Saturday, December 29, 2012

book talk: some of what I read and enjoyed in 2012

A random list of books is about all I have offer at this time of the year. It seems my writer's well has run dry, my ability to focus is shot, and so instead of pushing out a half-hearted post I will offer some of my favourite book and author finds of 2012. I have * books I read on my e-reader.

Short stories

Margaret Atwood, Moral Disorder and Other Stories* (The goddess, say no more)
Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank* (Worth buying for the title story alone; the stories in this book have stayed with me.) (I heard this repeat of an  interview between Englander and my favourite radio host, Michael Krasny, yesterday. Worth a listen if you want to know more about this author and his really interesting insights into short story writing, Israel and more)
Alice Munro, Dear Life (Sublime, last 4 stories as close to autobiographical as Munro has gone)
Nancy Packer, Old Ladies (This is one of those books that will probably remain largely unheard of because of the subject matter - old ladies - but is completely brilliant and deserves acclaim and audience)
Anne Packer, Swim To Me (I blogged about this author here. I highly recommend all of her books but Swim To Me had special resonance as the stories were largely set in our part of the Bay Area)
Jean Thompson, Throw Like a Girl (She sees the extraordinary in the ordinary, writing sharply about suburban life and dysfunctional families. I will be going back for more)


Ayad Akhtar, American Dervish* (I read this after listening to the author interviewed on Fresh Air)
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending* (It won the 2011 Booker. I read it from start to finish on the return trip from Australia to the US last January and loved)
Anne EnrightThe Forgotten Waltz* (Irish author of Booker winning The Gathering. Highly recommend both and am looking forward to reading her observations on motherhood Making Babies: Stumbling into motherhood)
F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby (Finally, a classic!)
Anna Funder, All That I Am (Winner of the Australian 2012 Miles Franklin Award)
Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child (I bought this on impulse and couldn't put it down. Turns out it has been an international bestseller so I'm not the only one. A fairy tale for grown-ups set in Alaska)
Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Booker shortlisted, the book I want everybody to run out and read. It is deeply moving and wise)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home* (Booker shortlisted, short and brilliant thriller)
Chris Pavone, The Expats* (This was a bit of a romp. A must read for any expats, total page turner)
Tom Perotta, The Leftovers* (A post-apocalyptic world but nothing like The Road)
Kevin PowersThe Yellow Bird (Extraordinary novel about the Iraq war written by a veteran)
Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (National Book Award winner, devastating story about one family in Hurricane Katrina)


Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (I loved this so much I blogged about it)
Virginia Lloyd, The Young Widow's Book of Home Improvement (Beautiful, sad, tender. It made me weep. It is a love story as much as a book about watching your partner die)
Salman RushdieJoseph Anton (Controversial twitter book club read which I loved despite it being too long and going a little overboard on the name dropping)


Marie Howe, What the living do (I thank NPR Fresh Air for introducing me to this extraordinary poet)

I am currently reading Mary Gordon's The Love Of My Youth and have Lily Tuck's I married you for happiness waiting in the wings (another impulse buy that I am confident was not a mistake).

The pile for 2013 is already sky high, some in paper form, some on my e-reader. I have set myself a goal for 2013 of a book a week or 52 books for the year. I would be thrilled if others want to join me in this quest. And please share your favourite books of 2012 in the comments.

Wishing you all safety, peace and happiness in 2013,

Michelle x

I just discovered I have been added to this list .. a wonderful project by the Large Hearted Boy blogger who has been collating the best of books lists for the past five years. 


  1. Great list! I also read the two Booker listed ones and Anna Funder's book this year - loved Funder, liked Joyce, didn't cotton to the Levy, though. I will check out your non fiction titles, I haven't come across them and they all sound worth the effort (well, maybe not the Rushdie, but the others).

    1. My other 2 non-fiction are both amazing so definitely read. I really loved Funder's book too - would now like to read Stasiland. And many people have recommended Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears which was also up for the Miles Franklin so that is high on my list for 2013. (Am a bit embarrassed by how few Australian authors I came up with!)

