2012 was the year of many things — politics, gun violence, Hurricane Sandy, Olympics (remember way back that far?). But for those of us who crave getting lost in a great read, 2012 was something else: it was a year of new releases for many fabulous novels and works of nonfiction.
2012 was the year of the book.
Compiling reading lists before summer, I was astounded at the riches — only to find fall’s new releases a true embarrassment of riches. Even as pundits mull once again the death of the novel, death of publishing, death of print; even as self-publishing flooded in with more than a million e-releases via Amazon last year, the real news — the heady tweets and retweets throughout summer and fall — were the immensely satisfying novels arriving in print, lining up on the shelves of real bookstores.
It seemed everywhere people were reading. The question wasn’t, “What can I read next?” but, “What fabulous book on the many kudos-lists for 2012 have I not yet gotten to?”
As I gear up to compile my winter reading list for January, I came upon announcement at The Morning News of their annual Tournament of Books. Their 2013 list reads like a summary of various award nominees from throughout the fall (click here to read my prior post for several of the awards’ longlists).
Considering these top-reading lists, as well as my own and those of friends this year, had me taking stock: which were my favorite new releases of 2012, and which 2012 boooks have I yet to read?
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My Favorite New Releases of 2012:
I am not a fast reader, yet both of my top-picks compelled me to drop everything. Literally. All day in bed, reading. Through the night, reading. To the point of reading the second I woke, without stopping to make coffee. No joke: I took the second with me into a movie, suspecting I might be tempted to read a chapter by light of my cell phone, between scenes.
- Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds . Hands down, I think this is the most important book published in 2012. Beautifully written (battle described with haiku-like stillness), without hammering over the head, yet you cannot help be changed by the knowledge imparted. As a teacher, its impact left me expecting it will someday be assigned reading, as my generation once read The Red Badge of Courage.
- Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl . Where Yellow Birds was “important,” Gone Girl was ubiquitous as the “must read” page-turner of summer. I slogged through the first few chapters, skeptical over the characters’ self-indulgent narration… and then hook-whizzzz! Flynn had me. What began as self-important introspection reveals itself as the intricate mind-battle between two genuinely intriguing characters — and yes, I read compulsively, without stopping from page 60 through to the astonishing end, all the while seamlessly in love with Flynn’s ability to spin characters and story. To convey the extent to which Flynn won me over: through the whole last third of the book, I was actively thinking how glad I was to know she’d written other books I’d have to fill the gap once Gone Girl was done. Rare, hooked.
My other favorite-reads of the year weren’t published in 2012, but you can find them on my reading lists linked at the bottom of this post.
2012 New Releases Still-to-Be-Read:
There are another half dozen 2012-releases on my must-read lists that I’ve not yet gotten to.
- Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies — winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize, and the first woman to ever win the award twice.
- Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and David Abrams, Fobbit . In a way, it’s unfair to list these together, as if they are equivalent, but together with Yellow Birds, these were three of the remarkable books written by veterans this year — each adding a unique voice to the experience of America at war.
- Matthew Dicks, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
- Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank Everything Englander writes is charged with his intellect, and deeply meaningful. I’ve read one story from this collection, and look forward to the rest.
- Margot Livesey, The Flight of Gemma Hardy This is one of two books I am dying to read by Livesey — who not only impresses me, but has endeared me with encouragement on a story in the past.
- Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton
For other books on my reading lists, but not published in 2012, see the links at the bottom of this post — and be sure to share any of your own recommendations, as I’ll consider them in compiling my Winter 2013 list!
Said shyly: “Great” Books of 2012 I Put Down Without Finishing:
Caveats are required, here, because I am a discerning reader… but also an impatient one. Perhaps even moody. It is likely that these books did not fit my tastes at the time of reading, but these were two books I highly anticipated, then could not read past the first chapters:
- Ann Patchett, State of Wonder I have heard only rave opinions of all Patchett’s work, but I could not get into the plot, setting or characters of this one. I’m hoping it will hook me in another year, or I’ll read one of her other books.
- Jan-Phillip Sendker, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats A lovely book, set in a country I had been studying so was easily intrigued by… yet I could not get past feeling it was not well-edited, with the feel of a self-published book full of first novel errors. Impatience kicked in and another book took it’s place in line.
Are you like me — do you often find yourself quick to put books down?
Of a dozen books, I feel like I might eagerly make it past the third chapter on only 3-4 of them. Other well-reviewed books I put down in 2012 included Elegance of the Hedgehog (I didn’t feel like reading about Paris) and The Imperfectionists (it didn’t seem to go anywhere and I preferred the narrator of the first chapter, who then disappeared). With limited time and so many good books to read, I almost never force myself to finish a book that hasn’t hooked me. Then again, more than once I’ve stumbled across one of these later — in a different reading mood, perhaps — and loved it. Is there advice in that? I wonder how others experience this?
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My Reading Lists posted throughout 2012: