Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Year in Books: 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:  A YA book for adults.  The Fault in Our Stars is a quirky love story about teens with cancer in love.  Hazel is terminal; her lungs have been ravaged by her illness and will only last her a while more.  She walks around with an oxygen tank.  Hazel is depressed, for obvious reasons, and her mother forces her to join a cancer support group for teens where she meets and falls madly in love with Augustus, an amputee in remission.  The smaltzy love story with the “Love Story” ending is saved by its witty dialogue and original characters.   The dry, sardonic humor captures its dark undertones: this is a book about dying.  But it’s also really, really funny.  So long as you don’t dwell on the fact that you’ve never heard such quick, intelligent, droll conversation coming out of the mouths of anyone under 18, it’s a great read.  
The Breakdown: I read 40 books.  30 by women, 10 by men.

This was a mind-candy year for reading.  Many of the books aren’t worth mentioning, and some I’m a little embarrassed I read.  (Something Borrowed by Emily Griffin, anyone?)  And (I’m so ashamed) no classics... but for what it's worth, here's what I DID read (the good, the okay, and the ugly):  

Snowleg by Nicholas Shakespeare:  I bought this book solely based on its cover, which is a perfectly acceptable reason for choosing a novel, and am glad I stuck through the rather slow beginning.  Snowleg is a quiet mystery about Peter Hithersay, who learns his true father is not the man he grew up calling Dad.  He makes a journey to East Germany to track down his birth father and meets a girl and falls madly in love.  Things end badly, partly because she is a citizen of communist East Germany, and partly because Peter makes a terrible choice.  Years later, the Berlin wall falls.  Peter only knows the girl’s nickname- Snowleg.  As Snowleg’s identity slowly unravels, I couldn’t wait to see if Peter and she would be reunited.  A really lovely novel. 

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail byCheryl Strayed:  I will admit that I did not realize there was a Pacific Crest Trail until I read this book.  I knew of the Appalachian Trail, of course, duh, but a trail that runs from California up through Washington?  Who would walk that?  THERE’S NO WATER ON THAT TRAIL!  But Cheryl Strayed walks almost all of it, and who knew walking could be so fascinating.  Toenails fall off, strange characters are met, packages don’t arrive at their destinations: I was very nervous for her though obviously she made it out all right and wrote this bestselling memoir.  Strayed’s long hike was preceded by her mother’s death and subsequent divorce from her husband.  Strayed is terribly flawed, but I think she would be the first to admit that.  The long hike was a cathartic experience, and you have to give anyone credit for sticking with it.  Especially when they hiked alone.  In the desert.  With very very little funding.  A fun read that will make you want to get outdoors.

(Because I was on a read-about-hiking-long-trails kick, I also read the memoir AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller.  This was less introspective and more of a straightforward story about hiking the AT.  I loved it.  And it was self-published!)

Amy Inspired by Bethany Pierce:  I heard Ms. Pierce read an excerpt of her novel, Amy Inspired, at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing.  Then I bought her book.  And when I got home I read it.  And I really, really liked it.  Christian fiction has always been more miss than hit with me: if it’s not a saccharine love story it’s a gag-worthy morality tale.  This was a novel with real people.  In fact, the most popular review on Amazon is a 2-star that complains the story is too “edgy.”  Because the bible was so tame, with all the adultery and spilling of guts.  Amy has boyfriend troubles, is a struggling writer, and has a dying mother.  I could very much relate to her, minus the boyfriend troubles and the dying mother.  Seriously- she was a likable character, the novel pulled you right along and the writing was quite lovely.  An enjoyable tale about a girl with faith.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett:  Marina’s colleague has gone to the Amazon to check on the research of their pharmaceutical company’s researcher, and Marina’s former mentor, Dr. Senger.  After receiving a rather alarming and terse report that the colleague has died, Marina descends into the jungle to find out what happened to him.  Part fantasy and part suspense, Patchett plops you in the middle of the sticky jungle for a while and you find you can’t leave- at least not until Marina does. 

Apparently medical personnel  hate this book because it is highly inaccurate.  I found the plot fantastical, almost magical surrealism.  It fit the setting and the plot and quite frankly I didn’t care that the characters chose a c-section over an external version for a delivery.  I understand that inaccuracies can drive professionals crazy: the rest of us didn’t notice and certainly aren’t going to look to the novel as a resource on obstetrics.  (Chill out, medical personnel!)

Worth Mentioning:

Little Bee by Christ Cleave:  An unsettling story about a Nigerian refugee and the English couple she met on the beach.  This book was given to me by my favorite blogger friend, Marsha of Life in A-Town.  I thought , based solely on the title and the fact that the cover of the novel is orange, that this would be a whimsical tale of friendship.  It is not.  It’s a tale of friendship within a horror story.   Cleave is an incredible writer who shifts effortlessly between the points of view of two very different women. 

