alyce -- I know what you're saying about Middlesex. All that hermaphroditism and sort of lurid sex etc., isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea. Somehow though, the saga aspect of the story really appealed to me.

Patricia -- Oh, so good to hear from you. I have read her other one, The Little Friend and I loved that book, too. And the Hedgehog was a beaut. I bet you could draw a really awesome hedgehog!

All the best to you, dear friends.