Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A reader's dozen...well, fourteen, actually

'Tis the season for making lists. Everybody is going on record with a list of his/her favorite movies, television shows, songs, books, or whatever turns him/her on. Or, in some cases, it is the ten least favorite things, but, regardless of whether it's good or bad, it seems that one must make a list.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, I decided to make a list of my favorite books that I read this year. Instead of a "top ten," I thought I would do it a bit differently and pick one book from each month - it would be my favorite from that month, so I would wind up with a list of twelve.

Sounds easy enough and most months were easy. But a couple of months proved problematic. I just couldn't pick between two favorites from those months. So, in the end, I had a list of fourteen favorites. And here they are, my favorites from each month with links to my reviews of them.

January:  The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I loved this book about baseball as life, as told through the eyes of five friends at a small midwest college. It was a great way to start my reading year.

February: The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

This was a very well-written non-fiction exposition of how all things under the sun are related.

March: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

This is another book which takes us to college where we meet Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell and learn how they interrelate and each person's life affects the other two, not just in college. but on through life. It is also a book about reading and about how reading affects the kind of person one becomes.

April: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman

This was an extraordinary book from the late twentieth century by a marvelous historian. She truly made the past come alive and showed how that calamitous century was in many ways so similar to our own - a distant mirror of our time.

May: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

This book was a recommendation from my daughter who is a great Atwood fan and a classicist. She did not steer me wrong. We get the perspective of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, on the tale of the Trojan War and what follows. It is a very different perspective from the typical sword and sandals view. Anyway, how could one resist a book that begins, "Now that I'm dead I know everything."

June: This was the first month that proved problematic for me. There were two wonderful books that I just couldn't choose between.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Marvelous book! Even better than Wolf Hall, I thought. One would think that everything that could possibly be written or said about the Tudors and Anne Boleyn would have already been written or said within the last four hundred years. But Mantel, in looking at the story through Thomas Cromwell's eyes, has given us a new and altogether different perspective and has proved once again that we just can't get enough of this story.

Canada by Richard Ford

This was another tour de force by Ford as he gave us the story of Dell Parsons, a retired English teacher living in Canada but whose story started in Montana. It was a story and a life that was changed forever the day that his desparate parents decided to be bank robbers.

July: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

Certainly not the easiest read that I had all year but one that was ultimately worthwhile - a very rewarding book. It's the story of Quentin Compson and of the Sutpen family of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Quentin narrates the tale to his friend Shreve. It is a tale of exploitation, of racism and misogyny, and of hard men with hard hearts that have no room for tenderness, even for their own children.

August: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

This book was written with such a sureness of hand that it was hard to believe that it was Karen Russell's first. Her story of the Bigtree family, especially the Bigtree children, was one that grabbed me hard from the first few pages and didn't let go until the very end.

September: The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje

The story of eleven-year-old Michael's three month voyage from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to England in the early 1950s is a luminous tale of childhood friendships and how they endure (or not) and affect our lives forever more.

October: This was my other month with two selections.

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

This was the sixth in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, but it was my introduction to it. I had never read any of the earlier books. Gamache is a totally captivating character, urbane, gentle, but implacable in the hunt for murderers. He always gets his man - or woman - but he never sees them as anything less than human. He is a humane policeman and a joy to read.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Barnes' short book, a meditation really, had a profound effect on me. As I read the words he had put down, I often felt they were directed specifically to me. Tony Webster's life has been a failure on so many levels. He lost his wife. He's been unable to maintain a close relationship with his only daughter. The friends of his youth have drifted away from him and he's allowed that to happen. Now in his 60s, is it too late for an epiphany? Oh, I do hope not!

November:  The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

The gentle, everyday stories of Anne Tyler always catch my heart. The story of Aaron who lost his beloved wife Dorothy and had to learn to say goodbye was one that I found particularly affecting.

December: Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Well, the month isn't quite over, so I suppose it is still possible that I might read another book this month that I like better, but it isn't likely. I loved this book! It begins in a commune in upstate New York in the 1960s and stretches all the way to a dystopian 2018. We live all those years through the character, Bit. He is our Everyman/woman, our stand-in as the story unfolds, as we see how it all happened and how it was all inevitable really. Groff is a wonderful writer.

There you have it - my reader's dozen. If a baker's dozen can have thirteen in it, I see no reason why a reader can't have fourteen in hers. I could have even expanded it further. I have read so many truly wonderful books this year. I hope that your year of reading has been just as rewarding for you.

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