However, the plot felt forced in places where it didn’t need to.  For instance, in the impoverished village from where Little Bee hails, there was a bible that’s pages were torn off after the forty-sixth verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew, so that the last words of their particular copy read : My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

A tad bit ham-fisted. 

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans:  In the spirit of A.J. Jacobs’ hilarious memoir, A Year of Biblical Living, Evans decides to attempt to achieve “biblical womanhood” within the confines of a year.  To live as a woman biblically, Evans followed Proverbs 31 and some other verses from the bible that instruct women on how to conduct their lives.  Her point was to prove that “biblical womanhood,” as it is touted among conservative Christians (and conservative Jews), is an impossible feat.  The book has some amusing anecdotes, and Evans never comes across as condescending or mean.  However, overall, it was not as funny as I’d hoped and was maybe even a little forgettable?  (Rachel Held Evans has one of the most popular Christian living blogs on the web, so my expectations were high.  But what do I know?  I’m small potatoes.)

Gillian Welch:  I took a turn toward the dark side of fiction and started reading Gillian Welch’s sinister crime novels: Gone Girl, which remains on the NY Times bestseller list, and also Sharp Objects and Dark Places.  Gone Girl was black comedic fun:  Sharp Objects and Dark Places were brooding and disturbing.  But addicting.  Like carbohydrates.  I tore through them in a day. 

Big disappointments included Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann, which was almost unreadable, and the immensely popular Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, which was gimmicky and manipulative and had a ridiculous plot.  And he used a kid to do it.  A kid!  Did you like this book?  Did you like the movie?  I refuse to watch the movie.  I miss the days when Tom Hanks did movies like The ‘Burbs.  Did you see the film he did with Julia Roberts?  Uck.  Uck, I tell you.

Other books worth mentioning include The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger (takes place in Rochester!); The Lessons by Naomi Alderman (Alderman’s mentor is Margaret Atwood); The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (this is the third time I’ve read it); The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (brings biblical times into sharp focus, however sacrilegious it may be); and The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (an alternative “Left Behind” novel.)

Yes, it has occurred to me that I use parentheses too much.

I’ve thought about it, and in 2013 I’m going to steal my Dad’s idea and choose an “author of the year.”  The author?  Wait for it…

C.S. Lewis! 

I’m going to start reading the Narnia books to Ben and am personally going to tackle:  Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and either The Screwtape Letters or The Four Loves.    

I’m proud of my choice because:  1)  These books are mainly non-fiction and 2) C.S. Lewis is not a female.  I tend to read female authors.  I don’t know why.

Your favorite books read in 2012?  Books you are looking forward to reading in 2013?  You loved Incredible Close and Extremely Dangerous or whatever it was called and feel like arguing with me?  Please.  Let me know.


Toaster said...

I didn't have any great reads for 2012. I read Stephen King's 11/22/63, and although I found it enjoyable as I do with most of his books, it wasn't a love for me. Unfortunately, there wasn't really much else I read even worth mentioning. :(

I did read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close years ago, when it first came out. Like you, I'm kind of down on Tom Hanks these days and haven't seen the movie, but unlike you, I did enjoy the book--perhaps it was different reading it much closer to the actual events of 9/11? However, even at the time, I thought that the boy in the book was WAY too young (what was he supposed to be, 9?) to be traveling all over NYC all by himself; that definitely did not ring true to me.

P.S. Your capchas are getting too hard for me!

Holly said...

I removed the Capchas! Maybe I will garner more comments? If I get spammed, I'm blaming you.

Why didn't the kid search for people by street # instead of alphabetically? It made no sense.

Holly said...

Capchas back. 6 spam comments in one day. Sad sad sad.

Mary said...

Hanging my head in shame, how in the world did you do 40 books with 4 kiddos? I only managed 19 with no kids. :0 Looking at my list there really was nothing that stands out although I did really enjoy Night Road and Home Front by Kristen Hannah, and Caleb's Crossing. I also read Extremely Loud and Incredibly close, I enjoyed it but have not seen the movie.

Unknown said...

You may even try listening (instead of reading) C.S. Lewis read the Four Loves. The only extant recording of Lewis' voice is of him reading the Four Loves. Of course, he sounds exactly the eccentric British professor that he was… but it is quite enjoyable!

Holly said...

Mary- I have terrible insomnia. Hence the reading.

Unknown: I will check and see if the library has an audio copy of The Four Loves. What a great idea.

Toaster said...

Oh no, I didn't mean for you to remove capchas--sorry you got spammed! (Although I don't know why they have to be so unreadable; what happened to when they were 2+4=?)

I don't remember the kid searching for people by street number, but as I said, it was a long time ago that I read the book. Maybe it was because he was just a little kid!

A book that I liked better that was (tangentially) related to 9/11 is Dear Zoe about a teenager whose sister dies on 9/11--but not in the terrorist attacks. But I also read that one quite some time ago, in 2005 I think...