Every year I challenge myself to read 52 books. Some years I win, some I lose, but the point is to read and enjoy as many books as possible, to remember to get my nose out of my laptop and into some great writing for a few hours each week.
I’ve been blurbing the titles I read over here, but in the end-of-year spirit I wanted to share 12 books that I loved this year and why you should read them.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
Nathan Englander is a new discovery for me. Holy shit, this man can write. Billed alongside Junot Díaz at Edinburgh Book Festival, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for with this book. I can’t do it justice – just know that I went straight out and bought his first short story collection and debut novel after reading this amazing volume.
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Bloody Nora. Sadly for me, it took this great woman’s death for me to get to grips with her work. A sour tale of adultery and general jiltedness (I know that isn’t a word), this is memoir dressed as fiction. But that much is clear from the beginning. The story is smattered with recipes, and those aren’t the only parts you’ll want to tear out. Cutting remarks and cunning insights from a woman who’s seen all there is to see. Nora Explains it All.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck, man. Dude knew how to write a fucking book. A masterful novel in prose, dialogue, subject matter, and beyond. If you were looking for a time to read this book, there’s no time like the present; especially as its themes are as prescient as they’ll ever be. History repeats itself. Novels like this one don’t have to.
Travels With Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
What did I just tell you? I actually read this one before Grapes, but it’s true. This one was written late in Steinbeck’s career, and is a memoir of his travels across the country in an RV accompanied by his poodle, Charley. It’s a charming recollection of 1950s America and a meditation (although not at all what that word suggests) of life in general. Everything I expected and more – and how often can a reader say something like that?
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
When I appeared on the New Year 2012 edition of the SBT Book Talk podcast I said I was looking forward to reading this book. It took me until Autumn to get around to it – but the middle of baseball season is as good a time as any. If you’re put off by it being a “baseball book” – don’t worry, it isn’t. It’s a book about life. Like baseball, Harbach’s is prose with rhythm. It has gravity and wit, tragedy and intelligence. It even has a great female character.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
John Green is an author recovering from a Manic Pixie Dream Girl hangover. This ain’t no Looking for Alaska or Paper Towns – though all 3 are great novels. You’ll have seen this book on just about every Top Books of 2012 list out there. If you won’t listen to TIME or the rest, why would you listen to me? I have a spare copy, you can borrow it if you want. In fact, here’s a link. Laugh, cry. Enjoy.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Although I try to convince myself that 1. I’ve read enough YA to be getting along with and 2. I prefer contemporary fiction, anyway – this one was a lot of fun. If you’re looking for the next Hunger Games, I think you’ll have a good time between the pages of this little number. Plus, Veronica Roth is, like, my age, and is probably definitely going places. Give her a boost and this book will give you one back.
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend by Susan Orlean
If Veronica Roth is the writer you’d like to be in your present, Susan Orlean is the writer you definitely want to be in your future. Orlean blends biography with memoir, non-fiction with prose, and it’s an absolute delight to read. If you love a good documentary, this is one in paper form that you won’t want to miss. Film fans, get on it.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Speaking of films, I picked this up primarily because I was due to watch the film and, well, I can’t trust myself to review adaptations of classics without getting my hands dirty. This is the original YA novel, I’m sure of it. But at the same time, of course it isn’t. Either way it’s timeless, sumptuous, and utterly compelling.
This is How You Lose Her Junot Díaz
Do you know Junot? Do you know that I recommend his novel to EVERYONE, ALL OF THE TIME? A dark and compelling take on life – equal parts Central American machismo and perspective-changing prose. My words won’t do it justice, so let it speak for itself.
A Song of Ice and Fire – A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
I never expected to enjoy this series but I’ve been lapping it up. It’s a masterclass in fantasy writing: thrill and suspense that leads sometimes to payoff, other times to dashed hopes. You’ve probably heard this all before. Above all else, it has characters you’ll care about despite yourself. I’m afraid to finish this series and even more afraid of anywhere spoilers may lurk. Come share my joy and pain.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Remember what it’s like to be 12? Me neither. Not until I read this. Beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated, I suggest you seek this out at World Book Night 2013.
What have you been reading this year? Give me your recommendations!