Books

2015: A year in reading

(*) = a pick for top 10 of 2015

January

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Shopaholic to the Stars  by Sophie Kinsella

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

I’m just getting my bearings working at the new library that opens in Halifax. An almost hour-long commute on the bus means plenty of time to read and so I devour novels like light snacks. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night lives up to the Giller-prize hype and I find myself wishing I hadn’t put it off for so long, O’Neill’s first book Lullabies for Little Criminals still echoing in my mind from years ago. From there I pick up another much talked about novel The Paying Guests which is equally as good about a woman who falls in love with her married tenant and the tragedy that results from their affair. There’s something about affair story lines that always intrigue me, keep pulling me back for more, the ultimate question of happiness and fidelity never gets old. Landline was my first taste of Rowell which was surprisingly grounded considering the outlandish premise (a woman finds a way to talk to a past-version of her husband from a rotary phone in her childhood bedroom… I know, right?) and I thoroughly enjoy it the way you might enjoy a jelly-filled doughnut, which if you’re me, is immensely. I’ve already forgotten the newest Shopaholic book and what it was about, ditto the Weiner. Both are just filler, but fun filler, if you know what I mean. The Fever starts out strong but devolves half-way through.

 

February

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

The Mime Order (The Bone Season, #2) by Samantha Shannon

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) by Libba Bray

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Paper Towns by John Green

My first non-fiction in I don’t know how long is heavy (430 pages heavy) but like watching Tom Cruise bounce on Oprah’s couch—distasteful but impossible to look away. Going Clear tells you everything you ever were curious to know about Scientology plus a lot more you maybe wish you didn’t. After all that, I need something I know I’ll enjoy so I pick up the new installment in a great fantasy series that I really love—The Mime Order. It’s every bit as exciting as I thought it would be. Which gives me a taste for YA-skewed fantasy so I go for Bray’s book which I’ve seen around for ages but never actually got my hands on. Then it’s just downhill from there. Kidding, Ugly Girls is good (though honestly not that memorable) and Paper Towns… is well, everywhere.

 

March

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

The Appetites of Girls by Pamela Moses

I start with one of CBC Canada Reads recommended books but really can’t enjoy it to be honest, not my cuppa tea. Which makes me want to skew back to familiar territory with Solnit’s book of fantastic essays. I enjoy Everything I Never Told You even with the sad lack of tension in what appears to be a mystery, it doesn’t grab me in the way I need it to. The Appetites of Girls is better, the way friendship through the ages always is but for all its hype I get my first flop of the year in Nobody is Ever Missing. I really dislike the writing style and the story is one long stream of consciousness run-on sentence that I have to force myself to stick with. If I wasn’t going for a reading goal this year I would have ditched this 1/4 through. It feels gimmicky and insincere.

 

April

The Walking Dead vols. 16-22 by Robert Kirkman

Outline by Rachel Cusk

In April I remember that I should catch up on The Walking Dead, so I do, furiously. I’ll never understand people who only watch the show or movie and neglect the comic or book—there’s so much more in pages than on screens, and when you put the two together, even how they differ just fills up the empty space. I’ve heard good things about Outline but I end up hating it. If we’re judging books on technicality then yes, it’s well-written but nothing about it catches and holds on to me, it’s like sitting through a lecture for a class you have no interest in passing. Its title feels so spot-on, for me, there is nothing but hollowness in the middle.

 

May

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

Mouthful of Forevers by Clementine von Radics (*)

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth

I write about most of these and some from June in Read my list: books for your next beach trip in The Coast. All around a great month for reading, The Country of Ice Cream Star is a stand-out, and I fall into poetry again. Clementine von Radics is the kind of poet that fans tattoo lines onto their bodies for—she gets under your skin—while Tamblyn proves people still underestimate her.

 

June

The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Skin Cleanse: The Simple, All-Natural Program for Clear, Calm, Happy Skin by Adina Grigore

Still No Word by Shannon Webb-Campbell (*)

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Maybe I have more time in the summer, I’m not sure, but I pound back books like shots. The Opening Sky is another broken family novel (I do so love those) this time following a teenage couple that gets pregnant which just drives their families further apart. The Girl on the Train is a bestseller for good reason, hard to put down but ultimately a bit of a let-down climatically. Still No Word (read my review at The Coast) by a local poet and acquaintance of mine makes it on my year-end list and Mother, Mother is so much better than I thought it would be, more credit due to the fact that it ends up standing up against most of what I read this year, but who would have known that in the summer. It’s about an over-bearing abusive mother and the three children and husband who manage to survive her.

