Tag Archives: Gillian Flynn

2012: Year of the Book


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:

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Next on My Reading List: Fall 2012

Here is a selection from my “active reading” stacks, bridging my reading from summer into fall 2012. (The porcelain boxer has run through three generations in our family – as has the breed.) c Elissa Field

My Summer Reading List was one of the most-read articles I’ve posted this year, and I really enjoyed the great conversation it drew here, on Twitter and on Facebook.  One of the more charming qualities avid readers share in common is the unrestrained love of a great new story. Ungainly as colts learning to manage our legs, we go to bookstores in search of one book but walk with a guilty armload of the half-dozen we hadn’t expected but can’t wait to read.  We’re reading one book, but have six more stacked on our bedside table or waiting in our virtual shopping baskets.

Which is segue to say that soon after posting my summer reading, I’d already begun drafting “Next on my Reading List,” which I’m excited to share below.  Several of the books come from readers’ comments, as you shared your own favorites and to-reads, or blogged your own lists.  A couple were books I’ve wanted to read but either slip my mind or I haven’t yet found them in store.  Others have grabbed my attention over the summer from reviews, nominees for awards, and news of new releases.  There are some fabulous books releasing this fall.

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  1. Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds (Sept. 2012). Let’s put it this way: after reading the New York Times review, I tweeted, “If the book is half as good as the review, it will be a top read for fall.” London editor Drummond Moir tweeted back, “It’s twice that good.” It doesn’t hurt that the topic fits my current writing bent, so this debut is high on my list. Update: Yellow Birds makes my best read(s) of the year list. I bought it on Friday and didn’t put it down. Days after, I was still shaken by the subtle, powerful impact he conveys — I’ve never read such an honest account of war, so poetically expressed. Highly, highly recommend this one.
  2. Tayari Jones, Silver Sparrow (2011). I have never heard a negative thing about Tayari Jones, and everything I’ve read of her, from reviews of her books to reading her on Twitter, has been fabulous. Silver Sparrow is her much-applauded book published May 2011, but I’ve also heard great things about her 2003 novel, Leaving AtlantaUpdate: Finally (yay!) I picked up Tayari’s book, and it’s next in line. I can’t wait.
  3. Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (Feb. 2012). Frankly, Nathan Englander can do no wrong, in my book.  He is on the short list of authors I’d like to workshop with, which says a lot.  His 2008 novel The Ministry of Special Cases made my favorite reads of 2011, as intelligent, poetic and haunting. What We Talk About is a collection of short stories; his 2000 novel For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is also on my to-read list.
  4. Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox (2011).  I’ve read short stories by this writer, and suspect this first novel deserved more acclaim. I’m curious to check it out, now that paperback and Kindle have made it easier to get ahold of — I had a hard time finding it before.
  5. David Abrams, Fobbit (Sept. 2012). I discovered Abrams on Twitter, so have anticipated Fobbit’s September release.  A 20 year veteran as a journalist in the Army, Abrams shares his behind-the-scenes insight to life on an FOB during the war in Iraq.
  6. Matthew Dicks, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Aug. 2012). For several months when I was seven, I had an imaginary pet dog who I felt no hesitation in talking about (or walking on a leash). It’s the sort of thing you forget as adult, and there is something powerful in hearing someone else share a similar experience — like having the guy beside you say he saw the same ghost. Beyond that personal appeal, I’ve read excerpts and am excited to track this book down — it is an interesting first novel, with a whole new perspective.
  7. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (Jun. 2012).  Addition of Gone Girl to my reading list is Twitter-provoked — which reflects either a really effective social marketing campaign, or this book really does keep readers up all night turning pages.  This thriller is Flynn’s third novel. Update: this made my “favorite reads of 2012” list — a great thriller.
  8. Sarah Winman, When God Was a Rabbit (Apr. 2012).  Searched, but I can’t for the life of me find the original list I discovered this one on — I thought it was long list for an award? — but something in reviews makes it compelling. This is Winman’s first novel.

Writers I’ve Been Meaning to Read:

It’s unfair that readers so readily buy work by famous authors — and just as unfair that we sometimes bypass the famed writers, numb to their accomplishment in favor of discovering someone new. Here are a few I’ve been meaning to read.

