I’m aware that we’re already two weeks into 2013, but last year was a good one, and I thought it deserved a little reflection (belated though it may be).
I read 42 books in 2012. For those of you that are not the avid albeit passive member of the bookworm/book blogging community that I am, that’s actually not that many in comparison to other members of said community. In all fairness, some of the people I’m referencing read books as part of their careers; however, some, like me, read purely for leisure. I’m a fairly slow reader in general, so I doubt I’ll ever read into the 100-150 range of some of my friends and favorite bloggers, but I would like to improve upon my overall number in 2013. My reading goal for this year is 60 books – ambitious (for me, anyway), but doable.
Despite the lack of abounding quantity, I am pleased with my efforts in 2012. I did some pretty cool things. This year, I…
planned a wedding,
started a book club,
spent two weeks in New Zealand,
lost 15 pounds,
attended some fantastic author readings (thanks to Ann Patchett and the wondrous Parnassus Books) (Amor Towles, Lyndsay Faye, Jennie Fields, Erin Morgenstern, Mark Helprin, Holly Tucker, and Kevin Wilson, just to name a few),
read books with long distance friends,
successfully read multiple books at a time (something I had rarely attempted before now),
gave books away as an official World Book Night 2012 giver,
sparked two separate fiction ideas and started research on them,
bought two more bookshelves for my library,
read more nonfiction than ever before (although still a rather small percentage overall),
attended Bonnaroo for the second time,
spent a weekend in Asheville for the first time,
spent a weekend in New Orleans for the first time,
watched every How I Met Your Mother episode,
watched every Doctor Who episode,
watched every Gossip Girl episode,
went to 5 midnight showings of movies and 3 regular showings of movies,
wrote two bios and two freelance music articles,
and bought 11 pairs of shoes.
A Few Stats
Of the 42 books I read this year, 20 of them were written by women, which I thought was pretty cool. There was exactly 1 DNF. 6 of them were nonfiction, 9 were for the book club I started in March, 7 of them I listened to on audio, and 5 I read with a friend. Collectively, I read/listened to approximately 17,000 words. Of the 42 I read, 34 of them were more than 300 pages, 8 were more than 500, and 3 were more than 800 pages (Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Suzanne Clarke, and The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett).
I also found the publication dates of the works I read interesting. See the handy chart below. Most of what I read was published in the 21st century, but strictly speaking, I read more backlist than frontlist.
Superlatives and Honorable Mentions
I thought I’d do some of my own personal reading year awards. Also, there are a few moments in the books I read in 2012 that stand out and thus deserve to be recognized.
Best Book [Overall]: I thought I’d get the more difficult category out of the way first. This year, I had no trouble narrowing down my top 5, which says to me that this was a good reading year, not a great one. And although Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles, was a clear choice for me, The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, was an extremely close second. Rules of Civility is just one of those rare books in which every word seems carefully chosen and every moment is beautifully laid out. I would have read any story written so gracefully, but single girls and chance meetings in Manhattan in the 30s? Rules of Civility, you win. I love you.
Best Book [Classic]: I read a couple of classics this year… perhaps not as many as I would have liked. While I truly enjoyed reading Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, my favorite classic I read was definitely The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I should have read it long ago, but I’m glad it was in this year’s list.
Best Book [Published in 2012]: There were some solid books published in 2012, and I read 10 of them. As much as I thrilled reading the psycho twisty Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, I have to go with The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye, as my favorite. An 1860s Manhattan setting makes the book automatically awesome, but Lyndsay’s well-researched, fast-paced, expertly-crafted, set-up-for-a-sequel historical novel was truly top notch.
Best Audio: Weirdly enough, this is probably my most difficult category. I picked some seriously awesome listens this year. From Tim Curry and Alan Cumming reading Dracula, by Bram Stoker to Jim Dale reading The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, audiobooks have been a huge part of what made this reading year cool. If I had to pick a fav though, it is definitely Stephen Fry reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Book 1, by Douglas Adams (I should have read it a long time ago, but I’m so glad I waited until I found this recording (and the subsequent four novels, which are read by Martin Freeman)). Honorable Mention goes to Jim Broadbent reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, because I just can’t imagine what reading that fabulous book on my own would be like; Jim Broadbent IS Harold.
Best Nonfiction: I’ve been actively working to broaden my nonfiction horizons the past few years, and while I haven’t gotten much farther than biographies of Arthur Conan Doyle, the bibliographies of Sarah Vowell, Mary Roach, Erik Larson, etc., and the occasional historical text or memoir, this year’s Best Nonfiction was by far, The Lost City of Z, by David Grann. Grann’s study of Percy Fawcett’s letters, telegrams, and diary entries, as well as first- and secondhand accounts of his travels, tells a thoroughly researched and thoroughly engrossing tale of the explorer’s search for a lost civilization and mysterious disappearance in the Amazon in 1925.
Best Book I Read for Book Club: Now, in my opinion, the category doesn’t necessary mean just “best book.” To me, book club is a way to extend one’s reading beyond his comfort zone, so I believe Best Book Read for Book Club should be the book that was most outside what I typically read that I also happened to enjoy. This year, I believe there’s a tie. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, was so far outside of the fiction I normally have on my shelf, and yet it truly impacted me when I read it and made for a fascinating discussion at book club. However, The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, was perhaps not as far outside my comfort zone, but one that I enjoyed immensely and also made for great discussion.
