Well guys, 2012 is drawing swiftly to a close and I have nothing to show for myself except a sweet new job and the collective knowledge of ~53 finished books (52.3 if I’m being honest about Les Mis, 58.3 if I count the Gone series and all three FSOG books). A productive year indeed.
Last week I posted the mathematically irrefutable Best Books of 2012, a labor on which I spent an undisclosed number of hours (like five) but after a little rest, relaxation, and weirdly mortifying perusal of my own ramblings from the last 12 months, I’d now like to share a more important list: the books I read this year that made the biggest impact on my little reality-TV-filled brain. Few of these titles were released in 2012, a byproduct of my resigned refusal to spend $27 on hardcovers, but sometimes it’s nice to read a book a few years after its release, when you can absorb it in the vacuum of irrelevance.
So here are the books that touched my shriveled-up heart this year, in dramatic countdown order. Happy reading!
10. THE GONE SERIES – Michael Grant
It wouldn’t be a year in literature without my becoming grossly addicted to a series meant for readers ten years my junior. The Gone books (six in total, five of which have been published) take place in the coastal California town of Perdido Beach, where one day everyone over the age of 15 suddenly disappears. This would be complicated enough were the town not simultaneously enveloped in an unidentifiable (and impenetrable) dome/sphere, whose presence has all kinds of crazy effects on the kids’ ability to find food and water, get through a day without stumbling across some sort of genetically mutated animal, or coexist without killing each other. These books are not spectacularly written, but by the middle of the first one, you won’t care.
SORTA LIKE: Under the Dome meets Lord of the Flies | [FULL REVIEW]
9. SAVAGES – Don Winslow
In light of a few progressive states’ decisions to up and legalize marijuana this year, it seems only appropriate to have read a novel pitting peace-and-love local growers against the infamously violent cartels. Savages follows the story of Ben, Chon and O (short for Ophelia), SoCal best friends and growers/distributors of high-quality bud. Everything is going smoothly for Ben and Chon—like, real smoothly; they’re rich, respected and both sleeping with O—until Mexico’s Baja Cartel demands a cut of their profits and they decide to get out of the weed business. Which prompts the BC to kidnap O, and all hell breaks loose from there. Savages is a super fun read, and surprisingly unique, as Winslow breaks sentences up mid-line, uses a lot of slang and alternates between objective narrative and insight into specific characters’ thoughts. The result is a page-turner with the character development of a much denser novel.
SORTA LIKE: Chuck Palahniuk writes Scarface | [FULL REVIEW]
8. 11/22/63 – Stephen King
Stephen King’s sprawling novel about a 21st century English teacher who goes back in time to prevent the JFK assassination made it to the New York Times Top 10 in 2011, the author’s first-ever appearance on the list and an accolade well deserved. For those wary of a book whose plot is contingent on time travel, trust that King’s execution of even the most science fiction-y parts of 11/22 is nuanced; he doesn’t rely on fantastical conventions so much as create an entirely new universe in which such conventions no longer seem preposterous. Moreover, this book inspired in me a desire to learn more about the event on which it’s based, i.e. I ended up in a k-hole of early 1960’s Googling: the assassination video, the Cuban Missile Crisis speech, and so on. In this sense, 11/22 is also educational, and any book that can fascinate, surprise, engross and educate, is well worth a read.
SORTA LIKE: Stephen King meets Robert Ludlum | [FULL REVIEW]
7. GONE GIRL – Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl got its day in the sun last week, as #3 on my BO2012 master list, but it’s worth reiterating that this book is fairly superb. The novel begins with the sudden disappearance of Amy Dunne, who goes missing—like front-door-left-open missing—on her fifth wedding anniversary, leaving behind baffled parents, a stumped police force and a strangely suspicious (and suspected) husband. The narrative progresses by alternating between pre-disappearance entries in Amy’s diary, and post-disappearance accounts from her husband’s perspective. Neither narrator is to be entirely trusted, and so unfolds a fascinating whodunit—super compelling and unpredictable.
SORTA LIKE: Room meets The Likeness | [FULL REVIEW]
6. ROOM – Emma Donoghue
The next time life is getting you down, think about this: Are you the byproduct of a rape between a gross middle-aged man and the woman he’s kidnapped and keeps trapped in a soundproofed shed? Did you grow up in said shed, unaware of the outside world (which you only saw on TV, which your mother told you wasn’t real) and beholden to the myriad rules and routines that become necessary when two people must for years on end live together in one single room? No? Well then your life is probably pretty okay. Room, on the other hand, is great. The novel is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, the aforementioned byproduct of a horrifying kidnapping and rape. Despite their circumstances, Jack and his mother live what at times feels like an almost normal (if merely complacent) existence; that is, until she decides to stage an escape. This novel is both heartbreaking and phenomenal, and never suffers for its author’s choice of narrator. Rather, it’s Jack that makes Room what it is: one of a kind.
