2012 End of Year Book Survey

2012booksurvey

I started this a while ago as a follow-up to my previous post on the results of my 2012 Reading Challenge. I wanted to jump on the bandwagon and participate in the 2012 End of Year Book Survey hosted by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner. Thanks to Bloggiesta, I follow a number of fabulous book bloggers, and although I’m (obviously) not a book blogger myself, I find that it’s sometimes useful to reflect on my reading a bit more through these kinds of exercises.

Best In Books 2012

1. Best book you read in 2012 (sub-categories allowed)?

Cloud Atlas

Best “Real” Literature: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
I really enjoyed this book and devoured it in just a couple of days. Mitchell’s novel is a set of six nested stories ranging in time period from the mid-1800s to a post-apocalyptic world far in the future. A notary in the South Pacific, a musical wunderkind, a young journalist, an elderly publisher, an artificial life form with human-like intelligence and a village goatherd are somehow (maybe) connected over space and time. And the most impressive thing is that this novel, despite all of its complexity and use of clever literary devices, is minimally pretentious; Mitchell is a good enough storyteller to really make you care about each set of characters, even when you feel like you don’t really know what’s going on. Content triumphs over artifice. I highly recommend this book to everyone. But don’t despair if you feel like it start off slow or if you’re totally confused–I’m pretty sure that’s par for the course.

the-night-circusBest Fantasy: The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
I loved this book. The story of two illusionists bound in a game that they themselves don’t really understand, it’s is a really addictive read; I was hooked from the very beginning and ended up devouring the whole thing in one day. The plot, the characters, the imagery, the pace–everything added up to a book that I just couldn’t put down. So what made this book so great? First of all, the description was amazing, but in a way that only enhanced the story itself. Second, the characters felt surprisingly human for a fantasy novel of relatively short length. Third, I enjoyed the way that the story unfolded in general, the way that the protagonists themselves were kept in the dark for a long while. So yes, this book was definitely hyped a lot, but it’s a really great read. In some ways, it reminded me of a less cerebral Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I also loved. Very fun.

seraphinaBest Young Adult: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Really fun book. This is the story of Seraphina, a young girl with a terrible secret who becomes a court musician and unwittingly gets drawn into a murder mystery that threatens her kingdom’s fragile 40-year peace between humans and dragons. Hartman’s dragons can take human form; they are profoundly cerebral creatures, disdainful of human emotions and also fascinated by them. Despite the two races coming closer together in some ways, fear and hate persist, and Seraphina finds herself piecing together a band of unlikely allies to try to protect the peace from the hidden enemies who would destroy it. Along the way, she struggles to come to terms with her past and her identity. I thought Hartman managed to create a really fun twist on dragon lore in this book. It’s a joy to read along and to discover her world as Seraphina discovers it. The relationships in the book are well developed, particularly for a YA novel. I would recommend this book to fans of young adult fantasy or those looking for a light fantasy read with a strong female protagonist. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out in 2013!

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

the-elegance-of-the-hedgehog The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
I just didn’t think that this book lived up to the hype in the end. Set in an elegant bourgeois apartment building in France, concierge Renée lives a double life. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the low-brow concierge, but she is actually a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. Another tenant, an uncommonly bright young girl named Paloma, has decided to end her life on her thirteenth birthday unless she finds something worth living for. Both hide their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them, only opening up when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives and gains their trust. For me, the story fell apart in the pacing and in the formation of relationships between characters; much of the novel is devoted to bits of intellectual commentary on apartment tenants and French society, which meant that the ending fell a bit flat for me, leaving me wondering why I should care about the fates of the characters. Also, I found the simplistic juxtaposition of France and Japan to be rather overstated (predictably). An interesting read, but not as good as I thought it would be.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

Franny and ZooeyFranny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Based on my reaction to The Catcher in the Rye, I really thought I was going to hate this book. I only included it in my reading challenge because it was on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die; however, I was pleasantly surprised! In the first part of the book, we meet Franny, a college girl rendezvousing with her boyfriend for a weekend together; she unexpectedly ends up experiencing the beginnings of a nervous breakdown. In the second half, we meet Franny’s brother Zooey and learn much more about their formative years growing up in the unique Glass family. Although very little actually happens in this book, I enjoyed the characters and the dialogue. I found it witty and intelligent and … well, surprisingly uncontrived given the subject matter. I tend to be wary of overly quirky sets of potentially pretentious characters like those in the Glass family, but Salinger somehow managed to win me over.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012? / 5. Best series you discovered in 2012?