  1. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2006).  I look forward to this one as Ishiguro impressed me immensely with his ability to portray passion in restraint in The Remains of the Day.
  2. Joyce Carol Oates, Black Dahlia & White Rose  (Sept. 2012). It’s true I neglect many famed writers until something like this interview in Salon brings them to my attention, made more human than celebrity, and the idea of reading their work feels as fresh as discovering that new writer. (Thanks to link on my cousin Katie’s facebook for this one — and good luck to her in her Fullbright teaching post in Rwanda this fall!)
  3. Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton (Sept. 2012). This one comes from Flavorwire’s “10 New Must Reads for September.” I admire Rushdie and have been weighing which of his to read. Anton may, in the end, lose out to one of his earlier works.
  4. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000; 2001 Pulitzter Prize winner). Whether this one or, Wonder Boys, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh or another, I’ve been meaning to read Chabon.
  5. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925). I’ve read other works by Woolf (I’m a fan of To the Lighthouse) and have read and viewed so many adaptations, but don’t know that I’ve ever read the original of Mrs. Dalloway.
  6. Ann Patchett, State of Wonder (May 2012).  I began reading this over the summer after countless recommendations from friends. Update: this one has not yet held my attention, but that’s part of the fickleness of reading — books compete not only with other works, but with the writing going on in our own heads. I’m putting it aside for my next reading list.

Irish Writers:

Sometimes my reading list becomes topic- or author-specific, based on what I am writing.  Writing Wake, I’ve been seeking out current fiction by Irish authors, and these rose on my list.

  1. Jon Banville, The Sea (2005; Man Booker Prize). I’m reading this one now and can’t read a line without being distracted back to my own writing, so the reading is going slowly. I picked Banville, though, for portrayal of a tranquil seaside town, countering the crime noir and conflict-based writing I’d been saturated in.
  2. Anne Enright, The Gathering (2007).  Winner of the Man Booker Prize (2008?), Enright’s voice has been praised as bridging the lyrical traditions of Irish story telling with new sense of surprise. Update: When I began reading, I was impressed with the confident, unhurried and subtle way Enright conveys emotions… But I put it down at page 62. It may be a matter of taste, but I was turned off by the grunge-level of drinking and sexuality, without feeling compelled to like any characters.
  3. Colm Tóibín, Mothers and Sons (2008). This story collection snuck its way in line, taking the place of one of the books off my Summer Reading list.  His prose is clean and smart; he’s best know for the precision of his characters — not so much for story resolution. His novel Brooklyn (2009) also makes my list, as does his essay collection, out this year, New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families. Update: I loved Mothers & Sons, and look forward to reading not Brooklyn but The Master next.

Rolled over from Summer’s list, just releasing this fall:

  1. Adrian McKinty, The Cold Cold Ground (2012).
  2. Emma Straub Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures (2012).


  1. Charles Baxter, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction (2008) and The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot (2007). Baxter wasn’t my workshop leader when I went to Bread Loaf Writers Conference, yet I came away from that intense week more impacted by the advice in Baxter’s afternoon lectures than the whole week of my workshop.  I had been meaning to read Burning Down the House, but recently heard great feedback also on The Art of Subtext, so both go on my list.  Want one more? Bringing the Devil to his Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life (2001).
  2. Pankaj Ghemawat, Redefining Global Strategy: Crossing Borders in a World Where Differences Still Matter (2007).  I stumbled on this while trying to find lost link to a book about Ireland’s border counties… and it may just make my Kindle list.

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And What Are You Reading?

As with the Summer Reading List, I’d love to hear your own reading suggestion in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year, or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share a link.

Do I Really Read All These Books?

Over the summer, I read a third of the books on the list I posted. Of those I didn’t read: 3 books I started and set aside — not that they were bad, but others took over.  Several I could not get ahold of (2 had not yet released, so are posted as “rollovers” above).  I ran out of time for the rest as I’m also reading news, articles, student work, blogs, submissions and more, each day.  Realistically, I know I’ll read at least a third of the fall list (1 down, already), and the ones I don’t get to are still the books I would mention to a friend, if they were wondering what good books were out there. Update: I read 8 of the 21 listed here, as well as another handful not listed. Of those I didn’t read, several rotated to my Winter Reading list as I had not yet gotten ahold of them by the end of year.

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Happy fall reading, all!

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