SORTA LIKE: Life of Pi meets Flowers in the Attic | [FULL REVIEW]
5. READY PLAYER ONE – Ernest Cline
The year is 2044, and things are not looking so great. Most of humanity is destitute, including overweight teenager Wade Watts, who lives in “the stacks,” long rows of mobile homes stacked on top of one another. Wade’s only recourse from the shitty regular world is the OASIS, a massive online game that he, like most of the rest of the population, is jacked into for the majority of each day. Adding incentive to enjoyment, OASIS creator James Halliday (now deceased) in his will promised ownership of his company (and a $200 billion fortune) to whoever can uncover an “easter egg” he has buried in the game. With the support and friendly competition of amateur gamers the world over, Wade begins a journey to win the prize, racing against both time and a fleet of professionally sponsored competitors. At once science fiction, political commentary, dystopian novel and glowing tribute to 1980’s pop culture, Ready Player One is a fascinating dive into a disconcerting alternate universe.
SORTA LIKE: Second Life meets The Matrix meets Surrogates | [FULL REVIEW]
4. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS – John Green
Even thinking about this book gets me a little misty-eyed. Another finalist from BO2012 (#12), The Fault in Our Stars is a young adult novel narrated by 16-year-old Hazel, who has a type of terminal thyroid cancer that has worked its way into her lungs. During one of her loathsome cancer support group meetings, Hazel meets Augustus, a bone cancer survivor with whom she quickly falls in love. What follows is a heart-wrenching romance, whose teenage participants are so much more insightful, grounded, and admirable for what they’ve gone through, and what they will go through yet. TFIOS is accessible and smart without being showy, believable and sad and so surprisingly funny that I’d have just recovered from crying when it would make me laugh, which was so unexpected that I’d start to cry all over again.
SORTA LIKE: Looking for Alaska meets A Long Way Down | [FULL REVIEW]
3. SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY – Gary Shteyngart
In the last 11 months I have gone from knowing virtually nothing about Gary Shteyngart to maybe possibly considering kidnapping him and keeping him in my apartment so I can listen to his self-deprecating and cynical worldview on demand. Such is the power of Super Sad True Love Story. Set in the “near future,” the novel takes place in a financially destitute America, a country reduced to idiocy and national obsessions with media, gadgets and youth. (So like, a really near future.) The book’s protagonist, Lenny Abramov, works in the “Post Human Services” department of a multinational company, which is to say that his profession is convincing wealthy people to undergo treatments to make themselves look younger and live longer. While traveling overseas, Lenny meets and falls in love with Eunice, 18 years his junior. The novel, told through Lenny’s diaries and Eunice’s electronic correspondence (called “teens”) with her family and best friend, is an, ahem, super sad true story of attraction between people who would most assuredly be considered opposites, as well as a super sad story of a world just a few disconcerting steps away from our own.
SORTA LIKE: Infinite Jest meets World War Z (sans zombies) | [FULL REVIEW]
2. GRIFTOPIA – Matt Taibbi
If Matt Taibbi has written something in the last two years, there’s a pretty solid chance I’ve linked to it, or tweeted about it, or in some other capacity gushed over its contents. Of all the financial journalists out there, endeavoring valiantly to sell the American public on the idea of the Wall Street meltdown as a fascinating, engrossing (and possibly criminal) piece of history, I find Taibbi to be the unequivocal best. Not because he’s known for breaking news, but because his particular style of “are you fucking kidding me!?” journalism manages to highlight better than anything else how truly infuriating, how seriously unjust, some of the shenanigans of the last five years have been. Taibbi does his intellectually impressive ranting on a regular basis for Rolling Stone, in columns I am always legitimately excited to see appear in my inbox; and he does it in Griftopia, a slim dense volume documenting the financial tomfoolery that brought our economy to its knees. If you’re going to read one book about the Wall Street arm of The Great Recession, make it this one.
SORTA LIKE: Lewis Black writes Too Big to Fail | [FULL REVIEW]
1. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN – Lionel Shriver
In less than a year and fewer than three books, Lionel Shriver has become one of my favorite authors, and it all started with WNTTAK. The novel—a series of letters from the perspective of a mother whose teenage son murdered seven students and two adults at his high school—is one of the most insightful, heartbreaking and well-written things I’ve ever read. Like, ever. At the time of my February review, a school shooting in Cleveland gave the book uncanny relevance. Today, less than a month after 20 children and seven adults were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, the novel deserves yet another nod for its phenomenal treatment of an extremely delicate subject. WNTTAK is a sad read, and consequently the kind of book a lot of people would prefer to avoid. Please don’t.
SORTA LIKE: Zadie Smith writes a Jodi Picoult novel | [FULL REVIEW]