 

July

Second Life: A Novel by S.J. Watson

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (*)

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

The Walking Dead, Vol. 23: Whispers Into Screams by Robert Kirkman

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (*)

I get married at the end of the month, surprisingly these books aren’t a blur. When I’m looking forward to something I’m more focused than usual. Second Life is a decent mystery about a woman whose sister dies and she tries to unravel the reason why—not great, but solid. Eight Hundred Grapes (read my review at The Coast) is light but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have heft. It’s a fun read all the way through about the choices we make, tradition and inheritance. I really loved it, and I guess it’s being turned into a movie so that’s even better. Hopefully they don’t ruin the magic. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty is so weird. So so weird. But highly enjoyable regardless. A group of artist friends deal with the suicide of one of their own while each also wrestles with their own demons. One character is so beautiful she wears a costume to appear ugly just to live an uninterrupted life while another learns to control emotion with music. Perhaps one of the most original stories I’ve ever read. Love May Fail is OK. Nothing special. In The Unlikely Event (read my review at The Coast) is ambitious and Blume rises to the occasion.

 

August

Wake The Stone Man by Carol McDougall

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

Beyond The Pale by Emily Urquhart

His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay (*)

The Bones Below and New Shoes On A Dead Horse by Sierra DeMulder

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

Wake The Stone Man (read my review at Atlantic Books Today) is informative and interesting but lacking something to really make me love it. I liked it quite a bit but it didn’t get to the heart of me. Luckiest Girl Alive lives up to the hype, a tense quick read the exposes the underbelly of high school, cliques and things that happen to us that we can’t forget and really shouldn’t. I really enjoyed it. Following up with Sarah Kay’s fantastic book of poems No Matter the Wreckage. She is one of the most talented slam poets I’ve ever heard. I love her and especially this poem “If I Had a Daughter.” I picked up the memoir Beyond the Pale after reading a review somewhere that raved about it. Emily Urquhart talks about her experience raising a daughter with albinism and the different mythical stories she discovered about the condition as well as some horrible tragedies happening the world over to people who have it. Really really good. Sad. Intriguing. His Whole Life (read my review at The Coast) was just fantastic. Perhaps my favourite book of the year. Hard to tell. It definitely made my year-end list. Elizabeth Hay always astounds me. The two books of poetry by Sierra DeMulder were also great, another talented slam poet. My favourite poem of hers is this one “The Unrequited Love Poem.” (“My body is a dead language/and you pronounce each word perfectly”). Check her out, she’s the real deal. I summed up the month with a return to Sci-Fi, I can’t help it, I just adore dystopian futures. The Affinities is one where people can take a personality test that allows them access to clubs of people exactly suited to them. It’s about looking for purpose, belonging, and what happens when you get it. (Not always good things…)

 

September

The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

The First Husband by Laura Dave

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (*)

Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight by M.E. Thomas

I take a break in September and read three light novels in a row that are all mediocre before I settle in for Between the World and Me (read my review at The Coast) it deserves all the accolades it’s getting. A really vital read. Of course then I follow it up with the least vital read, a memoir that is passable at best.

 

October

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (*)

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Back to fiction in the Fall. I’m not sure why this was such a lean month, maybe because I was devoting all my time to creating the perfect Gamora costume for Halloween. Another year-end top fiver, Fates and Furies (read my review at The Coast) is so good I can’t stop talking about it to anyone who will listen. Read this book, you will not regret it. I was so looking forward to reading Mindy Kaling’s newest memoir, I think she’s just the funniest, but it really let me down. Why Not Me? feels hurried, it just doesn’t carry the same spark her first one did.

