Top Ten Books of 2012
Another year, another 100 books down. I welshed on my rules this year of authors I’ve read and haven’t, but this list is a pretty accurate representation of what I like this year. As Stephen King says, you could do worse:
10. The Passage by Justin Cronin- Leave it to an unknown writer to inject the tired vampire mythos with a breath of fresh air that recalls The Stand in scope, quality and richness of character. The first in a proposed trilogy, whose second volume, The Twelve came out this year. And while that falls into the trap of simply being a bridge between books, the promise of The City of Mirrors in 2014 is still there, and this could be a defining trilogy of our time.
9. The Way Home by George Pelecanos- A writer who is slowly becoming a provider for some of my most cherished reading experiences produces his best work with this intimate, yet enthralling tale of second chances and the perils that they entail. It combines the intensity of The Turnaround with the melancholic nostalgia of The Night Gardener to give the reader a work of beauty within the crime genre.
8. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall- A big novel about a polygamist’s harrowing journey toward understanding and familial love that recalls John Irving in scope and meaning. It shows, through humor and heartbreak, the importance of sometimes letting go of happiness and control for the sake of the greater good. It is harsh sometimes, but it is also very truthful and nurturing.
7. Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine by Thom Jones- While I found Cold Snap to be utterly disappointing, this book, along with The Pugilist at Rest show why I feel Jones is the best short story writer since Raymond Carver. Stories like the title story and “I Love You, Sophie Western” shows Jones is capable of being brutally honest while maintaining a quality of gentleness and understanding.
6. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami- My favorite writers long anticipated magnum opus delivered and then some, so much so that I am afraid of where he goes next after this outing. The retelling of Orwell’s novel is every thing I like about Murakami heightened over 925 pages and there may be no place else to go from here. But at least this book is as great as it is.
5. I’ll Steal You Away by Niccolo Ammaniti- Of the three Ammanitit books I read this year, this one is the best, and may be his best book out of all the ones translated into English. It combines the thriller like qualities of I’m Not Scared and As God Commands, with possibly his saddest story, thereby teaching a harsh lesson about a brutal world, yet doing so with an empathy that seems lost to everyone else in the story.
4. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane- This year, Lehane became my new literary idol, and partly due to this sprawling historical epic that takes place during the Boston police riots. Lehane brings the qualities he is known for through his crime novels and puts them within a historical setting that is on the brink of destruction, making for a 700-page novel you wish were twice that size.
3. The Invisible Bridge- by Julie Orringer- While I find books about the Holocaust to be very unoriginal, this one is anything but, and proved to be the most narrative fun I had all year. Through the story of an art student sent to Hungary before Nazi occupation, we get the full effect of history’s pendulum swing that can affect anyone at anytime, and by the end of the novel, you feel like you have been on a journey, which is what books this size should do.
2. The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell- This slim novel may be the saddest and most affecting book I have read, and made anything else I read by Woodrell seem cheap in comparison. We see the emotional and spiritual death of Sug Adkins, from an innocent boy to what is implied by the last, harrowing line of the book, leaving the reader drained, yet not soon to forget this great novel.
1. 2666 by Roberto Bolano- I feel like a tool for putting the second book I read this year on top of my list, but it actually changed the way I look at reading, however corny that sounds. This novel about a Mexican border town I NEVER want to find myself in pushes the boundaries of the novel form, yet it never sacrifices its entertainment merit in the process. It is a challenging, and sometimes maddening book to finish, but if you do, you will be rewarded thoroughly, since this is one of those timeless classics that deserves to become immortal.