Books I Read in 2012

  1. (SS- short story) The Dead by James Joyce. I appreciated the glimpse of another time, the details, the traditions, the importances of doing things in a particular way for old and forgotten reasons. Otherwise, I’m not too sure about the story except for the incredible few paragraphs at the end. And this, “Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love.”
  2. (SS) Cast in Moonlight by Michelle Sagara (from Harvest Moon). My first experience with Kaylin and the interesting characters with qualities of Hawks, Wolves, Cats, and more. She arrives unexpectedly and almost immediately begins doing unexpected things that upset everyone even while she earns their respect. Development of this fantasy short story is good, the characters have depth. It felt like a prologue to a bigger story and made me look for more. I was right! Yes!
  3. Neon Rain by James Lee Burke. I enjoyed Tin Roof Blowdown so much, I decided that I needed more Detective Robicheaux. This is the first in the series, and I can tell the writing isn’t as sharp as in Tin Roof Blowdown. Wisps of that tiresome alcoholic whine comes through, but Robicheaux gets through it and presses on. Interesting, the book ends when he turns in his badge, so I am curious to know how he gets back into it. Still, this one is gritty and compelling, and Burke’s character descriptions are so good they almost cause a physical reaction in me.
  4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Alexie’s way with words is perfectly synchronized with mine, so that every time he speaks with ink, it is as though he is scratching it onto my heart. He writes with an artist’s perspective on the world. Just a guy, living, and noticing the crushing and profound and exhilarating meanings of all the things that happen around him. This is a kids’ book, in theory, but more accurately it is a book about Life. Oh, and you’ll laugh out loud. (btw, read everything this man has ever written. please.)
  5. (SS) Paris is a Bitch by Barry Eisler. A short story that Eisler explains on his blog is designed to fill in a gap between two other stories. I love the setting, the complicated characters. However, the persistent reminders of John Rain’s apparent traumatic military background were tiresome to me. But of course I am jaded, since in my job I read traumatic stories of real life military men and women every single day. I like wretched, tormented, violent heroes that are trying to do good.
  6. West With the Night by Beryl Markham. Oh! What an astonishing gem of a book. This is pure poetry disguised as a novel. Published in 1942, it tells of an Africa under colonization, but like Margaret Mitchell described her American South, it looks idyllic. Apparently there is controversy over the actual author, but who cares? It is a beautiful beautiful story in itself, in that the writer notes things and comments on them, and these are lessons that apply to anyone and at any time.
  7. Bellica by Katje van Loon. A pagan fantasy debut novel. A fun military and political story (you know I love politics in my fantasy) by my friend Katje. The author blends multiple story lines of tortured love, secrets that would destroy love, and bravery. There are fighting deities and humans with magical powers, particularly the young woman who learns from an Earth goddess so old and forgotten and slow that she has almost completely turned into a tree.
  8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. This one was unexpectedly dark. I could almost feel the author hanging over my shoulder, making his cynical point. I usually love the old classics, the way long drawn-out background stories are often developed, which can be pulled into the punchline at the end. Dumas doesn’t pull in their relevance, but he does love to write random side stories.  Nice long book, but not well held-together, and I got lost in the dozens of important characters. I think it will be better a second and a third time around.
  9. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. I had to read this because it’s about Abbey’s time spent as a Ranger in Arches National Monument (before it was a national park, before it was paved, before a lot of things), and I just visited the Arches for the very first time last month. I love his writing. It strikes me that Abbey would come across as a wiseass jerk in real life, till he decided he liked you. I’ve decided I like him. This man is all about pure engagement with one’s environment, and I can subscribe to that without hesitation.
  10. The Kite Runner by Kahled Hosseini. I see why it is loved around the world. This book does not skirt around devastatingly tough issues. Not like I’ve experienced a life like the one in the book, but I’ve experienced traumas that have torn me apart and changed my life forever. Traumas I’ll never forget, no matter what. Well, Hosseini has written about that kind of trauma for us. Showed us times when the people we love are responsible for heinous lies and deceit, and how those people must be loved by us anyway. How we must take responsibility for the terrible things we have done, even though it was the crimes of others that led us down the path we took in the first place. These are the real things that happen in our lives. I am awed that an author had the intellect, the intuition, the perception, the raw, sharp skills to put it down in a story for us.
  11. Silence by Shusaku Endo. The prologue by Martin Scorsese put me in the frame of mind to get ready for something powerful. Instead, I found a curious book. I sense it is going to make a gigantic impact on the faithful when it hits the big screen in 2013. Set in Japan, in Nagasaki prefecture, where I spent a lot of time this summer, it was surprising for me to hear this part of Kyushu history. First a flourishing Christian community, then a severe persecution. (Side note: …followed by another flourishing, and demolishing, as I could see at the atomic bomb museum, where Catholic churches, people, and holy relics were shredded and melted by our bombs.) The author got a little unfocused with his means of telling the story, beginning with letters, then switching to narration. It remains an intriguing (albeit gruesome {which is why I think the faithful will watch in ecstasy}) story, in which a Jesuit priest attempts to sneak into Kyushu and minister to the underground faithful. He gets caught pretty soon, and after being tortured, ends up selling out, humiliated and disgusted with himself. However, the strength of the book is the introspection of the priest. In the last days of his life, his own suffering follows Jesus’ trials, and he endures suffering he never would have been able to comprehend without experiencing it. In this, he finally gains a clear understanding of Jesus’ last days.