 

November

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes (*)

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

How to Be a Grown-up by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

I am a huge Margaret Atwood fan, however her newest novel The Heart Goes Last was lacking something special for me, it just didn’t do it… whatever “it” is that she usually does. I think it just fell a little flat, it was supposed to be a mystery but there was very little suspense. I didn’t care about any of the characters either. It was alright, but Atwood carries the weight of her career, no one wants to bother with an average Atwood novel. Barbara the Slut and Other People (read my review at The Coast, and on the blog) more than made up for it though. I could write more about this book of stories but I’ve used up enough time. It’s good. Read it. I had heard good things about Spinster but I ended up suffering through it slowly and painfully, barely made it to the end without clawing my eyes out. I’d rather read a textbook tbh. Big Magic (read my review at The Coast) was so so surprising to me. I have enjoyed Gilbert’s books in the past but who knew she could light such a fire under me. If you’re struggling with writers block or finding your creative purpose read this book, it does something to you, lights a match. How to Start a Fire and How to Be a Grown-Up were both really enjoyable, both sort of about finding your way when you’re in your 30s or 40s and still looking. All three authors are ones I’ve loved for a long while, so no surprise there. Ended the month with Seating Arrangements which got a lot of critical acclaim in 2012 and that I never felt like picking up but ended up really fully enjoying. But again, anything with a dysfunctional family, throw in a wedding, romantic disputes, an aging patriarch going through a mid-life crisis and I’m on board.

 

December

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3) by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) (*)

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida (*)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

It just didn’t feel like the holidays this year. From above average temperatures (it felt like the first day of Fall on Dec 25) to just a general lack of spirit, I escaped to fictional worlds. The newest Cormoran Strike book Career of Evil (read my review at The Coast) really blew me away which was so surprising because while I really liked the first two books, they weren’t something I would rave about really. This one though, hoo boy. The same with The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (read my review at The Coast) which was so great, but in a totally different way. More of a literary mystery, instead of a genre mystery. Both ended up on my year-end list though. Then I fell backwards into Rainbow Rowell’s world and I may never get back up. I had enjoyed Landline back in January so much that I decided to try some of her YA books, and Carry On was just sitting there on the new releases rack waiting for me. At first I thought it was pulling a little too heavily from Harry Potter but about 1/4 of the way in it really won me over. The love story was so unexpected and sweet, although, if I had read things in order it wouldn’t have been nearly as unexpected. Fangirl is about a college student that writes fan fiction about a fictional series like Harry Potter in the novel, Carry On is basically the fan fiction she’s writing in the first book, only Rowell says it’s not, it’s a totally separate thing. Not sure why she would give it the same title if it wasn’t though. Anyway, both really really good, easy, light, happy reads. I ended the year on kind of a low note with The Opposite of Loneliness, a book of stories and essays by an author taken entirely before her time, only 5 days after graduating from Yale with a promising future ahead of her, Marina Keegan died in a car crash. Her last essay, the titular The Opposite of Loneliness that was published in the Yale Daily News went viral and touched a lot of people. This posthumous collection is really very good, obviously reflecting her burgeoning talent and the promise of a long and interesting career that she would have had.

 

All in, I read 68 books total. Blew past my goal of 52 books in 2015 and there were so many good ones. One of the best years in reading so far.

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Books

Season’s readings

I wrote a gift guide for just about everyone on your list this year (or any year really). Give them to your shitty brother-in-law, your sad friend, a cool chick you know, any dumb kid and your favourite aspiring writer:

Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies
Give this book to a friend stuck in a shitty relationship or marriage—you hope they come to their senses but will keep your mouth shut until they do. Groff exposes a marriage over 24 years through competing perspectives of husband and wife Lotto and Mathilde. Dealing in secrets, complications and things left unresolved, Groff’s sharp prose cuts through the meat of one marriage and reveals the elegant way two people have of hurting each other without saying a word.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World and Me
Give this book to your brother-in-law, the guy who once sincerely tweeted #AllLivesMatter. Coates’ newly minted National Book Award for Non-Fiction-winning memoir is framed as a letter to his teenage son, in which he grapples with American history, both seen and unseen, and offers him advice for living in a world that more than ever seems balanced on a violent edge. Coates writes with emotion and persuasion and will infiltrate even the most misguided heart.

Check out these and three other gems at The Coast.

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Books

2014: A year in reading

January: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling), The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Lazy Days by Erlend Loe

It’s always colder than I remember. I finally read JK Rowling’s foray into mystery wondering why she needed to publish it under a male pen name. It’s the year of #ReadWomen2014 and it seems fitting, somehow. It’s really really good, easily devoured. Swinging the opposite direction into Kidd’s historical novel about slavery and abolitionists that I just can’t get behind while Lazy Days just feels lazy.

February: The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen

It’s weird how I don’t even remember this book. It’s likely I’ll read it again in five years and not realize until 3/4s in. Everything is a jumble because this is the month we adopt our dog Sundance.

