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2012 Reading Roundup

2012 December 28
by Jill


I hope everyone out there had/is having a great holiday! I was in RI for a few days with my family, which was great, but I’ve now been sick for over a week, first with a stomach bug, and now with a cold, and it’s thrown my routine more than a little out of whack. Joe’s parents are visiting over the next couple of days, and then there’s New Years and our annual New Year’s Day party, so I’m really hoping to feel better soon!

Inevitably, this time of year is rife with end-of-year lists and best-of countdowns, a way to neatly tie up and remember the past year. I’m no exception to the trend. Though I already talked a little about the best books from this  year, I wanted to talk more about the favorites I read over the last 12 months, regardless of publication year.  There were a lot of great ones, some of which I’ve already written about, and some that I haven’t. I ended up surpassing my goal of reading 50 books this year. Here are the ones that stood out the most to me in 2012:

Most Surprising:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Intrigued by all the Cloud Atlas hoopla, I decided to finally open this one. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for the last two years, after Joe got a free copy somewhere in Brooklyn. Given all I’d heard about Mitchell and his complex, post-modern storytelling style, I wasn’t in a rush to read it. Also, the action centers on a Dutch trading colony in Japan called Djima in 1799. Jacob de Zoet travels there from his home to help his chief end rampant corruption, and ends up learning a great deal about the mysterious Japanese culture. The first chapter describes a birth in graphic, pretty horrific detail…and I was gripped from the start. Something about Mitchell’s storytelling is captivating, and I could barely put this 500-page doorstop down.  What surprised me even more than how much I liked it was how funny the book is–I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times, which is pretty rare. I’m looking forward to giving Cloud Atlas a shot.

Best Guilty Pleasure Read:

The Group by Mary McCarthy and The Dud Avocado  by Elaine Dundy

I’m not really guilty about having read these books, but there was something “beachy” about them, nonetheless. At their root, they deal with complicated issues of gender, sexuality, class, and coming of age, but they’re so fun to read, you barely notice. The Group is notably darker, but still has a kind of gossipy veneer, almost as though you’re watching an episode of Gossip Girl, filmed in the 1930s. Also, you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about early 20th century contraception.

Book that Lived Up to the Hype:

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

There was a good deal of hype and backlash surrounding this book, some praising it as the “great American novel” and others totally panning it. I appreciated it for what it was–a moving, engaging story of friendship and failure and loss. And baseball.

Most Likely to be Adapted into a Wes Anderson Film:

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

I read this one over Thanksgiving and it was the perfect vacation read. Not only was Wilson’s story of an utterly Tennenbaum-like family entertaining, it brought up a lot of thoughts about art, and what it means to make art and be creative.

Best Book of Poetry:

If There Is Something to Desire: 100 Poems by Vera Pavlova

Even if poetry isn’t your thing, this tiny book full of arresting, simple, and beautiful poems makes for a perfect rainy afternoon read.

Best Epic Classic:

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Another long read, Middlemarch was an absolute delight. Don’t wait to read this one, if you haven’t already. It’s worth every page. George Eliot was a genius.

Most Like a Reality Show, but Good:

Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

A truly fascinating account of one family and their friends and lovers in the Bronx, this book chronicles more than a decade of drugs, gangs, love, and loss.

Most Enlightening:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

I knew next to nothing about North Korea until I read this masterful book. Demick illuminates the realities faced by modern North Koreans, as well as outlining the events that shaped the country’s current situation.

Best Book about Books:

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Paul Chowder, a moderately successful poet, narrates his struggle to write an introduction to a poetry anthology he’s edited. His love has left him because of his inability to focus on the task, lending his quiet existence more than a shade of loneliness. But his story is ultimately uplifting, and enjoyable to read. His love of poetry suffuses the book with a lightness and hope, and it left me smiling in the end.

Most Chilling:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

It doesn’t get much better than this true-crime classic that basically paved the way for modern creative nonfiction.


There were some other great books I read this year, but these were the top tier. What were your favorites of 2012? What are you excited to read in 2013? (I have Gone, Girl and Grace: A Memoir sitting on my desk at home!)



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2 Responses Post a comment
  1. December 28, 2012

    Great round-up! I completely agree on “The Art of Fielding,” ‘In Cold Blood,” and my personal favorite, “Middlemarch.” I’ll have to check out the others.

    I read a lot of great books this past year. My personal favorite 2012 reads were “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry, “Fall On Your Knees” by Ann-Marie MacDonald, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card, “East of Eden” by Steinbeck, and “Rebecca” by Maurier.

  2. December 30, 2012

    I think my favorite of 2012 was The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It’s the first in a series she wrote about the Cazalet family.

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