Best of 2012

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!

19 Comments

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19 responses to “Best of 2012

  1. As I love both Julia Spencer-Fleming and Tana French, I must try Dorothy Hughes, who is a completely new name to me. I don’t keep a close enough record of what I read to be able to come up with a list like this and as I read those of all my blogging friends I’m beginning to regret that. Perhaps my reading resolution for the year should be to find some way of keeping track of what I read. How do you do it?

  2. Happy New Year! It’s been a great year for books; I’ve discovered a few new authors that I love, and am looking forward to increasing my goal on Goodreads. I’m also going to try to stick to one book at a time, so I can finish faster. I snuck one book in to finish it night before last, that I hadn’t picked up in months.

  3. Happy New Year! Yours is one of the lists of best books whose entire contents I take careful note of! I have already put Maggie Nelson’s Bluets on my wish list as it sounds so intriguing. I’d also love to read the Tove Jansson, as I so enjoyed The Summer Book.

  4. You make me want to start requesting books from the library right now! I really want to read Comyns and I have Flynn’s book at home and my husband has already told me to read it and I remember when you posted about Bluets and it sounded good then and now it made it into your round up. You are going to do me and my TBR pile in! Happy New Year!

  5. Why did I think you already read Motherless Brooklyn? It’s on my reading pile, too. I’ve also got The Gone Girl and am glad to hear it is as good as Tana French, who I really like. I also read my first Barbara Comyns book–The Skin Chairs, which I really liked and then went out and bought a stack more of her work. Looks like you had a great reading year and lots of books I’m interested in, too (like Julia Spencer-Fleming!). Happy New Year to you, Hobgoblin and Muttboy! :)

    • Happy new year, Danielle! I’m curious about The Skin Chairs. The two Comyns books I’ve read so far were quite different from each other, so I’m wonder what her others are like. She’s definitely worth exploring further. I think you’d like Julia Spencer-Fleming as well.

  6. I loved Black Swan Green and just finished Gone Girl, but will have to look for some of your other favorites of the year. Love seeing everyone’s winners and losers in the end-of-the-year retrospectives.

  7. Happy New Year Rebecca! So many authors I need to check on, I’m sure I’ll find something great to discover and to enjoy. I’ll work on my list hopefully next week.

  8. Happy New Year Rebecca! I was wondering whether to read the new Zadie Smith but if you recommend it I’ll give it a go.

  9. I just can’t get into anything by Virginia Woolf. I must be missing something. But I’ve heard so many good things about Gone Girl that I would love to read that this year. (But it will have to be from the library…I’ve sworn off buying anything new – unless I find it at the Big Book Sale at the library.)

  10. Happy New Year.

    Teach Us to Sit Still sounds intriguing. My mother sent all my school reports to me over the Christmas holiday. Pretty shocking to read my teachers’ comments – I was a bit of a handful. One teacher in primary school labeled me “erratic and spasmodic”. Now I am often asking my wife to sit still. I hear her asking herself sometimes if it is OK to be sitting still. She feels a compulsion to always be doing something. I reassure her that when enough has been done, she really should sit and relax and think and be.

    A recommendation for next year: when you post a summary like this, it would be nice if you linked back to reports you wrote about those books.

  11. I became a Woolf fan when I read ‘A room of one’s own’. I think I shall follow her example and read all those books written on her. :-)

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