Worst Book I Read for Book Club: The book club I started in March of this year has done a pretty stellar job picking books that we have all enjoyed reading; however, The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling, was disliked across the board. Personally, I understood the satire and what I took to be the novel’s general purpose, but I didn’t appreciate it. I don’t ever like reading books that wallow in the ugly, mundane troubles of middle class life, but such exaggerated, overwrought cynicism stretched over 500 pages was an absolute chore.
Best Character: A difficult choice. While I’m tempted to go with Jamie Fraser, the sexy 17th century Scot featured in Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, I have to award Best Character to one to whom I was so tenderly endeared I physically teared up while reading: Hans Hubermann in The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. Yes, in my book, having heart and teaching the powers of language and literature to Nazi-era children trumps being a romantic, red-headed, muscly, kilt-wearing hunk o’ dude… but barely.
Worst Character: A tough call as well. The self-righteous, self-serving, despicably evil William Hamleigh in The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, won out over the thoughtless, narcissistic, gossipy Emma in Emma, by Jane Austen, but it was close, and I don’t think anyone who’s read those two books would argue with me.
Most Read Author: In tallying this category, I’ve created the best tie ever – between Louis Bayard and Neil Gaiman – at two books each. I really enjoyed all four of the books that make up this category, but The Black Tower, by Louis Bayard, an alternate history involving the world’s first private detective, Eugene Vidocq and Louis XVII, was the better of the two works (winning out over Mr. Timothy, about Tiny Tim grown up and investigating a murder in Victorian London, which was still pretty neat). And while The Graveyard Book was a cool read, Stardust, by Neil Gaiman, was just plain awesome.
Most Recommended/Coolest: Without doubt, this one goes to The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. I’ve been telling people about this book since before I read it myself. It is utterly original, inventive, colorful, and breathtaking in scope. It’s not overly burdened by plot, but the language is so lovely and the ideas so clever and well-detailed. I never wanted to leave this world.
Best Written: Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin, is 600-something pages of gorgeous prose. While the story is a seamless blend of historical fiction and magical realism, what really drew me into the book was the glorious language with which it is told.
Best Setting: The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelmann, is, to me, an obvious debut novel: brilliant setting, cool idea, and execution that could use a bit of work. Mostly, I was disappointed with the lack of character development, but barring those shortcomings, it was a pretty killer story. Best of all, it takes place in Stockholm in the 1790s. When else are you going to read all about Sweden during the French Revolution?
Best Fact-Based Fiction: The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty, is a story I didn’t know I wanted to read about. Moriarty writes a poignant and carefully told account of the silent film star Louise Brooks and the woman who chaperoned her first summer away from home. The novel primarily takes place in 1920s Manhattan, which is one of my absolute favorite eras.
Best Quick Read: The Sherlockian, by Graham Moore, is a lightning-fast-paced novel that weaves the story of Arthur Conan Doyle’s years in between killing off the world’s most beloved detective in 1893 and bringing him back to life in 1901 and a present day story of a member of the Baker Street Irregulars investigating the murder of a colleague using Sherlockian tactics. I am partial to a story involving the society of which I am so desperate to be a part, but either way, this novel is a great little murder mystery with lots of trivia about ACD’s life thrown in as well.
Best Slow Read: I listened to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, over a period of several weeks, and I feel like I was fully able to ruminate and ponder the subtle, thoughtful things that happen in this story as a result of the pace. I highly recommend this quaint little tale but most importantly read at a rate at which one can fully enjoy it.
Best YA Book: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick is a graphic masterpiece, and although it’s geared toward kids, I found the book fascinating and innovative. The book in its entirety is white type on black pages, and photos and drawings occupy the majority of the novel. I also highly recommend listen to the soundtrack to Hugo, the book’s movie adaptation, because its music is fitting and beautifully orchestrated.
Best Movie Adaptation of a Book I Read in 2012: Joe Wright’s film adaptation of Anna Karenina was exactly 100% of the reason I decided to read the book, and I am so glad I did. I feel like I got so much more out of the movie as a result of having read the book, which happens quite often with these things, but I also felt like I got more from the book having seen the movie, which is quite rare. The movie did an unbelievable job distilling a vast, sprawling plot into a rather more easily digestible storyline. I understood better the themes of the novel for having seen them concentrated for an audience and got a better grasp on the scope of the story after watching the whole thing played through in a 2 hour window… not to mention, the movie is decadence and richness at its utmost, so it is an absolute pleasure to look at.
At this point, I’ve named the majority of the books I read in 2012, and I might as well list the rest. The middling lot is as follows:
13, rue Therese, by Elena Mauli Shapiro
Among Others, by Jo Walton
The All of It, by Jennifer Haien
The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell
Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer
Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach (DNF)
Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs
Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes
This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Solitary House, by Lynn Shepherd
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal
A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie King
The Detective and the Woman, by Amy Thomas
And now that the Internetosphere is familiar with my entire reading list from 2012, I would be ever-so-pleased to share, discuss, comment upon, argue, commiserate, or gush over any of the above. I’m also curating an ever-changing list of those 60 I plan to read in 2013, so I’d love to hear about those I’ve overlooked in the past year or should be looking forward to this year. Feel free!