Welcome to my 7th Annual Year in Books!
(If you are interested in past years, you can conveniently find them all in Best Books Of The Year category)...
As tradition dictates, here is my book cover collage from 2012:
Here are this year's stats:
44 - Number of Books Read (A record-breaking amount, previous record was 38... tho I feel as if I should add caveats 'fessing up to the # of books under 200 pages... for this year that would be 6 "titles" - not sure they can be classified as books!)
14,096 - Total Pages (Another record - previous record was ~12,700 - through my next to last book of the year I was 4 pages shy of 14k, so I made sure to read one of those under 200 pages books to reach that milestone!)
86% / 14% - Fiction vs. Non-Fiction (This was more unbalanced than any previous year, granted it is still usually in the mid-70%s, but I think my increased focused on Tournament of Books -- yet another record of reading 12 of 16 entrants -- pushed aside non-fiction even more than usual)
59% / 41% - Male vs. Female Authors (Always surprises me that I read more male authors than female -- only last year broke that streak -- but still pretty balanced)
98% / 2% - Kindle vs. Non-Kindle (After teasing it for the last two years, still have not had an all-digital book year, this year it was Nick Hornby's essays about reading, More Baths, Less Talking... that held back for yet another year... and spoiler alert: only 2 books in, I won't do it again in 2013!)
57% / 43% - Never Read This Author Before vs. Authors I Have Read Before (Despite still reading more new authors vs. old, this was one of the closest contests since I have been tracking it... granted there are always new authors to try out, but as I get older no surprise that I keep returning to favorites -- and that group gets bigger and bigger each year)
Each of the below book links go back to my original "review" if you'd like to learn more...
Non-Fiction Notables: Given what I just said about my dearth of non-fiction reading, not sure how much of an honor it is to land outside the Top 2 here, especially when two were a tad disappointing (Paris I Love You and Too Old Soon). So that leaves More Baths, Less Talking - Nick Hornby's surprise return to writing about reading books which I always enjoy and Christopher Hitchens' last book, Mortality, a pretty fascinating look at an atheist dying of a cancer.
Non-Fiction Runner-Up: While it topped a lot of best non-fiction books of the year -- and while I still thought it was fascinating and well-done, my runner-up spot goes to Beyond the Beautiful Forevers. Perhaps it was a bit too hyped going in and didn't quite leave a lasting impression, other than I remember it being "quite good."
Non-Fiction Book of the Year: In another instance of not feeling very strongly about this choice, the greatest affection I had for a non-fiction book this year was Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club. It wasn't spectacularly written and it's always hard to quibble with a death memoir, but it was the love -- no, the obsession -- with reading and books that gets this to the top of the small heap of non-fiction reads this year.
Fiction Notables: Whereas I was a bit indifferent on my non-fiction books this year, there was a heck of a lot of good fiction, 20 books (over half of my fiction reads) earned 4 stars or more. I will limit my discussion here to my 4.5 and 5 star books (a total of 7), but this leave some very good 4-star books out, all which I did find to be quite notable, so here they are: The Fault in Our Stars, Wolf Hall, Home, This Is How You Lose Her, and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.
Two books that earned 4.5 stars but the dreaded round-down to 4 stars were both "young adult" novels, tho it seemed somewhat in dispute for one of the novels, and I have grown to dislike that genre-box anyhow. It just seems like if a novel's protagonist is a teenage girl, it gets thrown in there. Additionally, both these books were debuts: Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles and Carol Rifka Brunt's (three name authors as well!) Tell The Wolves I'm Home. I knew I would like the dystopic, world's rotation is slowing story of Miracles, but while it had that ominous tone to it, it was still sweet and innocent and hopeful (all words I never expected to use in a "world is potentially ending" book). Wolves snuck up on me, not knowing much going in -- it was the coming-of-age story I expected, but the 1980s angle and finding and falling in love in the unusual ways was most unexpected. Both books, were just really lovely.
Two books that earned 4.5 stars and got the round-up to 5 stars. The first one is no surprise and an author you have seen many, many times on my best-of-the-year book posts, Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth. McEwan is simply a master a putting together a novel. A criticism could be that he is too precise and a a bit too cold, but he rarely disappoints me -- and this novel had that slight potential until a nice ending that I am sure, well know, drove others nuts.
Speaking of a book that drove people nuts, I am not sure I have had a more divisive experience with a book and other folks' opinions of it that Haruki Murikami's 1Q84. It's a love-it-or-hate-it book and from my view, most folks seem to fall into the latter category. I was really swept up in the strange world that Murikami created (well, it did get too strange even for me in a few instances), but this book still lingers with me almost a year later. I just saw a three-volume edition of it in a bookstore last week and I was almost tempted to pick it up, but I thought better since I rarely do re-reads, let alone this nearly 1,000 page epic!
Are you still with me? Here's the Top 3...
Fiction Second Runner-Up: Another polarizing-ish book makes my Top 3, Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot. While being a fan of his last book Middlesex, I perhaps wasn't as in love with it as many others who could not quite seem to accept this latest book. It was pretentious, but I think it was supposed to be. It was seemingly generic love triangle story, but I think that masked what a rich and ambitious work that went places I was not expecting.
Fiction First Runner-Up: If you told me mid-year that a war novel would be my 2nd best fiction read of the year, I would have not believed you... or I would have thought you were talking about Billy Lynn. Kevin Powers debut novel, The Yellow Birds, was nominated for a National Book Award and I only read it since I had read the other 4 books and thought "Why not? Might as well finish this list." Well, this would have been my winner (the winner was Louise Erdrich's The Round House, unmentioned here thus far and really worthy of an honorable mention, tho "just" 4 stars). It was a beautifully written (and very literary) novel about the personal devastation of war (Iraq), both on the war and home fronts.
Fiction Book of the Year: If a war novel was a surprise as my 2nd pick, you could knock me over with the proverbial feather that a western would be my book of the year. Guess this is a lesson in never to dismiss genres! Perhaps it is the surprising and unexpected great reads that have a bigger impact and that was certainly the case with Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers. It was a book I never heard of at the beginning of this year, it made the Tournament of Books, but even then it wasn't a book I felt I needed to get to. But when it got far in the competition, I decided to finally pick it up... and I was not in disagreement when it won. It is certainly a genre piece, but the book had a contemporary feel to it -- could easily see the likes of the Coen Brothers or Tarantino making the movie version (which I think is in the works) - but like Eugenides, on the surface it seems quite simple (even trite), but there is a lot of big issues being tackled under the surface. Sly, humorous, and a really great read -- my best of the year!
Hope you enjoyed this review... and 2013 is already underway, got pretty much two books under my belt (one very unusual one) and starting a third, a Tournament of Books book of course!
If you are interested in seeing past best-of lists, click the link under Categories on the sidebar for Best Books of the Year!