Each year, I set myself the 52 book challenge. I managed 50 in 2008 and 2009, 48 in 2010 and a less-than-stellar 42 in 2011.
You can keep track of my book challenge here. This page will be updated with links new reviews and as they are posted, along with summaries and star ratings. Click through to see what I read in 2009, 2010, & 2011.
Fellow bookworms, feel free to friend me on GoodReads!
What I Read in 2012
60. Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games by Valerie Estelle Frankel
Quite a title, eh? If you hadn’t guessed I read this book as research for an upcoming project. It’s a reference guide to the names and symbols in The Hunger Games trilogy – and a thorough one at that.
59. Divergent by Veronica Roth
I’d heard a lot of hype around this series, of which 2 out of 3 novels have been published. It’s not dissimilar to The Hunger Games, set in a future where the population of the city in which the protagonist, Beatrice (later Tris) is divided into factions based on personality traits. I found this difficult to get along with at first but it’s a great fast-paced action book with some great characters and a well-built world.
58. Matched by Ally Condie
Death by love triangle! This is another dystopian future complete with overbearing, regulation-loving government. I found the romance took too much page time for my taste, but the suburban life and slow reveal of corruption lulled me in eventually.
57. The Girl Who Was on Fire edited by Leah Wilson
This book is comprised of essays about various aspects of The Hunger Games by YA novelists. A solid volume, though under non-research conditions I’d probably have skipped through and picked and chosen which ones I cared to read. Worth a read for big fans.
56. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
I couldn’t make my mind up about how to rate this one. It’s incredibly well-written, and the first of two parts was 5-star stuff. I’m a sucker for all that ironically clever well-read pre-Oxford English boy stuff. Moving into part two I was compelled by the ideas of memory and playing with ideas of the past, but ultimately there wasn’t enough growth or movement or change and it was uncomfortable to read in a way that felt unfinished rather than masterful. Delightful, prose-wise, but in the end – a disappointment.
55. The Curse of the Minotaur: A Tale of Ancient Greece by Tom Stone
I sought this out as a way to experience the Curse of the Minotaur (or Theseus and the Minotaur) story. Most seem to be written for children, or are only short snippets within bigger books on mythology. I wasn’t crazy about the writing style overall but this contained a good simple version of the story at hand, some nice characterisation, and plenty of useful footnotes providing context. It served its purpose and was enjoyable enough, but I couldn’t help but feel the hard part (good plot) was already done for this author.
54. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
I really wanted to love this book. It’s a gorgeous volume and the pictures are definitely the prize. It just wasn’t the kind of story I was expecting. Monsters, mysteries, and huge long chase scenes aren’t really my cup of tea. Though I don’t read as much YA as I once did, the plot device of someone dies, trying to come to terms, going on a trip to the UK/Europe/ go on a road trip and find a new family of friends thing has become kind of stale. Overall it’s a well-written story. It’s well liked and I can see why, but this one wasn’t for me.
53. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
I am a huge Junot Díaz fan. I love short story collections that link up stories and give the idea of a community or character, which is exactly what this author pulled off with Drown. This felt a little more forced. Fantastic prose, from the laugh out loud to the heartbreaking, is present in this novel. Perhaps it’s churlish to point out but this isn’t the raw unheard Díaz I’ve come to know. Absolutely fantastic but not in that upper echelon with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
52. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
If you’ve heard Nathan Englander and wonder how he manages to win so many short story awards, well… Just read this effing book. All becomes clear within about 5 sentences. I heard Englander speak at Edinburgh Book Festival alongside one of my favourite authors, Junot Díaz. They are together considered great voices of American literature. And it shows.
51. The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
Yates blends idyllic eras and stunning prose with the darkest aspects of life. City life or suburbia, it’s the American nightmare, and his authorship has its glaring faults. But there’s something so compelling about that lilting prose that sucks you in and sucks you dry. A beautiful and haunting read.
50. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
A good old fashioned comedy about, well, three men (and a dog) in a boat. It’s a classic that seems to be having a strange renaissance amongst the videoblogging book reviewer set, and it’s a well-deserved one at that.
49. The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
I must admit I picked up this book for 2 very unflattering reasons: a deal and a pretty cover. Like its outer parts, the text within is pretty but slight: a sweet story with mysteries which the author loves to suggest but upon which she never sheds light. It felt like there weren’t any secrets to solve in this one, but it is a nice wee read nonetheless.
48. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Holy geez this is a good book. In hindsight every plot point seems obvious, but Martin is the master of the twist. He’ll kill your babies and slaughter your enemies, never letting you believe that the good guy is going to win. It’s a thrill read, and it’s a good one. My favourite of the series so far.
47. Jill by Phillip Larkin
I’m a sucker for period boarding school and university novels. If you’re a stuffy English man from a stuffy English background or a New Yorker whose boarding school in Boston reeked of hierarchies and literary indoctrination you can pretty much guarantee I’ll bloody love it. This one is an early work and it shows, but it made for excellent Sunday afternoon reading.
46. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas is a tough nut to crack. Longish at 500 pages it’s split into 6 stories in a pyramid structure: 1-2-3-4-5-6-6-5-4-3-2-1. Each story is individually narrated yet intertwined, and I was somewhat surprised to find that the crime and mental break-down sections were my favourites. It will throw you some curveballs but I recommend it.
45. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
44. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
One of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read. It’s a refreshing read, not-too-serious but seriously subversive and not afraid to poke fun at itself. Goldman is a master of the form and an excellent guide through the narrative theory, omnisciently narrated, narrative trickery that lies within.
43. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
I tried and failed miserably to describe this book after reading it, so I’d advise going elsewhere for a synopsis. Suffice to say if you’re a recovering Hunger Games fan and you haven’t found the Chaos Walking series yet, this is for you.
42. Tales From the Mall by Ewan Morrison
An interesting mix of fiction and non-fiction, Tales From the Mall takes on the history and damaging presence of huge shopping centres: what they purport to offer outside of material goods, and how it affects us. I enjoyed the factual sections more than the short stories, but Morrison’s creative and complementary use of the forms makes this an interesting read.
41. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
I can’t read this title without getting Bleeding Love stuck in my head. This book is all about the pacing, rewinding and replaying moments and keeping the reader guessing with a narrator as unreliable as they come. Hugely enjoyable, if not entirely rewarding.
40. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
One of the most enjoyable books of the year. Filled with perspective, lost years, sensitivity, and humanity, it’s an easy but thoughtful book that is a pleasure to read. Pick it up.
39. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – Full Review
A fantastic, emotional, transcendent read. Patrick Ness really trusts his young target audience, treating them as equals and taking on big subjects without seeming trite.
38. Resistance by Owen Sheers – Full Review
If you’ve noticed that I rarely give 2 stars or fewer, it’s due to 1. good research, and 2. lack of patience. A few reviewers really loved this book so I persevered, but it wasn’t really worth it. Occasionally witty and intriguing, the slow, small-world feel of this book was on the wrong side of charming. Disappointing. Review here.
37. Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
If T.S. Eliot measured out his life in coffee spoons, here Susan Hill measures hers out in books. Big books, little books, hardbacks, paperbacks, well-loved tomes and untouched treasures. It’s a literary memoir if you will, although it’s structure is less organised than the blurb and intro suggest. Hill pledges only to read books she already owns for a year – which is gimmick enough to begin a book but is seldom mentioned again. Some of the themes were a little lofty for my taste – there’s lots of talk of books becoming part of you and some ethereal stuff about spiritual reading – but if you like to read about reading, this is a wonderful little journey to be taken on by a fantastic author.
36. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Sexy tiiiimes. Don’t let anyone read this one over your shoulder. I enjoyed this one for the flowing, elongated language, languid pace, and gorgeously choreographed scenes and scenery, but every time it switched from present to past I found myself hurrying my eyes across the page. It’s only a wee yin – a little over 100 pages – and for that purpose a lovely little quickie, much like what lies within.
35. Gillespie & I by Jane Harris
I probably never would have picked this up if not for the Scottish Book Trust podcast, Book Talk. Their thoughts are probably far more insightful than mine, so I recommend giving that a listen. I read this one quite quickly and became a bit fed up with the protagonist’s voice, which was initially filled with darling little observations but these fell away as the plot got deeper. Most of my niggles are with writing techniques that I can appreciate but didn’t enjoy – but if a thriller with lots of twists and dramatic turns is your bag, you might love this one.
34. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Book Club)
Award nominations can breed overly high expectations, and that’s exactly what’s happened here. Half Blood Blues focuses on a trio of jazz musicians, 2 Americans and a German playing in Nazi Germany before evacuating to Paris to play with none other than Louis Armstrong. A bizarre mix of the almost-real and complete fiction, her descriptions of music is dazzling and the characters are down-to-earth, but the pieces don’t quite fit.
33. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
You’ll forgive me for tiring a little of Ephron by the time I finished this one – albeit within a couple of days. A number of these essays have been republished since the author’s death, but they’re worth reading if you like her.
32. When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
There’s an awful lot going on in this novel, and not all of it worked. Whether it was supposed to be written well after the time or narrated in real-time (albeit in the regular prose past tense) wasn’t clear – so the narrator was either an over-clever 4 year-old or an undisclosed old lady. Some charming characters appear within, and some poetic prose will carry you through, but the substance was a bendy at best.
31. I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron
Me too! I read this one in the space of an evening. Her reminiscence of her 20s in New York and hilarious essays on domestic life and, well, life in general, really captured my imagination. Well worth a read.
30. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
I borrowed this book from a friend after a Twitter conversation about Ephron which grew out of some silly non-sequitur. I learned about her death about 48 hours afterwards. “We killed Nora Ephron!” But anyway, as I read more of Ephron’s books (as you’ll see above, I had a bit of a binge) I realised quite how autobiographical this little novel is – but it contains so many deliciously clever phrases and insights that I couldn’t help bumping this one up to 5 stars.
29. Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland
The human story in this book which, as the title suggests, includes the falling into a coma of the narrator’s girlfriend, swept me up. I’ve known Coupland as the Generation [Insert Letter] author for years – something which I associated with my 70s-born cousins; but the 70s vibe isn’t over-indulged here. Once the story got into its sci-fi element, grandstanding about society’s ills, though, I lost interest. Sorry, Coupland. Maybe next time.
28. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
Avoiding Song of Ice and Fire spoilers can feel like a full-time job when you’re an avid internet user and behind-the-times reader, so getting this finished took a load off. Lots of political manoeuvring takes place here – which is not usually my thing – but growing characters and rising tensions make this an enjoyable read. I’ve been reading these in tandem with my man, which undoubtedly makes them more fun (and manageable) to read. The saga continues.
27. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (Annotated Book Club)
This book, the first in a trilogy from Libba Bray has a lot to offer in terms of story symbolism and literary references, but her style was too much of the Maureen Johnson school of Anglophilia and girly high school relationships for my taste. My no means a bad book, but not one that I’d have chosen to read myself.
26. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (Book Club) – Full Review
I wasn’t expecting to like this one but I’d call it a three-and-a-half-er. Coetzee digs deep into his themes of sexual shame and rape in such a short book, but there’s still a little slack around his brooding male protagonist. His females aren’t particularly well-drawn, sounding like overly philosophical academics rather than human ladies. Generally though, the frequent bursts of poetic prose befitting of his protagonist’s interests elevate this above standard broody middle-aged male fare.
25. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck, man. Dude knew how to write a fucking book. This one has a long preamble to any kind of real drama but Steinbeck’s characters are so well realised and compulsively interesting that you’ll read their endless dialogue for hours. Everything kicks off in the final third or so and crescendos in the best climax of any book I’ve ever read. A classic classic.
24. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (Annotated Book Club)
Let’s be clear, the detour in question is quite far from epic in proportion but this is a fun enough YA novel tackling grief and growth. I read this as part of the “annotated book club” one of my internet friends suggested, and reading it with their comments made the experience a whole lot more fun.
23. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I gave this one a shot once but didn’t get very far. Boy am I glad I picked it up again. Endlessly readable, simple and punchy, and probably one of the most fun accounts of time travel I’ve ever read. Highly recommended first Vonnegut.
22. Someone Like You by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s short stories are an absolute joy – not in what he tells you, but in what he doesn’t tell you. Dahl is the master of giving you just enough to go on and leaving your imagination to do the rest. Descriptive, hilarious, and you’ll want to regale your friends.
21. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
This lived up to expectations. I’m useless with names and don’t read a lot of fantasy, so having watched the TV series was a good taster for this so-far five-book mammoth myth. A compulsive read with great characters and an increasingly crazy storyline. Can’t wait to start the next one.
20. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
Whoa mamma. I think I said all I need to say in regards to this little rotter and its adaptation to film in this here podcast.
19. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Cute and quirky but I found myself more engaged with the silly Monty Python-esque interludes than the plot itself. A fun enough wee read, but not enough to make me pick up the rest of the 5-strong trilogy.
18. Tinkers by Paul Harding
If public opinion – and, incidentally, a Pulitzer jury – could be more wrong about a book, I’d love to hear about it. Harding has crafted some beautiful prose here, in a way that that the phrase “crafted beautiful prose” suggests, but the story is wayward and messy and delinear in a way that is often confusing. To borrow a phrase from a friend of Anaïs‘, “Pulitzer? More like poolitzer.”Indeed.