  12. (SS) The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Silly and fun, I enjoyed this one mostly because there were no heavy concepts to be burdened with, and also because I was able to peep into a little of 19th century London. And of course, I love a play on words.
  13. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. What a strange, unsatisfying book! Well-written with a story line that kept me coming back, day after day, hoping for some understanding. Wildly unconnected and mystical (even scary) story lines are woven in, promising never a boring moment. An author who could place each twist and complete the puzzle in the end would truly be the genius reviewers say Murakami is. Almost nothing pulled together in the end, and though we did finally find out what happened to Toru’s wife, her rationale for leaving was WEAK. After years of heroic championship of his beloved missing wife, Toru ends up alone, then lies to and abandons his only real friend at the end, in an unexplainable wicked way.
  14. (SS) Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein. It’s probably only been a year since I read this last, but I do love this one. This time it struck me as a distinctly atheist story.
  15. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. No one else can make stories about the dead and undead so sweet and tender as can Neil Gaiman. We, the audience, are also lucky enough that he has a splendid reading voice and chooses to read his audiobooks for us! The story begins with a baby who escapes when his entire family is murdered. The ghosts in a nearby cemetery decide to raise him and protect him from the murderer, who hates leaving a job unfinished.
  16. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. I have a soft spot for British humor, and British stories in general. This is a lovely tale of an old school major whose honest and non-judgmental nature (well, except when it comes to his tiresome son) can stir up the neighborhood; particularly when they want him to join them in causing a sensation about other things that he would really prefer not to become involved in. He finally overcomes his natural reserve to woo the Pakistani woman he loves.
  17. Dune by Frank Herbert. Reading this one the second time because I wanted to move on with the series, but first required a refresher of book one. I thoroughly enjoyed it again, though sadly, can never be startled again by learning the astonishing ways life with very little water can change people.
  18. Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert. Perhaps because I listed to this on my iPod, I was lost for much of the beginning. The book opens with histories, quotes, disconnected scenes, before finally reaching a story. And the story seemed so weak, with many holes. Did all that stuff happen between book 1 and book 2? I have a million questions. Herbert could have very easily popped in two chapters to at least summarize Paul’s reign of absolute power (with not a little menace) before the book opened to the place in time where people were bent on taking him down. It’s hard to have buy-in when I didn’t know what was going on.
  19. (SS) The Open Boat by Stephen Crane. I felt the four men on the boat were doomed from the beginning. I didn’t think they could make it all night, but of course they could. A day and a night, humans can endure that much. It seemed much sadder that only the oiler died, rather than all of them.
  20. The Night Season by Chelsea Cain. Great story! It was a thrill to know nearly every single place mentioned in this book; to be able to envision the Japanese American memorial at waterfront park, Oaks Park, the downtown jail, Mississippi Avenue, even Mill Ends Park, briefly mentioned (I once blogged about it). Cain spins so many plotlines together, one could almost get lost in it all, but I never did. And, unlike Dumas and Murakami (who I complained about above), she pulled it ALL together in the end. Fascinating trails of overlapping stories that I was perfectly content to accept as background information, turned out to be intricately involved and inseparable from the whole story. Recommend!
  21. (SS) The Twenty-Seventh Man by Nathan Englander. Did you ever hear a little bit of information and think, “I’d like to write a story about that.” Here, Englander does it. This is a perfect example of what a writer can create with an inkling of a compelling thought. What a great short story, with a bonus story inside. I didn’t grasp the intended meaning of the internal story, though it was poignantly told, but I can always read this again and continue to think on it.
  22. Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint. I’ve read a couple by de Lint in the past, and this is my favourite so far. There are a few “makers” who have the ability to paint paintings and bring the images to life. A villain tricks a maker into bringing beings to life so he can feed on them. De Lint’s writing is vastly improved from earlier works, and he has let his fabulous imagination take charge of the page. What a crazy, believable, wonderful and horrible story. More like suspension of disbelief than believable; I felt as though if those things were to happen, then they would have happened exactly as he told it.
  23. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. I listened for 15 minutes during Chapter 19, and that is where I stop. Blech. How stupid of me to purchase based on where it sits in the New York Times best sellers list. I had absolutely zero idea what it was about before purchasing. Nope. I didn’t even know it was about sex. I accidentally began listening at Chapter 19 because I hadn’t selected the proper file in my iPod. It was immature in every sense, with a teenager story line, and weak writing skills. I’m so sorry, but I must also complain about the narrator, and they are usually fabulous, but this one must have been chosen because her reading quality matched the author’s lack of talent. In any case, I kept listening because I assumed I was listening to a side story, such as someone reading a character’s diary, or some girl’s essay from a beginner’s writing class, but no…it turned out to be the actual book. I turned off my iPod and finally read some reviews, and found many people who hated it as much as I did. My main regret is that I purchased the audio version, and now I can’t drop it off at Goodwill.
