Every January (or as in last year, February), I blog about my favorite books of the year. There was a lot to love this year and I had trouble choosing just ten. I hope you’ll share some of your own favorites in your comments. (As always, I’m leaving out some of my very favorite books because they’re written by close friends: I just can’t be objective about those novels!)
Listed in no particular order:
1. THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe
Okay, now that I’ve said these are listed in no particular order, I must say that if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to pick my favorite of the year, this is it. That said, I’m not sure if it’s for everyone, but I was personally moved, educated and inspired by this memoir. My sister called it “exhilarating”, so it’s not just me. Will Schwalbe is a middle-aged man who accompanies his mother as she goes through chemotherapy treatments for terminal pancreatic cancer. They’re drawn together as they discuss the books they’ve read. I’d read perhaps thirty percent of those books and that, of course, added to my enjoyment, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d read none of them. The story goes so much deeper than that. The most inspiring aspect to me was not the son/mother relationship or the courageous way his mother faced her cancer, but the woman herself and all she’d accomplished in her life for other people. She made me want to do more myself and I hope to hold onto that feeling for the rest of my own life.
2. THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by ML Stedman
I found the setting–Janus Rock, an isolated and immensely lonely island off the coast of Australia–nearly as intriguing as the story. Of course, as most of you know from my own Keeper of the Light trilogy, I’m a sucker for lighthouses. The light keeper and his wife who settle on Janus Rock try unsuccessfully to have a family, suffering loss after loss. When a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a live baby, who can blame Tom and Isabel for keeping the child as their own? But the baby has a mother, and that’s where the plot thickens. There are no neat answers to the dilemmas in which the characters find themselves. A very human story.
3. RU by Kim Thuy
I heard Kim Thuy interviewed on NPR and had to read her book. Having worked with some Vietnamese “boat people” when I was a social worker in San Diego, I was curious to hear her story. The book is considered fiction but it’s strongly influenced by Thuy’s own experiences as a Vietnamese emigre’ transported to Canada. (The book is translated from French). The chapters are very short vignettes delivered in non-chronological order, which I found a little off putting at first, but once I gave myself over to the structure, I enjoyed it. Thuy’s writing is exquisite, her tale eye-opening.
4. SHINE, SHINE, SHINE by Lydia Netzer
This book won’t be for everyone. . . well, I could say that about any of the first four on this list. . . but I did love it. I loved it for its uniqueness. When’s the last time you read about a bald eccentric woman about to go into labor, her astronaut husband on his way to outer space, and their young autistic son? Yes, these people are up against the wall in a dozen different ways. Their story is tense, intriguing and ultimately touching.
5. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green
Don’t be put off by the fact that this is considered a Young Adult novel. It will speak to you no matter your age. The basic premise of the book–a boy and girl with terminal cancer meet at a support group–sounds so lame and depressing, I hesitate to even state it. Hazel and Augustus will make you laugh as well as cry–and they’ll make you think. A lot. I loved this book.
6. WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? Maria Semple
This is not the sort of book I’d usually pick up. It looks funny. It has a funny cover. It is funny. Just like I don’t write funny, I don’t read funny. But my friend Mary Kay Andrews who definitely writes funny stuff suggested I read it, and I’m so glad she did. Bernadette is the beyond-eccentric mom of fifteen-year-old Bee, who aces her report card and requests a trip to Antartica as her reward. Fearful of the trip, Bernadette disappears and Bee and her dad must find her. Okay, it gets ridiculous, but I thought it was a fun and fast read worthy of my top ten list for the sheer speed with which I turned the pages.
7. BLACKBERRY WINTER by Sarah Jio
I love stories that move back and forth in time. In Blackberry Winter, we visit Seattle in 1933, when a little boy disappears, and in 2010, when a young newspaper writer picks up the old clues of his disappearance. The two women at the heart of story–Vera, the little boy’s mother and Claire, the writer–touched me deeply with their individual plights and I couldn’t wait to find out how their stories intersected.
8. DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay
Another page turner here. A teenager is murdered in a quiet Massachusetts town and the prime suspect is the son of the Assistant District Attorney. It’s a story of family loyalty and guilt, and it’s revealed in a way that keeps the reader in the blissful, enticing dark until the very end.
9. GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn
Okay, I honestly feel silly adding this book to my list because it’s so . . . I don’t know, so commercial. It’s been on the bestseller list forever, just relaxing there with all its engrossing, teasing, taunting, plot points. It has no redeeming depth, no empathetic characters, no heart tugging moments. However, it’s unputdownable, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
10. SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey
This is another one of those “really different” books that I love. In turn-of-the-century Alaska, a childless couple builds a snow child who turns into a real girl. Or does she? I’m not a big fan of magical realism, but it worked for me in this book and the writing easily carried me into the world of Jack and Mabel and their beautiful daughter. Based on a Russian fairytale, the story is moving, wistful and hard to forget.
So how about you? What books did you adore in 2012?