So it looks like it’s that time again – sum up the year in various ways – First I suppose are the basic stats:
I read 158 books this year – 54 (34%) were audio books, 22 (14%) were in paper format and 82 (53%) were ebook (Kindle).
Of those 158 books total, 59 books (38%) had ratings of 8.5 and up, but this doesn’t include crime novels because I started using a different scale (A-F). I’ll have to add those to the stats next year.
women authors – 53 books ( 33%)
US authors – 83 books (54%)
Translated books – 7 (5%)
Non-fiction books – 31 ( 20%) and of those,
history got 13
and memoir/biography counted another 13 others
42 books (28%) were crime/detective fiction in the categories of:
10 cozies, 3 true crime, 8 traditional, 11 thrillers, and 10 cross-genre
I kept track on a Google-spreadsheet .
Okay fine – that’s just number crunching – what was the quality?
The following “ranking” only includes books I read for the first time this year – no rereads:
Oh it was a very good year for reading fiction – some of the tops were
Fiction of the Year
(these are the 10 best of the year +1 because I couldn’t cut any):
BRING UP THE BODIES
by Hilary Mantel
2012 – 410 pages –
Exquisite historical fiction from the time of Anne Bolyn told through the 1st person perspective of Thomas Cromwell. This is the second in a trilogy with Wolf Hall being the first and the third coming in a couple years. I will be on a pre-order list, I’m sure!
NW by Zadie Smith
2012 – rating 10
audio – 10h. 58m.
I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy another Smith book – I loved On Beauty and loathed White Teeth – also didn’t care much for The Autograph Man. But lo and behold, I really enjoyed this book. Listening might be best here because the rhythms of the dialect are foreign to my US ears. The story is part stream-of-consciousness from the mind of a successful 30-something woman who raised herself from nothing. Also featured are her best friend and a few neighborhood friends.
THE BLUE MOUNTAIN
by Meir Shalev
1988 / 377 pages
I seem to really appreciate the good historical fiction. This one is about a very early Jewish settlement in Palestine. Shalev is a master of the metaphor, the story is wonderful – magical realism at it’s finest.
THE MINISTRY OF SPECIAL CASES
by Nathan Englander
2007- 342 pages
Although I read this very early on in the year it stuck with me. It concerns the lives and deaths of Jews in Argentina during the time of the disappeared. I hope to see more novels from this author.
RIVER OF SMOKE
by Amitov Ghosh
2011 / 528 pages –
Rating – 9.5
Second in another historical fiction trilogy this one based in Canton China right before the Opium Wars. Wonderfully well researched, well-written, fascinating.
by Michael Crummey
Historical fiction, family saga or magical realism? The genres blend perfectly here, folk stories meet the industrial revolution and modern methods in Newfoundland.
WISH YOU WERE HERE
by Graham Swift
2012 / 336 pages
In Wish You Were Here Jack Luxton, an ex-dairy farmer turned resort keeper, waits for his wife who is out in their car while a storm rages. Jack has his shotgun ready on the bed. This is the frame for what happens in the rest of the novel – the reader is flashed back to this situation as it progresses.
THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC
by Julie Osaga
This book touched me profoundly – I started sobbing about 1/2 way through it and I DON’T do that. But as the Japanese people were evacuated. the towns of my area were listed and I knew some of the names (although they were fictional characters). I even gave a copy for Christmas.
THE QUICKENING MAZE
by Adam Foulds
2009 / 259 pages
Rating – 9.5
Historical fiction based on the life of John Clare, a mid-19th century English poet – the peasant poet.
THE RUBY IN HER NAVAL
by Barry Unsworth
2006 / 339 pages
Historical fiction once again – this time set in 12th century Sicily where King Roger II tries to establish a harmonious kingdom of both Muslims and Christians – but there are spies – and folks who want to advance in the eyes of the Church. Unsworth is a master – his book, Sacred Hunger, also almost made this year’s top 10 list.
NEW FINNISH GRAMMAR
by Diego Marani
2000 / 196 pages
Finally, set in 1945 or so, basically in Helsinki Finland, a man has been found near a Finnish ship in Trieste and brought here because the doctor recognizes the name in the jacket. But poor Sampo has no memory of anything and all efforts to restore memory via Finnish language and culture are for naught.
Okay – now Non-fiction
RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA’S UNFINISHED REVOLUTION
by Eric Foner
1988 / 690 pages
rating – 10
olitical history; and winner, in 1989, of the Bancroft Prize, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Avery O. Craven Prize, and the Lionel Trilling Prize. I thought this book might be rather dry but I’ve always been interested in exactly what happened (and what didn’t) during the Post Civil War Reconstruction.
