Well this sure is overdue! I completed my goal of reading 20 books in 2012 just in the nick of time when I finished up Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated on New Years Eve, curled up in my sleeping bag in our tent in Joshua Tree. It definitely wasn’t my favorite book of the year, in fact it was maybe my least favorite, even though I really wanted to love it. But more on that later. Lets talk about my favorite books of 2012.
The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
If you know me, you know that I’m typically a non-fiction fan, and it takes a pretty darned good work of fiction to make me rave. That being said, The Night Circus was the best book that I read in 2012. Erin Morgenstern expertly combines what are, for me, the holy trinity of fictional elements: period piece, love story (but not cheesy), and supernatural stuff. I could find no fault with this book, the story hooks you in immediately, the descriptions are beautiful, and you can’t put it down. I don’t even want to tell you anything about the plot because I just want you to read it without having any clue what’s coming next. Go do it. You’ll thank me. Oh, and as an interesting aside, this book started as a NaNoWriMo book. Pretty neat, and inspiring.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness – Susannah Cahalan
Now for some fantastic non-fiction. If you know me you also know that I love memoirs, particularly on the topic of mental illness, psychological disorders, and the like. Cahalan tells about her experience with a rare disorder that caused hallucinations, paranoia, and was a medical mystery of sorts. Since she has very little memory of the experience, much of the account is reconstructed by medical records, videos, interviews, etc. It’s a page turner, a bit frightening, and definitely will increase your appreciation for modern medicine.
The Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson
Another book about mental illness? Yep. Ronson is an investigative journalist who has written a few other great books, including the fantastic Them: Adventures With Extremists. In The Psychopath Test, Ronson explores the prevalence of psychopaths in society. Turns out they are everywhere. You’ve probably seen a psychopath or two just this week. Ronson looks not only at the type of people we all think of as psychopaths, you know, the murderers and terrorists; but also the high-functioning psychopaths who have become successful in their own lives. After reading this book, I can think of a few people I interact with frequently who would likely pass the test, I bet you will think of a few too. If you want to get a taste of The Psychopath Test prior to investing some reading time, check out the TED talk that Jon Ronson did:
How to Be a Woman – Caitlan Moran
This book should be required reading for every teenage girl, not to mention every grown woman and man. Moran explores the concept of modern feminism, and encourages women to stand up and together refuse to be treated as the weaker sex; to refuse to be oversexualized; and to refuse to be faulted because we have the ability to bear children. If you’re afraid to read a book written by a brash, foul-mouthed, feminist; then at a minimum, listen to this interview with Caitlin Moran on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Nerd alert. Post-apocalyptic dystopia, virtual reality video game world, with a million great 70’s and 80’s pop-culture references? Yes, please. My favorite chapter? 0027, hands down. If you are a 30 or 40 something male, just go read this book, chances are there’s something in there for you. Girls, if you played video games and listened to RUSH instead of (or in addition to) playing Barbie and listening to Madonna, you’ll be stoked on this too.
So those are my five favorites of 2012. Honorable mention goes to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. It took a few (hundred) pages for me to get into it, but I finished all five books (several thousand pages) in the first half of 2012 and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the next one. Get on it George.
Oh, yeah. About Everything is Illuminated. A friend recommended this book to me when I told her I was doing some research about my Ukrainian grandparent’s ancestral villages. I really went into the book wanting to love it, but the whole bad English bit got annoying right quick. The book follows two storylines, and that can be a bit confusing, but both are great, and a bit heart wrenching. The idea for the book was great, the delivery was poor. That being said, I watched the movie version (starring one of my favorite people, Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello) and loved it. I usually don’t recommend this, but watch the movie, then read the book if you want more detail. I wish I had done it that way.
Want to see what else I read in 2012? I kept track, just for you: 20 Books in 2012
And just for the fun of it, here are some past years reading lists:
45 Books in 2011 reviews
45 Books in 2011 more reviews!
45 Books in 2011 list