The fact that I read about 132 books in 2012 is a lot less impressive when you factor in that I read a lot of trashy romance and urban fantasy novels with no shame. These books take me only a few hours (maybe even just round trip commuting plus lunch hour) worth of reading, and they all get factored into that count.
But the good ones stand out and are worth noting. The first one of 2012 was the memoir of Jeanette Winterson, who is one of my favorite authors. However, she is also one of those authors whose fiction you have to be in the right mood to commit to, as it sometimes reads like someone fictionalized academic theory. Surprisingly, her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (amazon) is more accessible than her fiction works and a lot more heartbreaking knowing that it is real. If you have any interest in Winterson, or simply the experience of an adopted lesbian growing up in a conservative working class household, this book is worth a look.
Two other memoirs were particularly notable for me in 2012. One is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (amazon) by Cheryl Strayed – I cried when the book ended, because I felt for sure that my own adventuring days were over and I would never do something like the PCT. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, I stood on the metro during morning rush hour silently having a complete laughing breakdown at a scene in Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman (amazon), which is more memoir and social commentary than guide, though her comments are truthful and notable.
My favorite fantasy authors, hands down, are Guy Gavriel Kay and Jacqueline Carey. I caught up on Kay’s previously published works this year with his Sarantine Mosaic duology, Sailing to Sarantium (amazon) and Lord of Emperors (amazon). Both of these maintain Kay’s high standard for his breed of “alternative history” fantasy, with well developed characters and incredibly complex political intrigue. Jacqueline Carey’s new book, a foray into a new urban fantasy world, Dark Currents (amazon), lives up to her established world-building skills. As a result, it blows most urban fantasies out of the water and I look forward to the next installment in the series. (Which will hopefully be in 2013. Right? Please?)
In other fantasy(ish) works, I discovered Ann Aguire this year. She wrote one of the most enjoyable sci-fi series I’ve ever read (horray for sci-fi that cares as much for characters as world building and fancy science!) that begins with Grimmspace (amazon). Grimmspace has a strong female lead, wrongly accused of terror, trying to prove her name. The strongest part of the series, though, is that the lead actually grows as a person throughout the series. It is rare that such personal growth is done as well as Aguire accomplished it over six books.
Maria V. Snyder’s Scent of Magic (amazon) is the second in a series that begins with Touch of Power (amazon) and it completely charmed me when it came out a few days ago. Snyder writes in that grey space of appropriate for YA but not quite YA rather successfully. Her first book, Poison Study (amazon), begins a trilogy that is also worth reading (though I was less thrilled with the trilogy written between that one and her more recent “Healer” series that begins with Touch of Power).
Of the straight up literary works that I read this year, Prodigal Summer (amazon) by Barbara Kingsolver and Tell the Wolves I’m Home (amazon) by Carol Rifka Brunt outshine them all. I can’t believe it took me quite so long to read Prodigal Summer, but as always Kingsolver did not disappoint. Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home is on possibly every 2012 Bestseller/Must Read List, and it deserves it. I think I cried or wanted to cry during the entire book.
On a somewhat unrelated note: every one of these books, with the exception of Prodigal Summer and Dark Currents, was read on my kindle. Considering the four bookshelves squashed with my books at home and my devoted library habits, this is somewhat surprising.