Top Ten Tuesday – My “Favorite” Reads of 2012

Top ten books I read in 2012:

Top Ten Tuesday is an entertaining weekly meme hosted by the imaginative folks over at The Broke and The Bookish. It’s almost impossible to not want to compare one’s own list to others and seeing how many we have in common and/or realizing “I can’t believe I forgot to include X,” etc. It’s also a great way to discover new book blogs and learn about books that weren’t otherwise on one’s radar. Since there are now literally hundreds of participants, I usually pick a digit from zero to nine and try to visit at least the entries that end in that number, e.g. 3, 13, 23…

This week’s topic is “Top Ten Books I Read This Year.” It’s been a great reading year for me, and I’ve certainly read more than ten books that I enjoyed very much. So these are ten of those memorable books, counted down with #1 being my favorite.

10. Earth Abides by George Stewart

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I only learned of this 1949 sci-fi classic this year, but am glad I did. Though parts of it feel a little naive today, what with the explosion of post-apocalyptic literature, this book was a refreshing read and a trailblazing effort of that genre. I liked how in the post-apocalyptic world of this book, the survivors decide to start their new year on the winter solstice (hey, that’s coming up fast!) instead of the arbitrary January first. And how they “named” their years. E.g., “The Year the Dog Died” (sorry, the dog’s name escapes me as I’m typing this). Update: it’s Princess. “The Year Princess Died.”

9. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

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I never blogged about this book, but it was an interesting review of introverts and their place in the current world. Somewhat of an introvert myself, a lot of it rang true with me. Amusing also was the section discussing how many companies are moving toward the (more extrovert-friendly) “open office” concept, eschewing or limiting the number of traditional offices in favor of a cube-farmy feel. I lost my office to this whim last year. “It’ll foster team building and mentoring,” they said. It fosters me buying better headphones… 🙂 I was also reminded of a friend’s telling me of a definition of introvert/extrovert that I’ve always liked: “An extrovert gains energy through interacting with others, while in introvert loses energy.” I’ll second that.

8. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

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I just wrote about this one. (scroll down 🙂 ) I only discovered Murakami last year, but will likely devour his entire oeuvre before too long. I really enjoy his odd, supernatural-tinged writing.

7. Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd

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My 2012 “Author Biography” reading project never really took hold, although I did read a few, and this was my favorite of them. I blogged about this book earlier. Poe’s story is a tragic one…

6. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

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I had heard of this book “for ages” and finally got around to reading it this year. Some of the best writing I encountered, even if the subject matter wasn’t something I’d normally choose.

5. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox by John Waugh

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A really great history of West Point’s 1846 graduates, many of whom were key players in the U.S. Civil War, including Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and George McClellan. I still hope to write a blog post about this one someday. I felt like I knew many of these people by the end of the book, and it was difficult to read about some of their deaths, Jackson’s in particular. I am rarely moved to the degree I was in reading it.

4. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

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Never blogged about this depressing book either, but it was such a great commentary on what our lives have become in “Corporate America” and “Suburbia” it’s hard to believe it was written in … 1962! This one hit home with me.

3. I Am No One You Know (short stories) by Joyce Carol Oates

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Some have argued that Joyce Carol Oates is an “acquired taste” and, if that’s true, I admit to having fully acquired it now. This book is a collection of short stories, many of which are quite powerful and all of which are extremely well-written. My favorite story might’ve been “The Instructor.” You should check out this collection.

2. The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

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Subtitled “and other tales of madness, love, and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements,” this book was the most fun I’ve had reading non-fiction in quite some time. The title gets its name from an old chemistry lab trick – a spoon fashioned from the metal Gallium would look like an ordinary spoon, but since gallium has a very low melting point, if it were to be used to, say, stir one’s coffee, the spoon would disappear. (They should use this gag on an episode of Big Bang Theory)

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Atwood also wrote one of my favorite short stories of the year (“Significant Moments in the Life of my Mother”) and is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. This book is a dystopian masterpiece. I’ve started and stopped a post on it several times but seem unable to do it justice. I’ll keep trying. “Nolite te bastardes carborundurum!” 🙂

Well, those are ten of my favorites. I can’t wait to see what others have chosen as their favorites. Do we share any? Do you have recommendations for other books I might like based on these favorites? I’m all ears. 🙂

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8 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    December 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Great list, Jay! I’m curious about “Q”. Was The Handmaid Tale made into a movie with Robert Duvall? I seem to remember something with that kind of title. I may have to come up with my own list here soon. I am currently reading “Joseph Anton: A Memoir” by Salman Rushdie. It’s been difficult to put down, and most likely would be on my list.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 19, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Thanks, Dale. I know there is a movie adaptation of the Handmaid’s Tale, but I don’t know who stars in it.