March: The Best American Essays 2013, The Likeness by Tana French

The essays are edited by Cheryl Strayed. I finally follow up French’s debut that I loved. This mystery is so strange I fall for it too and add all her other novels to my to read pile. The idea of a series that moves from supporting character to supporting character is great.

April: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

This comes through in a review pile but I never get around to it. A creepy horror novel about an apocalypse that comes about from some kind of creature that drives you insane just by looking at it. Survivors spend their lives blindfolded. It’s good, and feels original, which isn’t easy when it comes to this genre.

May: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle, Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Everything falls apart. My Grandfather gets sick. Americanah is the kind of life-changing novel that you’re lucky to come across in a year. The hype is real. I need to feel light so I flip to YA but it just makes me cry. Two equally mediocre novels follow it. We buy a house.

June: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Consumed: Food For a Finite Planet by Sarah Elton

I read Beautiful Ruins in the sun on my porch. When I close my eyes it could be anywhere. In Ohio on the way to the funeral home my mother and I take turns reading short stories aloud from The Thing Around Your Neck. I am so far away. Non-Fiction feels necessary now but only reminds me how broken this world is.

July: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

A good month for reading. I love everything I consume from the single mom raising a girl math genius, to the re-imagining of Snow White and the start of a trilogy about a big brother-esque future that eats me up. But especially Toews’ heart breaking semi-autobigraphical look at a pair of sisters, one who wants to die and the other desperately trying to convince her to live. It’s nominated for, and should have won, the Giller prize.

August: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks, The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

We go to Portland and I finish the second in the Twelve Hawks series on the plane. We get engaged under my favourite bridge and I finish The Book of Life on the way home, the last in a trilogy about supernatural love only not shitty like Twilight.

September: A Life in Men by Gina Frangello, The Broke-Ass Bride’s Wedding Guide by Dana LaRue, The Golden City by John Twelve Hawks, The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, Penguin 75: Designers, Authors, Commentary

My best friend gets married and I get to stand with her at her wedding. There’s a speech. It’s emotional. I read A Life in Men and remember our trip to Europe, how wrong it could have gone but didn’t. I finish the Twelve Hawks trilogy without a bang, the first two were way better. I also finish the Grossman trilogy which is great. It’s sort of like what Harry Potter would have been if it started in college and starred Malfoy instead. It’s hard not to see it as “borrowing” a little too much from C.S. Lewis and JK Rowling, though.

October: The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling), How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

It’s cold and Straub is a disappointment. We put up last minute Halloween decorations and I finish the month off perfectly with three awesome books.

November: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Possibly the best month of reading yet, all three books end up on my year end list.

December: The Dilettantes by Michael Hingston, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, Love Enough by Dionne Brand, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi, Us Conductors by Sean Michaels, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

It all went by so fast I think. I finally read Hingston’s book that’s been on my shelf for awhile, it’s as good as I thought it might be. Really enjoyable. Fuller’s yet-to-be-released novel about a girl who’s kidnapped by her survivalist father and raised in a cabin in the woods where he tells her the world has ended is fantastic. It deserves a lot of love in 2015, I hope it gets it. I finally start yet another mystery series that I’ve heard so much about. Brand disappoints, as does Nafisi. I read Us Conductors only because it won the Giller prize and I had to see if it was better than All My Puny Sorrows. It’s beautiful, but no. I finish the year off with an instant favourite. Station Eleven is an apocalyptic tale told in many POVs about a virus that disseminates the world and then, 20 years later, a group of travelling actors and musicians that believe survival isn’t enough. It’s perfect.

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Books

The Interestings, life, love and not knowing anything at all, ever

Meg Wolitzer's The InterestingsWe get bound up in each other. It’s inevitable. That’s what makes life interesting—the push and pull of people, especially the ones that you yearn for in one way or another, although not always the way that they want. We make promises in our youth that lack the follow through of day-to-day living. We love people but sometimes with limits, carefully placed for our own protection. That’s what Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings made me ruminate on. Especially because the central relationships are friendships, of course, but also a little bit of envy, some obsession and love. That strange lingering love that pools itself in your most creative friends. They quench you—that aching need that lives behind your breastbone and never quite goes away. The parts of you that the people you love most might not even understand.

I like what Wolitzer says about honesty, about the secrets you carry with you forever, and the intimacy you sacrifice just by keeping them. It’s a book about a group of friends, sure, but it’s also about knowing and how there isn’t really such a thing, not completely, and how arrogant we are when we think we do. It’s about love but also about what real love lacks and how that’s OK, better even, because it’s not about finding everything but about choice—prioritizing. Which sounds clinical but isn’t. Not really, it’s about being real with yourself about what actually makes you happy.

