Like Teresa, I enjoy doing a little musing at the end of the year about the books that have made the biggest impression on me. I don’t use any kind of tagging system, so I don’t have her statistics to offer you (nor a pretty map!) but I do have a few thoughts about my reading year of 2012.
This year was the first year I tried to do some minor planning ahead with my reading, rather than taking it completely at whim. I took it three months at a time, giving myself about seven or eight books to read each month and including at least one nonfiction book and at least one book by a person of color each month. That left plenty of room for serendipity and for books I simply felt like reading, or for “book club” reads with Teresa, or whatever it happened to be that month. It worked very well up until the end of the year, when I got so busy at school that I couldn’t stay on any kind of reading or blogging schedule. But the purpose of planning was not to be my own disciplinarian or to meet a goal, it was to help myself include books I’d been longing to read — so I come to the end of the year guilt-free and extremely happy with what I’ve read. Like Teresa, my only regrets are about the books I haven’t gotten to yet!
Looking over my list of Books Read, I had a truly exceptional reading year. I’d be lucky to read all these books in a lifetime, let alone in 2012. But here are a few of the most astonishing highlights, the ones that I’m still thinking about, the ones that have the most tenacious hold on my mind and heart:
Golden Stumbling Block Award (given for most difficult read that proved worth while in the end): The Tale of Genji. This 1200-page medieval Japanese novel almost did me in, but I persevered, and found myself looking through a window at something ineffably, exquisitely beautiful.
Most Heartbreakingly, Apocalyptically Comic (and vice versa): A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Other Stories. Flannery O’Connor has the human condition under a microscope. Every wonderful story wrings blood and tears, and also (sometimes unwilling) laughter.
Best Book to Take With You on a Trip: A Time of Gifts. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s tale of his own journey through eastern Europe is so full of joy, gratitude, and detail that it could only enhance your travels, wherever they take you.
Most Appealing Book About the Stone Cold End of the World: Ragnarok. I’ve always loved Norse mythology, far more than Greek or Roman, and this retelling of it by A.S. Byatt was beautifully done.
Best Book about a Really Truly No-Kidding Awful Set of People: The Man Who Loved Children. This book by Christina Stead was sometimes difficult to read because the writing was so powerful and the characters so real. I don’t ask my books to be easy, I ask them to be good. This book was good.
Best Classic: Don Quixote. Hands down. This is usually the hardest category for me, and I certainly read a lot of classics this year, and I loved them all, but if you really want to get me talking about the reversal of the carnivalesque or the moral imperative of the insane or the way it bites its own tail or how modern it feels or the texts within the texts — ask me about Don Quixote. I only wish I could have read it in Spanish. I can’t wait to read it again.
Best Bad Guy: Jake Marlowe, from The Last Werewolf. All right, he’d crunch me up in two bites, but at least he’d crack literate-wise while he was doing it. I found this novel total, unexpected, sexy fun to read, and yes, the sequel’s on my list.
Best Children’s Fiction Featuring Existentialist/Absurdist Elements (But Also Hope): The Mouse and His Child. I don’t remember how I ran across this fable about family by Russell Hoban, but can no longer imagine myself without it. It is odd and dark, but also tender and beautiful, with an inner light of its own.
Most Dizzying Prose: By rights, this ought to be a tie. Jose Luis Borges’s Collected Fictions, Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, and Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees all deserve an honorable mention. But the novel (or rather, novels) that really swept me off my feet, both stylistically and structurally, and left me completely spoiled for anything else for weeks, were the four that made up Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End. Even now, nearly a year later, I can remember turns of phrase and whole chunks of text that are lit up as if by afternoon light; and this is not even to mention the taut structure of the books, that shows the deeper meaning through scene and movement. So masterly, and so beautiful.
Doing this has reminded me how lucky I was this year! I had hardly any books I kicked out of bed, and so many that I loved. I can’t wait for the new year and more, more, more of the same — and I hope to do better blogging about it all.