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It's always difficult to winnow down the herd of wonderful books to come up with only ten of them. This year I read 138 books (thank you, GoodReads, for helping me keep track!), not including the various novel-length pieces of Harry Potter fanfiction. (Last year I counted the HP fanfics and reached over 150 book-length pieces read.) Here's how my stats break down this year. Numbers may add up to more than 138 because any given title may qualify for more than one category.
Female writers: 84
Male Writers: 54
Usually I list the books in no particular order, but this year I've got a tie for favorite book read this year. Sort of. One was technically the best book I read last year, but since it wasn't published until 2012, I opted in 2011 to include it on this year's list. Little did I know that another book in 2012 would come along to blow me away.
1. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller share my top slot this year. Both are extraordinary. The former taught me that no story is too old and dry that it can't be brought to life by a master storyteller, while the latter taught me that post-apocalyptic fiction can also be beautiful and humorous. Both reading experiences were utter revelations.
The rest of them, largely in reverse-chronological order, are:
2. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I thought I'd written a review for this one but apparently I'm mistaken. One of the biggest surprises, not just of my own reading, but apparently on all of the interwebs. It's a fun romp through the history of printing with quasi-mystical elements. Plus who can resist a dust jacket that glows in the dark? I'm not anti-ereader, but I am pro-book, and that's as cool as reason as I can think of to buy the physical book for this title.
3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Whimsical and quirky and full of British humour, then wham! it knocks you upside the head with real emotional force.
4. & 5. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde and The Fault in Our Stars are the best two YA books I read this year. This is a little surprising to me since I don't always have one YA book that earns a spot on my Top Ten list, much less two. The former is brilliantly funny and tightly written and, dare I say, better than his adult novels (the Thursday Next series included). The latter is brilliantly funny while being simultaneously sad, so it's a good thing that laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. Anything that allows me to reference Steel Magnolias has to be a good thing, eh?
6. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. My early review for this book predicted that it would make the awards circuit, and it was shortlisted for the National Book Award but lost to Louise Erdrich's book. How can a book with a chapter named "Dry Humping for the Lord" not win, I ask you? Never mind that I have a readerly crush on him OR that we are clearly long-lost and somewhat-distant cousins. This writer is a fierce mind in a gentle soul, which makes for a formidable combination. If you've not heard of him yet, you will soon.
7. The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. Stolen baby or rescued child? So much depends on perspective in this emotionally gripping novel. I am not sure why, but my review of this book was second only to my review of Lauren Oliver's Requiem (with spoilers) in terms of popularity for my 2012 book reviews, with 1386 hits at this time of writing.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This one surprises me a bit, as I didn't love the book as I read it, but I've revisited it several times in my mind since then, and though my own life doesn't begin to match the privilege of narrator Carraway its opening line continues to be as good a piece of advice as I've read this year: "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had."
Behind the Beautiful Forevers tie for my favorite pieces of non-fiction read this year. Again, it is unusual for both to earn a rightful place on my Top Ten list instead of an honorable mention, since fiction typically comprises my year-end best-ofs. Oddly enough, I have no review on my blog of Unbroken, but it's one of the best works of narrative non-fiction that I have ever read.
There are some other titles I'd like to list here, either because they were so good or so bad:
Funniest novel: Tie between These Things Happen and Where'd You Go, Bernadette. Both were excellent, and the humor served to enhance, rather than hide, the darker aspects of the stories.
Love is a Canoe by Ben Schrank, which was so bad I was moved to review it; and The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart, which was so disappointing that I couldn't bring myself to review it.
Biggest Surprises: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes for being a full-on romantic (albeit heartbreaking) novel; and Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman for surprising this non-parent with how many feelings and opinions she has on parenting--particularly the bad parenting on display in the US on an almost daily basis.
What about you? What was your favorite book read in 2012? The biggest disappointment? The most surprising?