I don’t talk much about art anymore. I don’t discuss writing, not in the way I used to, all tangled up with big ideas and theories. Plans. It’s not because I can’t, but more because I don’t need to. I’m sated with everyday happiness, the kind that comes from being with someone who has love that shores you up. The kind that passes through generations and lasts. I feel like Julz, really, deciding that I don’t need to be so creative, don’t need to define myself by it or feel like I have to be miserable to feed it. But we’re both still chasing something, a feeling we used to have, a worry for the future.

But maybe that’s just what life is.

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Books

Love Water Memory

I review Love Water Memory over at The Coast: “Jennie Shortridge’s fifth novel takes pains to find sure footing but seems to stumble its way towards a climax. The characters are less well-rounded or real as they are sketches for a made-for-TV movie. Still, there’s something in a light read that strives for depth, not quite catching it. If you like your traumatic back stories as more of a footnote or are a fan of Nicholas Sparks, then it might be for you. Save this one for hotter days and sandy beaches.”

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Books, Personal, Television

On growing apart, Girls and Friends Like Us

She suggests we become pen pals, though we live only a twenty-minute walk from each other, and suddenly it seems like my best friends are always screens, stamps, and several failed plans away. Like I woke up one morning and we suddenly stopped making time for each other. Or maybe it was always that way and I’m only just realizing it.

Hannah and Marnie, Girls

Another season of Girls ends and the last scene, as Hannah is rescued by her awful mistake of an ex-boyfriend instead of any one of her closest friends bubbles up in me such a raw desolation that I can’t stop sobbing, long after the credits roll. It’s because they all seem so broken and I see myself in all of their selfishness and most of their mistakes but they’re still girls, and I’m almost 28. When do you stop having an excuse for not having it together?

I stay up way too late and think about rekindling friendships long faded, making apologies for why things ended, if I can even remember. Maybe I was too idealistic in how I thought a friend should be. Maybe I could be more forgiving.

Friends Like Us by Lauren FoxFriends Like Us seemed like the perfect read to match my mood. And it is but it isn’t because here’s two best friends that live in their own bubble, mistaken for sisters, a language all their own—it captures perfectly that ease, the support and adoration when you’re just so smitten with a friend that the years before you knew them are almost defined by that. Before careers, schedules and relationships seem to get in the way. Before like in Girls, we start turning to others for help. Why wasn’t it Marnie, Hannah’s oldest friend, that ran to her that night? Was there too much said between them? Too many disappointments? Have they just drifted too far apart? At what point does a friendship start to erode in on itself and can you catch it, fix it, send it back on track? Or is it a kind of inevitable motion, like falling, that you just have to let play out? Set it free and if it comes back to you, yadda yadda yadda. I know now that sometimes they do.

In Friends Like Us you start out at the end, an awkward run-in for Willa and Jane, years after whatever breaks them apart has done its damage and the dust has had time to settle but they don’t rekindle anything. They say the things they’ve been harbouring for years and then they go back to their respective and very separate lives. The rest of the book is what leads up to that inevitable end. It’s depressing but captivating. All the characters are fully formed and nuanced. It’s playful, funny, but sad too, and it’s so full of longing that it’s pretty heartbreaking to get to the end and know that some friendships can’t withstand the things we submit them to. That we can mess everything up but not love a person any less. That no amount of years going by will stop you from replaying conversations, remaking moves, and wondering wondering wondering how you could have done things differently. Maybe that’s just a risk you take when you love anyone, only you expect romantic relationships to end and to ultimately get over them… but there’s no guidebook on how to get over a friend.

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Books

My Top 12 Books of 2012 (published this year)

Top 12 of 2012 ListI’m not usually a fan of end of year lists as much as people seem to make them, especially since, when it comes to books, there’s almost no way that you (or at least I) can get to every book in my to-read pile, especially considering a lot of the books I want to read aren’t usually published the year I read them, I’m a bit slow to the game with these things. So, it was lucky this year that I started writing book reviews for The Bookshelf as well as The Coast (and here on the blog) because between the three of them I was often knee-deep in new books.

