Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 in Reviews: My best reads of the year

I read 138 books this year (and wrote a dissertation). Here are the standouts:
Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson
Collapse by Jared Diamond
Smashed by Koren Zailckas
Still by Lauren Winner
Leaving Mundania by Lizzie Stark
Some assembly required by Anne Lamott
In the heart of the sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone
Autobiography of Mrs.Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield  
Perfume by Patrick Suskind
City of falling angels by John Berendt
Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace
Tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed

And the standouts of the standouts, my top ten reads for the year, in no particular order:
A Grown up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson. This is one of those family secrets/chick lit novels, but incredibly well-plotted and well-written.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. My list this year is split between literary heavy-hitters like Patchett, and unknowns (at least to me) like Jackson, Gideon, and Frankel.  I feel sort of lame falling back on the bestsellers, but I guess that they are bestsellers because people like them. I didn’t love this book quite as much as Bel Canto, but it still amazed and enraptured me. Another literary big shot is Marilynne Robinson, whose Home also makes this list. I didn’t like Gilead, but Home struck much closer to home (ouch) for me, with its story of family estrangement in a small-town preacher’s family.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is the ultimate bestseller fallback, but it had me in tears.
My reading life by Pat Conroy is the only non-fiction book to make the list this year, though there are several in the honorable mentions. I can’t resist Conroy’s voice, especially when he writes about himself.
Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel also had me in tears. A terrific novel about love, loss, and networked culture. Another author new to me is Vanessa Diffenbaugh, whose novel The Language of Flowers portrays two damaged people who are drawn together by their love of flowers and their knowledge of their meaning.
Lincoln conspiracy by Timothy L. O’Brien is the only mystery to make this year’s list. It’s here by virtue of the historical detail and the fascinating cast of characters, though the ending was a little weak.
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton is a classic I picked up thanks to my book group. Profoundly moving and memorable for life.
Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon was probably the most enjoyable book I read this year. A discontented wife decides to take a closer look at her marriage by participating in a marriage study—thereby becoming “wife 22”—but finds herself drawing closer to her email correspondent who is conducting the study.

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