  2. Sarah (Maya_Abeille)January 2, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    I agree re Joseph Anton, I found it a worthwhile read. I also read Julian Barnes' The Sense Of An Ending and enjoyed it.
    I read Indelible Ink by Fiona Macgregor (an Aussie) on your recommendation, it was very affecting.
    Attachment by Isabel Fonseca (married to Martin Amis)
    The Awakening and other short stories by Kate Chopin - a 19th century feminist, I think this is my pick of the year for 2012
    I am terrible for starting books and then thinking I will get back to them. I still have The Expats, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Freedom, The Diary of Anais Nin and My Hundred Lovers waiting to be finished. No indication of the quality of the work, just my absent-mindedness. I will finish them all this year.
    Next up is Harold Fry for me.
    I also read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - a page-turning thriller (didn't like the ending much). And Fifty Shades to try and keep up with the zeitgeist - took me a couple of tries to get through it - just NO. I also saw the movie of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and it made me want to read the book. Ditto One Day.
    Also on the waiting list are The Gathering, Letter to My Daughter (Maya Angelou), and Canada (Richard Ford). Guess I have some reading to do!

    1. I have read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close but not seen the movie... I should add that to my non-existent movie list.
      You have made me want to read Gone Girl, despite your reservations and lots on twitter have also mentioned it (plus another friend IRL who raved).
      So glad you liked Indelible Ink.
      I have a few books that like you I started but haven't finished and is always more about the time in my life that I started the book than the book itself. So Kylie Ladd's recent book is in that pile for must complete in 2013. And My Hundred Lovers is a book that I want to track down too (maybe I can get on nook?).
      Another friend read 50 Shades and reported that in her opinion the first one was 'enjoyable' (even good) but the second two were just repeats. I shall be avoiding and thank you for keeping up with the zeitgeist on my behalf ;-)
      Will be interesting to see what you think of Canada (also on my list and I see Maree in comment below has read it).
      And your two suggestions are books and authors I don't know so thank you - ie Attachment and The Awakening.
      Maybe we should do a 6 monthly check in to see how far we have come with these plans.
      Michelle xx

  3. Some shared books from my list - Harold Fry (loved). Joseph Anton ( I am a Rushdie aficionado). My fiction list included Canada (Richard Ford) - liked didn't love; four of Tana French's crime novels. She's an Irish writer and you get a wonderful portrait of working class Ireland. Charlotte Wood's Animal People was lovely and quirky. Re-read Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy after I saw the movie. Also read Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth. Liked but didn't love. Have recently finished Kingsolver's Flight Behaviour - learnt a lot about climate change and rural American life. Well worth reading. My big read was Hilary Mantel's 'Bring up the Bodies'. Beautifully written. Even though the historical outcomes are well known, the portrait of Cromwell and insight into the court machinations are compelling.
    My non-fiction reads this year were fantastic - Claire Tomalin's 'Charles Dickens: A Life'. Then went on to re-read David Copperfield. Stephen Jay Gould's anthology of science writing, The Lying stones of Marrakech' is just brilliant. I would have never selected it but was given as a gift. Currently reading Peter Carey's The Chemistry of Tears. His last novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, is one of the best books I've read for some time - the birth of modernity reflected in the lives of these unlikely companions who move between revolutionary France and the new society of America.

    1. Ok, getting out a pen and adding Tana French for a rare crime read. Sounds great. And I shall suggest Gone, a crime novel I bought a few months ago that is plastered with awards and looks great. Animal People is on my bookshelf and must read list for 2013, as is Sweet Tooth which I know has received mixed reviews but I have decided is worth a shot. Don't know if I can face Hilary Mantel just yet - maybe when H starts going to school for full days!
      We can do some book swaps in June. Oh, and I have Parrot and Oliver so on your recommendation I should get off my butt and read it.
      M xx