This week was the Critics’ Picks issue of The Coast which means I had to compile my Top 12 of 2012 books of the year list and happily this year (maybe unlike last year, shhhh) I had read so many books (68 and counting) that all the books on my list were both published this year and rated well by me on Goodreads. In the next couple of days I’m going to post a companion list to this one featuring my list of the year just in general, new and old, the best books I’ve read this year. I’m curious to see how different they would be.

My Top 12 of 2012 (books published this year)

The Child Who 12. The Child Who (Penguin)
By Simon Lelic

A somewhat bumbling provincial attorney Leo Curtice is saddled with the task of defending a 12-year-old boy after he molests and murders an 11-year-old girl. Drawn into the boy’s past and seemingly inability to understand the significance of his actions, Leo finds himself not just the only person willing to even consider defending the child but also, maybe, his only friend. It’s disturbing novel, not just for the boy but how he’s perceived in a system that pretends to withhold judgement until proven guilty. It’s horrifying to consider at what point a child stops being a child and turns into a monster—and scarier still what you can lose if you defend that monster. I’m not a huge crime fan, but this one was hard to put down.

1593967211. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Harper Collins)
By Robin Sloan

I wrote about this one just the other day. Sloan’s novel about a life-lost guy who finds himself working at a strange bookstore that turns out to be a kind of front for a secret society’s quest for the secret of immortality is swiftly engaging and fun. Even if it doesn’t turn out how you (or the characters) necessarily want it to, it still manages to share a few life secrets with you, regardless. Maybe I’m biased because a literary-based mystery is just too appealing, but then again I never really fell for The Davinci Code, so I think I’m doing alright.

Dare Me10. Dare Me: A Novel (Reagan Arthur)
By Megan Abbott

After reading The End of Everything and being totally unable to shake it, I had to read Megan Abbott’s newest novel and see if it was just a one-off. Dare Me is focuses again on the tight friendship between two young girls only this time, that bond is far more insidious. Both are cheerleaders who develop an unhealthy obsession with their new coach and how that obsession begins to define their friendship. It’s sort of Mean Girls meets Crush or Election only way darker and just as enthralling as The End of Everything.

More Baths, Less Talking9. More Baths, Less Talking (McSweeney’s/Believer)
By Nick Hornby

I love love love Nick Hornby. I haven’t written about him until now, but he’s one of those writers who I search out and gobble up every word they write (see also: Barbara Kingsolver, John Fowles, Anais Nin, Haruki Murakami, I could probably go on…). He’s equal parts smart and funny, which is nice, and he just, I dunno, writes the kinds of books I never want to stop reading. He also writes a column for The Believer called Stuff I’ve Been Reading which is really, really good. It’s sometimes rambly and oftentimes completely unrelated to books but it’s also probably the best and most realistic description of reading activity that I’ve seen from a book critic (every month there’s a list of the books he’s bought and the ones he’s read, they don’t always overlap) anyway, fan girl squeeing aside, this is a collection of one year’s worth of that column. Totally worth reading, but only if you love books… wait… if you don’t love books why are you even reading this?

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry8. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Bond Street)
By Rachel Joyce

An aging man gets a letter from an old friend that is dying and sets out on a really long walk to reconnect with her. Along the way he gets hurt, famous, considered senile, forgotten and finds peace. It’s such an odd premise that I had to read for myself. Rachel Joyce’s depiction of Harold Fry and his estranged wife is so quietly tragic that you just can’t help falling for them a little, and rooting for their failed marriage. The scene where she is pairing her clothes with his is just, perfect. This book is a slow ambler, kinda paced the way Harold is, so if you don’t have the patience, you might want to skip it.

The Twelve7. The Twelve (Doubleday)
By Justin Cronin

The follow-up to 2010’s The Passage (which I just read this summer) deserves to be on this list solely for the anticipation it garnered while I waited for fall and my advanced copy… it’s a giant blockbuster of a series which is going to be a giant blockbuster of a movie too. You get the feeling that’s what Cronin always planned for in this epic sweeping action series about a military-made virus that ushers in the vampire apocalypse and the world’s human survivors that attempt to make sense of the world they grew up in decades upon decades later. This book wasn’t near as good as the first one but the story is still pretty awesome. Read it before they make it a movie so you can get in on the ground floor.