      I’ve yet to read anySalmon Rushdie, but I keep hearing great things about him.

      -Jay

      Like

  2. December 19, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Revolutionary Road utterly depressed me, but it was good (as was the movie). I’ve been interested in reading Quiet. I am an introvert and can relate to the extrovert/introvert energy comment – I have an extrovert’s job and by the time I get home at the end of the day I am truly exhausted.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 19, 2012 at 8:36 am

      Hi Rory,
      Thanks for commenting and welcome to Bibliophilopolis! 🙂

      I purchased the movie version of Revolutionary Road but haven’t watched it yet.

      I suspect you’d like Susan Cain’s “Quiet.” I often describe myself as a “high-functioning” nerd or introvert. I learned from her book that that label initials is bad as “high-functioning” implies there’s something wrong with being introverted, which,naturally, I don’t believe is true.

      -Jay

      Like

  3. Alex said,

    December 19, 2012 at 6:18 am

    I’ve read a lot of interesting reviews of Q. I think I’m mostly an extrovert, but there is such pleasure in spending time alone.

    Last year during our trip to Thailand I got a bad sunburn, so my partner had do a scheduled one-day tour of the islands by himself while I stayed in our amazing hotel. I took a bubble bath, read, watched chick-flicks, napped, ordered 100.000 Diet Cokes & amazing food. It was a perfect day, but I never managed to get him to understand why it was such a great day when I missed seeing perfect little virgin islands, and why that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy his company.

    On the other hand, I’m the one who usually gets the conversation going among groups of strangers at parties. During those occasions, when the crowed is particularly though, I can’t help but envy the introverts, who hang back, listen, observe and make me work even harder :P. My partner thinks I’m strange because I always take on the responsibility to be the social-smoother and he’s right, there is something strangely compulsive about it, but I don’t think many introverts really appreciate the how extremely energy-consuming (especially at work functions) it is to avoid the awkward silences that introverts and extroverts alike fear so much.

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    • Jay said,

      December 19, 2012 at 8:45 am

      Hi Alex,
      Reading Q made me more aware of the sometimes subtle “discrimination” against introverts in society. As I mentioned in a reply above, though introverted, I often describe myself as “high functioning” and can often step up and take the extrovert role as it sounds like you’re describing.

      Solitude is also precious to me, though, (A friend just bought me a button that says, “Hermits Unite!” which I have proudly affixed to the lapel of a favorite jacket of mine). All my friends know of my tendencies and I will often jokingly turn down a invitation with the reply, “I don’t think I can make it – I’ve got a lot of reading to do…” Although I say it with a laugh, it often turns out to be what I spend my time doing when I don’t go out.

      I commented on the authors’ blog late last year describing another phenomenon I have observed: when I group of all introverts are together, it seems an extrovert/note overt pecking order will develop, with the least introverted assuming the extroverted roles, almost as if a group MUST have both kinds to be viable. She seemed to like that theory. 🙂

      -Jay

      Like

  4. hkatz said,

    December 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    The Disappearing Spoon is on my list of books to-read (it’s on hold all the time at the library so I’m patiently biding my time). Actually all of these look interesting but I’ll definitely check out the Joyce Carol Oates collection.

    One recommendation off the top of my head is War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars edited by Andrew Carroll. Fascinating, moving, tragic, and sometimes funny collection of letters from soldiers, nurses, and other people on the front lines of American wars.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 27, 2012 at 8:05 am

      Thanks for the suggestion on the Andrew Carroll book. I’ll have to look that one up. Sounds interesting.

      I think you’d like The Disappearing Spoon. Lots of great stories that I’d never heard before and not so “sciencey” that it was hard to read.

      Some of my best reading days of the year were those I spent with one of JCO’s stories.

      Like


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