Thursday, November 29, 2012

Becky's 2012 Favorite Fiction

So here it is, the list of my favorites from the past year. It's not comprehensive; in fact, it doesn't include any nonfiction at all (but don't worry--Pete's put together a list of his favorite nonfiction titles from 2012). But these are the books I loved the most, out of the 100 or so that I managed to get through. What were your favorites this year?

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is--I kid you not--an end-of-the-world-coming-of-age story. Sounds like it shouldn't work? Well, it does. Julia is just 11 and trying to figure out her place in the terrifying social hierarchy of middle school when the apocalypse comes: a pronounced--and ongoing--slowing of the earth's rotation which causes days to stretch to 25, 30, 48, 96 hours and beyond. It's hard enough being a girl on the verge of puberty without having to deal with the end of the world. A wonderful, moving book that perfectly melds literary and post-apocalyptic fiction. (Fiction)

Lauren Groff's Arcadia chronicles the arc of a commune, from inception to inevitable dissolution and beyond. The voice of the novel, as well as its heart, soul, and moral compass, is Bit, the first baby born to the community. This story could be condescending, its characters mere stereotypes. But it's not and they aren't. Rather, it's a lovely, deeply moving, sensitive, and ultimately haunting novel of people and ideas. I couldn't stop thinking about Arcadia for weeks after I finished it. (Fiction)

Edward Schuyler, a sixty-two year old widower, is the available man of the title of Hilma Wolitzer's latest novel. Having reached the end of his first year of mourning, friends are now working their lists of single women and Edward is less than enthusiastic. An Available Man is a charming, funny little novel about friendship and love, and how you can't force either one. (Fiction)

Jess Walter has been producing excellent novels for over a decade, but this year's Beautiful Ruins is finally--finally!--exposing him to a wider audience. Read it, drink it in--it's a story that spans fifty years and two continents. Set partly in coastal Italy in the early sixties--during the tumultuous filming of Burton and Taylor's Cleopatra--and partly in contemporary L.A., it's a love story, it's a story about Hollywood, it's a story about making your way in the world. It's gorgeous! (Fiction)

The Twisdens are an upper-middle class New York couple who have everything they could possibly want. Great careers, an incredible brownstone, interesting friends. The only thing they can't achieve in a life filled with achievements is having a child and so, after exhausting fertility treatments in the U.S., they head to Eastern Europe for some non-FDA approved treatment. Breed, by Chase Novak, is an elegant, utterly disgusting, literary horror novel which introduces Rosemary's Baby to the age of Monsanto. Novak's prose is lush and evocative, just as you'd expect from the author who, under his real name Scott Spencer, gave us Endless Love and A Ship Made of Paper, among other lovely literary novels. (Horror)

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw is the dark, funny, and inutterably beautiful story of how a fatal accident influences the lives of everyone involved. It follows the fortunes of three siblings and their friends and lovers from the night of the accident--as several of them are leaving the wedding of another, more than a little under the influence--and over the course of the next twenty-five years. Carry the One could have been nothing but dark (and still been great, if only by virtue of Anshaw's crystalline prose), but it's so much more than that, as the three main characters grow--in ways both positive and negative, but always informed by the accident that triggers the story. (Fiction)
Imagine waking up in a different body every day. Each body's the same age as you, each body is located in a fairly tight geographical area, but other than could be a girl or a boy, smart or not, rich, poor, cossetted, abused. That's the life A--only A--has had since birth. A has learned to adjust, to respect each body, each person's life, has learned not to grow attached...until it happens. Every Day by David Levithan is thoughtful, provocative, utterly beautiful. Read it and share it. (Young Adult)
The Fear Artist, Timothy Hallinan's fifth Poke Rafferty thriller, is his best yet. Tim's characters are perfectly rendered, warts, quirks, contradictions and all. The reader can see, taste, hear, and smell Bangkok, which is so vividly rendered it becomes a character in its own right. And then, of course, there's the story. It's political, it's personal, there's violence and beauty in equal measures. One of my favorite thriller writers has done it again. (Mystery)

A mugging which knocks an elderly lady to the ground and sends her to the hospital with a broken hip is how it all begins in Penelope Lively's luscious How It All Began.  Events ripple outward, encompassing people once, twice, thrice removed from Charlotte Rainsford, the pensioner in question. This year, reading Penelope Lively for the first time gave me my how-have-I-never-read-this-author-before moment. Her eye is keen, her prose is delicious, and we care about every single character, however minor.  (Fiction)
Jonathan Tropper's One Last Thing Before I Go is as gorgeous as they come. Drew Silver (called "Silver" by friends and family) is the kind of guy Tropper writes so well, a feckless man-child, complete with ex-wife and teen-age daughter, drifting until something comes along to shake up his world. In Silver's case the shake-up comes in the form of a damaged aorta. Absolutely nobody does it better, and this one is filled with angelic writing and beautiful insights. And did I mention that it's frequently laugh-out-loud funny? (Fiction)