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH
by William L. Shirer
1960 / 1280 pages
This is a comprehensive but perhaps not “definitive” study of the Nazi regime under Hitler. It’s quite readable and although really long, very rarely got boring. It won the National Book Award and was unexpectedly a top seller. Shirer based much of this book on documents which had been released only a bit prior to his starting his research. He also worked as a journalist in Germany between 1934 and 1940.
by Walter Isaacson
2010 / 627 pages
This is really an amazing book! I accidentally bought it months ago when it was still a new release and rather than return it, I kept it even though I’m not even fond of hard cover books anymore. It sat on my tbr shelf – and sat – and sat. I just wasn’t all that keen on reading about the great man’s foibles so soon after his death. It was a good, good book.
MALCOLM X: A Life of Reinvention
by Manning Maribol
2011 / 608 pages
Marable has written an exceptionally well-researched and finely readable book about this enigmatic and charismatic leader, thinker, speaker, preacher, and activist for Black, Civil and Human rights. Unlike many biographers, Marable, an historian at Columbia for many years, never falls in love with his subject, he points out Malcolm’s flaws and foibles as well as his strengths and accomplishments.
by Henry David Thoreau
1852 / 160 pages
rating – 9.5
A classic which I had never read! Rereading Eden’s Outcasts prompted me to finally get this read. I very much enjoyed parts of it but other parts seemed a bit egotistical. Overall, an exceptional read.
by Nigel Cliff
2011 / 560 pages
I really expected this book to be more about the religious conflicts than the battle for the gold and goodies. There wasn’t all that much about the religious part of the conflict. It was mainly about the greed of it. There was enough that I could see where it was a dual edged sword – ”Give us your jewels in the name of Jesus our savior!” – “No, they are our jewels, praise Allah!”
THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB
by Will Shwalbe
2012 / 352 pages – audio 9h 40m
This is basically a book-lover’s memoir of a wonderful woman who read a lot of books and helped a lot of people. Will Schwalbe is the son of Mary Anne and Douglas Schwalbe, Harvard professors and generally of upper class Boston and Massachusetts circles. After his mother died of cancer he wrote a book of homage and to tell of the books they shared.
FROM ETERNITY TO HERE
by Sean Carroll
2010 / 448 pages
Rating – 8
“Why do we remember the past, but not the future? Why don’t we meet people who grow younger as they age? Why do things, left by themselves, tend to become messier and more chaotic? What would Maxwell’s Demon say to a Boltzmann Brain?” (from author’s web-site)
by Steven Greenblatt
2011 / 265 pages plus notes
Rating – 9.5
This is the story of how Gian Poggio, a scholar of the 14th century, came to find an ancient manuscript, “On the Nature of Things” written by the Roman poet/philosopher Lucretius probably around 60BC. Lucretius’ work is a treatise on the ideas of Epicurus, a Greek philosopher.
I’d been meaning to read this for several years and finally, in November, decided it was going on the “before 2013” list. Marvelous book if you’re interested – mythological.
COLLECTIONS OF SHORT STORIES:
THE AGENT ESMERALDA
by Don DeLillo
2012 / 211 pages
This is a collection of short stories DeLillo has written over the years. I love Delillo ever since Underworld and have both gone back to catch a few and always kept up with his newer works. He doesn’t write that many short stories and these are some of his best – from the New Yorker primarily. THE
THE BEGGAR MAID
by Alice Munro
1978 / 224 pages
This was first published in 1978 by Canadian author Alice Munro. It was selected for the Booker Short list in 1980, when Rites of Passage by William Golding won. Munro won the Booker International Award in 2009. A prolific story writer, I’ve read several of Munro’s collections and usually enjoy them quite a lot.
AND FINALLY – some classic and notable fiction I got finally got around to reading (not rateable but the test of time makes them all 10s) :
1759/ 95 pages
Very funny and well done satire – I didn’t understand all the allusions but it tickled me anyway. Looks at what is our perception of “the best of all possible worlds.” Well worth the read.
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH
1962 / 148 pages
Not nearly as good as In the First Circle but worth reading. It’ s certainly short, to the point, horrifying in it’s acceptance of what looks like torture to the reader.
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
by Alexandre Dumas – 1854
Read by John Lee – 47 hours (and very well done)
(Oxford Edition – 1130 pages)
I must have at least started this before – I had no idea how it ended though, so this time I really got through it. It ends quite well – the background to Dumas’ relationship to Napoleon is also interesting.
THE SECRET AGENT
by Joseph Conrad
1907/ 172 pages
Wonderful little novel – my appreciation of Conrad went up considerably.