2012 was a big year for me. Between work, blogging, and setting up home with my Beloved, it was my lightest reading year ever—I’ve logged just 40 books, with less than a month to go. (I expect to polish off a few more over the Christmas holidays, and I’ve already loaded up my Kobo Glo with plenty to read for 2013.)
I didn’t read too many clunkers this year—I have finally realized that life is too short to soldier through a mediocre book when there are so many fabulous ones I have yet to read. I have a handful of series authors I follow, and I didn’t love the Charlaine Harris and J.D. Robb entries this year. But for the most part, the books I read this year were great—and if they weren’t, I stopped reading them.
What were my highlights of the past reading year? Check out my picks below.
Master of the Delta by Thomas H. Cook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
A prep school teacher begins mentoring a boy whose father is notorious for his involvement in a local murder. When both the teacher and the boy begin poking into the events of the murder, things spiral out of control in some surprising directions.
The main character came across as a tad overly pompous at times, but the writing was beautiful and the book was a suspenseful and atmospheric read. And it had a delicious surprise ending that I didn’t see coming, which is always a nice little treat.
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (Harper)
A woman named Christine wakes up every morning beside a man she doesn’t recognize, and a life she doesn’t remember. As the story begins, she is introduced to Dr. Nash, who has been working with her and helping her keep a diary to piece together her life. She starts realizing that all is not as it seems with Ben, her husband, and that her safety may depend on remembering what she has forgotten.
This book was well-plotted, although by the end I saw the twist coming. It was fascinating to see Christine begin to make connections using the tenuous threads she was retaining from previous days.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Picador)
This was a re-read for me—I was replacing a paper copy and wanted to make sure the e-book was error-free—but I enjoyed it just as much the second time as I did long ago, when this was a paperback bestseller.
The narrator, Susie, is a murdered 14-year-old who tells the story from the afterlife as she follows her family through the years following her death—and as she follows her murderer through the aftermath too. A morbid premise, but so beautifully written that I could get past it and just enjoy a wonderful story.
The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald (Random House)
The title character is a ‘practice baby’ adopted by a home economics program in the 1940s to teach mothering skills to young ladies. When his one-year term is up, the house mother decides to keep him for various reasons, and we follow him as he grows to adulthood and struggles to form attachments, given his multi-mother start. Well-written and surprisingly clever, with some nice twists along the way. A great book!
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books)
An exploration of the ‘other woman’ issue, with an intriguing twist: The bigamist, James, has two wives and two daughters, each of whom narrate half the book. Dana, the ‘illegitimate’ daughter, is aware of how the other half lives. Chaurisse, the ‘legitimate’ daughter, doesn’t learn the truth until much later.
I appreciated the theme of how two daughters could have such radically different experiences with the same father, as it’s an idea I personally relate to. And I appreciated, too, that both of the mothers were smart, self-sufficient and reasonably kick-ass in their own ways. I did find the ending a little bit of a letdown, but I enjoyed the journey along the way.
Half a Life by Darin Strauss (McSweeney’s)
In this memoir, Strauss writes about his life following a high school accident in which his car struck a girl on a bicycle and killed her. As he moves into adulthood and tries to rebuild his life, he feels shadowed by her—he is aware, as he experiences various landmarks of adulthood, that she will not experience them, and he maintains an inner dialogue with her as he ages and she does not.
Strauss is a decent writer and the premise was an intriguing one. The book has its minor weaknesses, but this was a story that stayed with me when I was done.
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley (Crown)
The simplistic summary of this one is that the author writes a memoir about growing up with multiple and severe food allergies, but this book was about more than that. Beasley is witty and fun, and her self-awareness and self-deprecating honesty made this a fun and brisk read. I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would.
The Age of the Infovore: Succeeding in the Information Economy by Tyler Cowen (Plume)
Cowen writes primarily about ‘neurodiversity,’ and his premise is that the Internet is replicating aspects of the autistic brain for ordinary people. You can filter, sort and categorize information in much the same way autistic people do naturally, and Cowen writes about the implications as they relate to various technology trends. His premise is a bit of a stretch in certain places, but there was one chapter in particular that stuck with me and has given me some useful ideas.
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff (Houghton Mifflin)
Just what it sounds like—Sheff’s son, Nic, struggles with addiction, and Sheff writes movingly about the person his son was before that happened, and after. Nic himself has written two follow-up books for those who want to learn more about this family’s story. This is not my usual reading preference, but I read a sample and was hooked.
Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels by Hella Winston (Beacon Press)
The author spends a year immersed in the world of those on the fringes of the Hasidic Jewish community—those who lead the double life of supposed observance and secret rebellion, those who are believers but want just a little bit more, and those who chafe against the the strict and non-negotiable rules and seek out options elsewhere. A thoughtful and well-written read.
* * *