17. Travels With Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
If I had a time machine I’d go back to the 1950s and take this trip with Charley and Steinbeck. Luscious, engaging non-fiction for anyone with itchy feet.
16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane, you are so wordy. I tried to give up on this book a few times, but its water-tight prose and painfully wry dialogues sucked me in for good. And I’m glad they did.
15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (re-read)
Perfect for the aeroplane trip to California in time for the film’s release. Fast-paced, fun, clever, and a deliciously easy read.
14. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
A pleasant enough short read for anyone who likes Edinburgh and prim, proper boarding school girls and all the baggage that comes along with them. I found this a little repetitive and wearing, but a nice enough wee read.
13. Holes by Louis Sachar
Having read this book in early high school it managed to follow me for the intervening 12 years. Excellently written and wonderfully paced, it’s a great drama and despite being written for 12 year-olds, holds up surprisingly well in adulthood.
12. Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
There is something different about this book. Short and meditative, it follows two Aberdonian sisters in their close-lived but strangely varying lives as they grow far and farther apart. A refreshing read to drag you out of classic narrative monotony.
11. The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave (Book Club)
Gosh, is there a lot of booty talk in this novel. Nick Cave has some serious chops when it comes to weaving as many big words as possible into a single sentence. At times his lewdness is funny, but not often enough. Overall, a strange caper that I won’t be revisiting.
10. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
While fantasy isn’t really my “thing”, I figured that if I wasn’t ever going to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy I ought to give The Hobbit a shot. A friend recently recalled moments of thinking, “this is how this is done” whilst watching Citizen Kane and reading P.G. Wodehouse. I’d add Tolkein to that list.
9. The Night of the Gun by David Carr
David Carr is like a cat who’s had more than 9 lives. Now the Media Desk reporter for the New York Times, he has a dark past which, in this book, he reports upon with journalistic diligence. HIs lost years found through the art of his craft, this can be a little repetitive as he recounts nights of crack-cocaine nonsense, but ultimately it’s a book of great detail and impressive self-everything.
8. Scotland: Global Cinema by David Martin Jones
An academic book on film in Scotland. Review in the British Journal of Film & TV Studies forthcoming.
7. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
Fortunately I’m not the jealous type, or I might have found Téa Obreht’s enormous success at a similar age to mine off-putting. The Tiger’s Wife is the story of a young woman searching to discover what happened to her grandfather, with flashbacks in the style pioneered by Jonathan Safran Foer in Everything is Illuminated. A worthy candidate for the young genre style.
6. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
There are times where Chandler’s short, punctuated sentences and hardboiled arrogance call to mind Hemingway, which I found more in this book than in Farewell My Lovely. I’m still not a huge fan of the genre, but enjoyed getting to know Philip Marlowe a little better.
5. The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau
Build your confidence, your own army, a legacy… whatever. Chris Guillebeau practices what he preaches and never tells you to do as he says and not as he does, which is exactly why I like him. A great accompaniment to his blog.
4. Anthem by Ayn Rand
Now I will admit a fair bias against Ms Rand, but I figured it was time I gave her a little attention. John Green once told new university students not to get too excited about The Fountainhead, but I didn’t want to give that the time just yet. Anthem is a little bit of Oryx and Crake and can definitely be credited as a precursor to many a post-apocalyptic YA… but it was mostly boring, and its hugely self-indulgent over-written ending did’t fit with the rest of the simple, short sentence structure of the rest of the book. A big yawn for a little book.
3. Rin Tin Tin: The Life & Legend by Susan Orlean
If, like me, your only introduction to Susan Orlean was contained in an Adaptation DVD and a Twitter feed, this is an excellent place to start to get into her work. Sad, sweet, and deeply interesting, this biography of a pup is also an international, historical account of figurative and literal armies of dogs the world over. An excellent read.
2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
A mature and moving take on life as a teen living with cancer.
1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Predictable but charming YA romance. Ideal for Francophiles.
In The Bin: Unfinished Books of 2012
Not literally binned, of course, but… well, life is too short.
1. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
– A book club choice so I stuck with it about 1/5th of the way, but I wouldn’t have gotten past chapter 1 otherwise. Roy’s prose is often a joy but generally she’s longwinded and I didn’t enjoy the swirling, unlinear, and intertwining knot of narrative threads.