133810126. The Juliet Stories (House of Anansi)
By Carrie Snyder

They call it a novel-in-stories, but what Carrie Snyder manages in her second book is deeper and more coherent than that. Juliet grows up in Nicaragua (post-revolutionary war) with her two brothers as almost an afterthought for their activist parents, until illness drives them home and into the immediacy of conventional family life. Each early chapter is a glimpse, a hazy portrait of ten year old Juliet that doesn’t fully form until later, as a collection, comes understanding. Back in Canada, the fractured family continues to deal with reverberations from their past, unable to forgive each other, instead clinging to Nicaragua as this place out of time, free from the stamp of grief. It’s only in going back to confront the ghosts that Juliet is able to come to terms with her stories and begin a family of her own. Snyder is phenomenal here, crafting some of the most striking images and beautiful sentences that you will likely read all year. The Juliet Stories is not to be missed. (Re-posted from The Coast)

131524205. Inside (House of Anansi)
By Alix Ohlin

Short-listed for the Giller Prize, I’ve blogged about Inside before—Ohlin’s novel about Grace, a sincere therapist and the people she becomes entwined with will have you diagnosing characters left right and centre, although each one will manage to surprise you—it’s a bit obsessive and maddening but engrossing just the same. Although, most of the characters are unlikeable assholes that you don’t mind watching fall apart, so you definitely have to be into books where you don’t need to relate to or root for the people in it. Let’s just book club and laugh maniacally together as they fail.

132189934. Instruction Manual for Swallowing (ECW)
By Adam Marek

The only thing better than Adam Marek’s book of fantastic short stories is imagining how he possibly came up with them. Absurd, darkly comic and at times head-scratchingly bizarre, Marek’s talent for rending the supernatural or outrageous in real, human terms is mind-boggling. A couple finds out they are pregnant with 37 babies. A man is diagnosed with cancer just before the city he lives in is attacked by a Godzilla-like beast. A pet shop sells animals by volume. A man working in a restaurant for zombies finds out the meat is locally-sourced. Another man travels to the inner workings of his mind only to discover the controls are manned by Busta Rhymes. The premise is always wildly weird, but Marek manages to take the fantasy from unbelievable to relatable in a few short pages, surprising you with emotional insight not usually attributed to the sci-fi section. This is a gem of a collection—no story left behind. (Re-posted from The Coast)

135866183. Sympathy Loophole (Mansfield)

By Jaime Forsythe
In her first book of poetry, Forsythe manages to create a fascinating balance between the oddly witty and beautifully weird that most writers only dream about, or go wildly off the mark while attempting it. It’s a riveting collection that pays tribute to the strangeness in everyday life. I’ve written about it here and here already. That’s just how lovely it is. Plus, she’s from Halifax which makes it even better. (Who doesn’t love to read poetry that’s influenced by places they often frequent?) If you’re going to only read one book of poetry this year, it should be this one.

135031092. This is How You Lose Her (Riverhead)
By Junot Díaz
The follow-up short story collection to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao sees Yunior’s life set against a backdrop of heartbreak. The women he loves and inevitably loses because of his own short-comings romanticize that special kind of failure in the tender, raw and darkly comedic way that Díaz has long perfected. It’s cut from the same cloth that Oscar Wao was—full of untranslated words and seemingly autobiographically-tinged sexism—so if that rubbed you the wrong way, then this will too. Personally, I’ll probably read everything Díaz throws at us, even that weird sci-fi epic that’s reportedly in the works called Monstro.

108367281. The Rook (Back Bay)
By Daniel O’Malley
One fantasy book to rule them all, The Rook is part Memento-esque amnesia mystery and part political thriller with a dash of Men in Black-level government-weird to keep you guessing, laughing and crossing your fingers for a sequel more than any other genre could. It’s exactly what you didn’t know you were looking for. When Myfanwy Thomas awakes in the rain with dead bodies surrounding her, she knows only what is provided by a letter in her pocket addressed to her from…herself. She learns that she holds a high level position in a secret supernatural government agency—organized like a chess board—and that a traitor from within stole her memories and still wants her dead. In a thrilling page turner that is as funny as it is suspenseful. Rook Thomas, guided by a suitcase of letters from her former meticulous self, needs to solve the mystery before her would-be murderer succeeds while juggling her everyday responsibilities like, oh, running an organization that employs people who type with tentacles, subverting a Frankenstein-esque Belgian invasion, and figuring out how to control her recently discovered superpowers. The Rook melds the best of all genres into a fantastically fun and intensely readable debut novel. (Re-posted from The Coast)

YAY! My top 5 books read this year, period, to follow.

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