The answer to these two questions is the same, so I’ll just combine them:

the-eyre-affairThe Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
The first book in the Thursday Next series, The Eyre Affair, introduces us to an alternate 1985, “…somewhere in the could-have-been, where Wales is a Soviet republic, where dodos are available in home-cloning kits, the Crimean war is 131 years old and the ending of Jane Eyre is less than satisfactory…”  In this world, books and art have become such a force that people change their names to that of their favorite poets and riot in the street to protest artistic iconoclasts. Heroine Thursday Next finds herself quite literally drawn into the plot of Jane Eyre as she tries to unravel the mystery of characters that seem to be disappearing from their books, murdered by a mysterious villain. If you are a book lover, you will feel like a kid in a candy store in Fforde’s world; he manages to drop endless literary references left and right and seem enthusiastic instead of pretentious, which is no small achievement. It also helps that Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books ever, though I hear that reading it is not a prerequisite for enjoying this book.

James Potter and the Hall of Elders' CrossingThe James Potter series by G. Norman Lippert
I recently stumbled upon James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing, a truly impressive piece of Harry Potter fan fiction, through Goodreads. Lippert picks up where Rowling left off, following the exploits of Harry’s eldest son James at his first year at Hogwarts (and yes, with the implication that subsequent books would follow his progress through the wizarding school). James finds himself struggling to establish an identity for himself in the shadow of his famous father (now Head Auror at the Ministry of Magic). He makes two new Muggle-born friends, Ralph and Zane, and together they begin to uncover a plot to stir up conflict between wizards and Muggles and to resurrect one of the greatest wizards of all times. At the same time, the Hogwarts faculty is joined by three visiting wizards from the US, including the famous Benjamin Franklin. Once things get going, the story gets really interesting–and big mysteries are left unresolved for future installments to tackle.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

American Gods The Gunslinger the-eyre-affair seraphina

I read my first novels by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Jasper Fforde this year, so while they’re certainly not “new” authors, they were new to me. I really enjoyed discovering their work and plan to read the associated sequels and series to American GodsThe Gunslinger, and The Eyre Affair at some point. In terms of truly new authors, I also really enjoyed Rachel Hartman‘s debut work, Seraphina, which came out just this year.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

The NunThe Nun by Denis Diderot
I’m not sure if it was out of my comfort zone or not, but The Nun was definitely different from most of the other books I read in 2012.  Diderot took a practical joke as the inspiration for this novel, which is the seemingly true story of a young girl forced by her parents to enter a convent and take holy orders. Diderot uses this young nun’s letters–pleas for help from a would-be benefactor–as a means to criticize the convent system and what he regards as the four great dangers of convent life: “madness, the paralyzing effect of a powerful saintly personality, sadistic cruelty, and frebrile sexuality.” The work has some interesting things to say about women’s place in society and the dangers of cloistered society. And there are some sexy bits as well–I can totally imagine what a sensation this book must have caused in the late 1700s.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?

The Girl Who Played With Fire The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

I was actually fortunate to read a number of “unputdownable” books in 2012, but most captivating page-turners were probably The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larsson. I read the first book in the trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, in 2011, and while I definitely couldn’t put it down, it was just a bit too intense for me in terms of the sexual violence and virulent misogyny that permeate the book. I was happy to discover that the two books above retained the suspenseful aspects while toning down the serial murder bits. In these installments of the trilogy, crusading journalist and magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society. On the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered and the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander—the troubled genius hacker who came to Blomkvist’s aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all. Great reads for fans of crime lit and mystery.

9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Cloud AtlasCloud Atlas by David Mitchell
I actually hardly ever re-read books, but if I were to do so, I think I’d probably give Cloud Atlas another go. As mentioned above, I really enjoyed this book the first time around, but the initial experience was fairly disorienting–wonderfully so, in fact. Half of the fun was just trying to figure out what was going on with the shifting settings and characters. I think a second read would be a really different experience–and probably a really rewarding one in that I might be able to draw together more of the themes and connections between the six separate narratives.

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10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

the-night-circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
For whatever reason, my reading list this year was full of lackluster book covers (not that I really noticed, since I read most of these books on my Kindle, but still). One of the exceptions was this striking black, white, and red design for The Night Circus.

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11. Most memorable character in 2012?

Great ExpectationsWemmick from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
What a difficult question! Over the course of my reading challenge, I encountered so many memorable characters. I think one of the most interesting was Wemmick, Jaggers’s clerk and Pip’s friend. Wemmick lives a double life. At work,  he is hard, cynical, sarcastic, and obsessed with “portable property,” but at his home in Walworth, he is jovial, wry, and a tender caretaker of his “Aged Parent,” whom he endearingly refers to as his “Aged P.”