The redshirts are those guys in science fiction shows on TV who don't have names and are always selected to be part of the away team or whatever dangerous activity is about to go down. You know, the guys who die so that the viewer knows exactly how dangerous and serious the situation is without the show having to kill off a regular character. John Scalzi's hilarious--and ultimately strangely moving--novel Redshirts is about what happens when those guys figure out what's going on. This one is great good fun! (Science Fiction)
As Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce begins a woman in her late teens or early twenties appears at the Martin's door on Christmas Day. She claims to be their daughter who disappeared twenty years earlier. She looks almost the same age she did when last seen, claims that for her only six months have passed, and says--although she steadfastly refuses to use the "f" word--that she's been among the fairies all this time. Is she crazy? Is she telling the truth? Is there more to our world than what we know? A gorgeous, lush read. (Dark Fantasy)

God as teenage boy? That's the premise of There Is No Dog by Meg Rosoff, a lovely, funny, clever novel which follows Bob (the aforementioned teenage god) as he falls painfully in love with a mortal girl. The characters, though drawn, for the most part, with just a few strokes, are yet believable. Rosoff's descriptions of the natural world (including Bob's many disasters) are rich and tasty. And the ending is a delight, with comeuppances distributed among those deserving and love to the rest. (Young Adult)

August Pullman is ten. He's entering the fifth grade but will be attending school for the first time, since his mom has always home-schooled him. Born with a double whammy of genetic malfunction, Auggie's face is severely disfigured, so much so he's had nearly thirty major surgeries in his few short years. Early in his first-person narrative Auggie says, "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."

Wonder--which is, by the way, a wonder of a debut novel--takes the reader through Auggie's fifth grade year. Told from the varying points of view of Auggie himself, his sister Via, new to high school with issues of her own, and several of his new friends, the story beautifully portrays what it's like to be a kid who wants to be just another kid. Although I teared up or outright cried at least half a dozen times while reading Wonder, and although most grown-ups who read it will likely have a similar reaction, the middle-grade kids for whom the book is intended will probably just enjoy a good, well-written story they can relate to. Read this book no matter what your age, then pass it on to everyone you know. You'll all be better people for having read it. (Middle Grade)


Ellie said...

Oh heavens, where do I start? I HAVE The Age of Miracles, and Arcadia, Beautiful Ruins, Every Day and Some Kind of Fairy Tale are already wishlisted. I thought There Is No Dog was very clever - I particularly liked the part where Bob left his bath running and accidentally flooded England, and Eck was SO CUTE! - and Wonder was just lovely.

As for the rest? Well, on the strength of the rest of your choices, I guess I might as well just wishlist them now and have done with it! ;)

I'm still pondering my favourites of the year - some of my best reading happens in December when the shop finally quietens down - but I'm looking forward to putting my list together closer to January!

Rebecca Glenn said...

Can't wait to see your list, Ellie! I'm following your blog, so I'll be watching for it.


Book Lover said...

I plan on making a book list of books I want to read for the early parts of 2013 this New Years!

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

I haven't read any of these. Sounds like a great list to read. Thanks!

Shawn said...

Great write up Becky!!! Red shirts has been on our list since you showed it to us, however Some Kind of Fairy Tale sounds fantastic. Shades of Little, Big perhaps? Have any in stock?

Shawn said...

Great write up Becky!!! Red shirts has been on our list since you showed it to us, however Some Kind of Fairy Tale sounds fantastic. Shades of Little, Big perhaps? Have any in stock?

Rebecca Glenn said...

Thanks, Shawn! Some Kind of Fairytale is definitely comparable to Little, Big, and wonderful in its own right. Not as wonderful as Little, Big, but still...

EnriqueFreeque said...

That Every Day by David Levithan sounds fascinating. I liked Lauren Groff's story collection, and her novel sounds great, as does that Carol Anshaw. Intriguing list, Becky.

Hard to say what my favorite was from 2012, but I'd probably go with Galway Kinnell's Black Light: A Novel.

Best to you & Pete & the Book Frog in the New Year,


Rebecca Glenn said...

Oh Brent, get me all psyched for a book and then I find out it's out of print. I'll have to keep my eyes open for Black Light.

Happy New Year to you and Linda and all the little ones! (Oh, speaking of little ones, we took in a neighbor's dog when they were evicted and couldn't take her to their new place. So now there are five four legged furry members of our family. And Buttercup is BIG. Ah well.)

Cozy in Texas said...

I liked An Available Man.

Rebecca Glenn said...

I was just delighted by it, Ann. Now I need to go back and read some more Hilma Wolitzer. I've read a bunch of Meg's books--and have her new one all queued up--but none of Hilma's.

Leigh Ann said...

Wow, I haven't read ANY of those books. I'll have to check into them! I found you on Book Blogs and I am now your newest follower! I hope you are having a great Sunday and that you'll stop by for a visit sometime when you get the chance. :)
Leigh Ann
MaMa's Book Corner

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

Wonder was definitely one of my faves .. I also like Arcadia! Great list!