I think I’ll do what I did last year, and rather than make a list of the best books I read in 2012, I’ll discuss my reading in terms of categories. Some of my best reading experiences this year included:
- A bunch of reading by and about Virginia Woolf, including Hermione Lee’s awesome biography of Woolf, Woolf’s diaries Volume 2, and Mrs. Dalloway. It’s been great to think about Woolf from multiple angles including different types of writing. Perhaps I’ll continue this Woolf obsession by reading To the Lighthouse this coming year.
- Two books by Zadie Smith, both of which were awesome: NW and her essay collection Changing My Mind. I got to see her do a reading as well. I liked Smith before this year based on my reading of White Teeth, but now I’m a real fan.
- Two books by Barbara Comyns, of which I really loved Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. Our Spoons Came From Woolworths was also good, but not as good as the other. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on more Comyns books soon.
Probably two of my favorite books of the year:
- Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. This book is beautiful, it has an innovative structure, it’s smart, and it’s also personal, emotional, and compelling. Fabulous.
- Mark Doty’s Dog Years. Unmissable for anyone who loves dogs, and a really, really good read even if you don’t, because the book is about much more than that.
Some favorite novels not already mentioned:
- David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green for its distinctive voice and beautiful writing.
- Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl for unabashedly exploring an unsympathetic character (except she’s not entirely unsympathetic).
- Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for being thoroughly absorbing and entertaining, an unputdownable book (Tana French’s In the Woods was very good for the same reasons),
- Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai for its inventiveness and energy.
- Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver for its mysteriousness, beautiful writing, and perfectly-captured atmosphere.
- Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station for its ideas about art and its perfect handling of a meandering style and form.
Some favorite nonfiction not already mentioned:
- Katherine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers — an important story beautifully and movingly told.
- Tim Parks, Teach Us to Sit Still — the subject matter is important to me (mind/body connections, illness, meditation) and Parks combines ideas with personal story in a way that works very well.
- John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead — a great collection of essays, as is Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours, although I think Sullivan’s is more consistently good.
Best mysteries: Dorothy Hughes’s In a Lonely Place, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson series (I read the third book this year), and Tana French’s In the Woods.
Some honorable mentions: Christine Schutt’s Prosperous Friends, D.T. Max’s biography of David Foster Wallace, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, Ali Smith’s The Accidental, Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter, and Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn.
All in all, a good year in reading. Happy new year everyone!