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12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

AtonementAtonement by Ian McEwan
I read a lot of wonderful writing in 2012, but the novel that most struck me with its prose was probably Ian McEwan’s Atonement. This was my first McEwan novel, so I’m not sure if this persists through all his works, but there were so many passages that were just so lovely and evocative–I felt like I could really see the events unfolding before my eyes. On a hot summer day in 1935, 13-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. The novel follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century. I thought Atonement really lived up to all the hype–definitely recommended to those who love a good tragedy.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

Great Expectations goonsquad

It’s a little difficult to say what book had the greatest “impact” on me because I feel like that can mean a great variety of things. I will say that two of the more thought-provoking books I read were Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Both books made me think about life and how things don’t always work out in the long run. It’s a simple point, but it’s one that I think all people struggle with because we all sort of hope that it’ll all be ok in the end. Whether it’s the disappointment of Pip’s “great expectations” or Egan’s none-too-subtle point that “time is a goon,” I think both of these books have something to say about what “it” all means–without giving us a straight answer, of course.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2012 to finally read?

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I read this classic children’s tale for the first time in 2012. It is the story of a young boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behavior through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth, where he meets a young pilot, and the two form a friendship that the pilot will never forget. I suspect that reading this book would have been a totally different experience as a child. As an adult, it reads as an amazingly poignant tale about relationships and the meaning of life that is actually pretty challenging to the ruts that many “adults” can find themselves in. Most powerful for me were the lessons about the value of relationships, not only in spite of inevitable loss but actually because of it.

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2012?

“So throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“As many truths as men. Occasionally, I glimpse a truer Truth, hiding in imperfect simulacrums of itself, but as I approach, it bestirs itself & moves deeper into the thorny swamp of dissent.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

16. Shortest & longest books you read in 2012?

Nicholas Nickleby A Modest Proposal The Nose

Longest: Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (817 pages)

Shortest: The Nose by Nikolai Gogol or A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (both are roughly 30 pages long)

17. Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody

James Potter and the Hall of Elders' CrossingJames Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing by G. Norman Lippert
I talk about the plot of this book above in my answer to question #4. Since no one I know in real life has read this series yet, I have no one to speculate with. So, please go read this series now!

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18. Favorite Relationships From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

seraphina Franny and Zooey artofracing American Gods 

  • Seraphina and Fruit Bat (Seraphina) : A girl and the mute boy in her semi-imaginary mental world who turns out to be real
  • Franny and Zooey (Franny and Zooey): Overly intellectual, neurotic siblings who still understand and care deeply for one another
  • Enzo and Denny (The Art of Racing in the Rain): A dog and his master, closer than the latter will ever know
  • Shadow and Laura (American Gods): A man and his unfaithful wife turned zombie protectress

19. Favorite book you read in 2012 from an author you read previously

The Son of Neptune The Mark of Athena

The Son of Neptune and The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan take the prize on this one! I was a big fan of Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians pentalogy, and I am both surprised and delighted at how well his Heroes of Olympus series is living up to and even exceeding my expectations for the characters. I tend to be really loyal to the original characters in a series; I hate it when subsequent books go on to focus on their descendants or on side characters. But in this case, Riordan builds on his original world and characters in such a way that I’ve only found the latest books to flesh out and deepen what we’ve learned and experienced in the previous installments. I can’t wait for The House of Hades to come out in October 2013!

20. Best book you read that you read based solely on a recommendation from somebody else:

Going BovineGoing Bovine by Libba Bray
I really liked this book, which I read based on a review by Twitter friend @mittenstrings (an English professor in real life). This book is about Cameron, an angsty high school kid who discovers that he has mad cow disease. As Cameron’s health declines, he embarks upon the adventure of a lifetime–or his lifetime, rather. Accompanied by a punk angel, a hypochondriac dwarf, and a Norse god disguised as a yard gnome, Cameron follows a random set of clues toward the mysterious Dr. X who may hold the cure to his disease. This is a tremendously creative book. I was really impressed with the way that it blended light-hearted fantasy with such a dark premise. I imagine that that it would be an amazing read for young adults–it’s also great for adults looking for a fun but substantive novel.

Looking Ahead…

1. One book you didn’t get to in 2012 but will be your number 1 priority in 2013?

1q84

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (I read it in February 2013. And it was awesome.)
Official Blurb: “The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled. As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector. A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.”

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2013?

houseofhades

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
Official Blurb: “At the conclusion of The Mark of Athena, Annabeth and Percy tumble into a pit leading straight to the Underworld. The other five demigods have to put aside their grief and follow Percy’s instructions to find the mortal side of the Doors of Death. If they can fight their way through the Gaea’s forces, and Percy and Annabeth can survive the House of Hades, then the Seven will be able to seal the Doors both sides and prevent the giants from raising Gaea. But, Leo wonders, if the Doors are sealed, how will Percy and Annabeth be able to escape? They have no choice. If the demigods don’t succeed, Gaea’s armies will never die. They have no time. In about a month, the Romans will march on Camp Half-Blood. The stakes are higher than ever in this adventure that dives into the depths of Tartarus.”

3. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging in 2013?

It’s going to be a busy year for me, so I’ll settle for being able to read another 50 books!

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