  24. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This one also purchased based on its popularity, but what a relief that it is not the bomb that 50 shades is. This one surprised me multiple times. I would just start to complete my character sketch of either the husband or the wife, then blam! Next chapter I would see it in a new light. That’s good, because I don’t like either of the characters, so that says something for the plot. Both of them bore me, and all the supporting characters bore me, but the story kept me coming back and neglecting my chores.
  25. (SS) Tobermory by Saki. My initiation to Saki (Hector Hugh Mun). This story was curious, simple and not without profundity. How wonderful to have the ability to teach domesticated animals to speak and understand perfect English. Or…is it?
  26. (SS) The Cannibalism in the Cars by Mark Twain. “In the classic Twain style,” it occurred to me as I listened to the surprising conclusion. Though morbid, I was enjoying the outrageous tale and happy to suspend disbelief. But then… a little relieved to hear the explanation.
  27. Fall of Giants by Ken Follet.  I haven’t read a new book from him in a couple years, and this one he wrote to follow generations over a huge span of time, in the way he did Pillars of the Earth (my favourite book of all time). This book spans the time encompassing WWI, and touches not only real life characters of the time, but his imagined supporting cast. There is young, brave, and devout Billy in the Welsh mine and his precocious and aggressive older sister Ethel, orphaned Russian brothers Grigori and Lev, the wealthy English Fitzherberts and American Gus Dewar. Follet makes historic scenes become real, and believable, like the Christmas truce. He didn’t make the villains wicked enough (and I know he’s got it in him), but the war provided death, trauma, poverty and starvation, so that was villain enough, I should say.
  28. (SS) The Penance by Saki. Mildly horrifying. A man believes the cat is killing the chickens, so he kills the cat. Unbeknownst to him, the neighbor children (to whom the cat was beloved) witness the act. The chickens continue to die, so everyone learns the cat was never at fault. The children decide that the man’s toddler daughter is a fair exchange for the loss of their cat.
  29. (SS) Sredni Vashtar by Saki. Homage to every child or memory of being a child, when we fruitlessly wished an evil person would get their just deserve. If you believe hard enough in your god, justice will be done!
  30. (SS) Charlie Ravioli by Adam Gopnik. A disturbing, but then satisfying, tale of a little girl who invents a rare type of imaginary friend: one that is never available to play with. This story tracks her father’s worries about what this means about the emotional health of his daughter.
  31. (SS) The Blue Hotel by Stephen Crane. Crazy Old West tale about The Swede, who got it into his head that every single person in the Old West must be out to get him. Though they are baffled by his behavior at the saloon, he aggressively shouts and accuses till he gets himself (and everybody else in the Saloon) into a place too tough to get out of without serious injuries (in body and in pride). Then, smugly, he saunters into the next town and brags to such a great degree that the people at that saloon shoot him dead.
  32. (SS) The Open Window by Saki. Wicked trick played on an unsuspecting and innocent visitor makes a very fun (and dark) story.
  33. (SS) The Cold Embrace by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. A foolish young man pledges his love for all eternity when he is only 19, then goes out in to the world and forgets all about her. A foolish young woman allows her life and well-being to be defined by the presence, and then absence of the young man. She dies, and he pays.
  34. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This story is told better because the author was not originally American, and thus can stand back and take a look at us, and provide fresh observations. It’s a great idea, first that when immigrants move here, they bring their gods with them, second that it is not a good country for gods, and third that the new gods and the old gods are preparing for battle. I was entertained by Gaiman’s irresistible writing, and I also learned some things about my own country.
  35. (SS) Counting the Ways by Susan Perabo. Another one of those emotional blockbusters, like Breaking and Entering by Sherman Alexie, which I reviewed in my 2011 list. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story that better mirrors a relationship disintegration  – the kind I’m familiar with. When you can’t put your finger on anything, but you can’t shake the hunch that the relationship is rotting, or already dead. Katy is clearly the example of what I will become (who I have already been) if I ever relax my vigilance. The story appears to be about the astonishing luck of a working class couple who buys a collectible dress previously worn by Princess Diana. The green dress becomes a character in the story, that changes their lives for better and for worse, even after the Princess dies.

2 thoughts on “Books I Read in 2012

  1. Every year I have a tradition that I have followed the last five or six years. I see John Huston’s film of “The Dead”, then I read Joyce’s story. It helps me remember what a connection we have with those who have passed on.

    1. it’s a great idea to have a traditional book/story to read. You have found a way to keep something important in your life. An annual ritual to read a story about rituals and ancestry is a perfect match. I haven’t seen the movie, but I would probably do the same as you, and watch it together with reading the story.

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