My 12 Best Books of 2012

January 12, 2013

I enjoy reading – mostly contemporary fiction –  and last year I read 83 books.  Here are my top 12 books of the year, in no special order.  I hope you find a few that you’ll want to read among them!  Disclosure: All book photos are linked to and are coded so I get credit if you buy one.

You think 83 books is a lot? Here’s an article by a man who read a book a day in 2012!  

The News From Spain by Joan Wickersham

This short story collection is delightful. Each story is separate to the others but each has something to do with “the news from Spain.” They are beautifully written and surprising.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

This book got great reviews, but I was still a bit skeptical about reading a novel having to do with a post-apocalypse world. But this book gives you lots to think about – like what would you miss the most – and the loneliness – and uncommon friendships – that made this one of my top books of the year. Well, it was started in 2012 and finished in 2013 but it still counted for me.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver is one of my favorite writers, and this book is one of her best. There is a lot to think about here, too. For example, can a person overcome their background to achieve more? What makes those people different than the rest of their community? The book takes place in Appalachia, where the main character discovers thousands, no – millions, of monarch butterflies wintering in the endangered forest on her family’s land. A group of scientists come to try to understand why the monarchs are there instead of their usual wintering grounds in Michoacán, México. The learning and exploring and exposure of each group to the other is very well done. In these days with the reality of climate change part of our daily lives this book is a scary reminder of how important each piece of our world is to the other.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Sometimes I get the idea to explore an author from another book. I read the book The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (which I disliked a lot) but I did get a number of good ideas for books, and Crossing to Safety is one. This book was written in the 1980’s and is a beautifully written book about the relationship between two married couples who meet when they are both starting their families and their university careers. He is a master – truly a master writer – his leisurely storytelling and startlingly real and beautiful descriptions make a wonderful read.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bojhalian

This is a moving and difficult story about the Armenian genocide.  This is a must read for anyone who isn’t familiar with this largely unknown story, and even for those who do. It is unbelievable to me that only 21 countries acknowledge that the Armenian genocide even happened! What a load of bull! My family has my grandmother’s tapes of her experiences being marched by the Turks and losing most of her family during the genocide. I can’t listen to them without crying. This book is vey well written, and don’t let the difficult topic scare you away. It is also a book about the beauty, strength, and character that many people possess.

There But For The by Ali Smith

This is a really strange book but I loved it. Here’s all I’ll say: What if a dinner guest got up from the table as though to use the bathroom and locked himself in your spare bedroom. And what if he wouldn’t leave? Lots going on here and it is a fun but strange read.

A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker

I have enjoyed several of Baker’s books but A Box of Matches is really special.  It can be the little things in life – like a cup of coffee, a fire, and a bit of time to think in the morning that make life wonderful.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

This book starts out when a man living alone on his orchard in Eastern Washington notices two pregnant girls taking apples and who appear to be living in the woods. The reasons he is so alone and the reasons they are homeless intertwine as their friendship develops. This is a thought provoking, well written, interesting book.

After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell

It was a tossup for me whether I chose this O’Farrell or The Hand That First Held Mine. Both are great books.  After You’d Gone is a puzzling story about a very strange family. She is a fine writer and you’ll stay up late to finish it, I promise.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

This book was a look into a world I didn’t know anything about – the mixed black and German kids that slipped between the cracks in 1940’s Europe. A fantastic book with memorable (both in a good and a bad way) characters that we see when they are young and again in old age.

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

Rosamund Lupton’s Afterwards and also Sister are books that have enough thought provoking challenges going on to keep you flipping the pages – as well as great writing and strong characters. This book is a real treat. Is she writing a new book?  I hope so!

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

This book grabbed me right away. I’m a former San Franciscan, and Paul’s daughter had a flower shop in San Francisco some years back. But that’s not all this book is about. It’s about people who care and are generous with others, people who had so little nurturing in their youth they have to learn everything, and so much more. Add in how wonderful it is to know that a gift of asters means patience, and daffodils mean new beginnings.

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More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

    1. Nancy, as you know I’ve read and loved a lot of these books (but there are a few I’ve missed, I’ll have to catch up). I’m so glad that we are friends on Goodreads so that I can follow what you’re reading, you seldom lead me astray as we usually agree on what makes a terrific book. Thanks for this list, it was so good to read it over and think about the enjoyment I had reading this year. What a great year for books! And I was astounded to count and find I had read 80.

    1. Wow, Nancy! Thanks for the list and reviews. I’ve copied the titles and look forward to more great reads. I recently finished Flight Behavior. It was my favorite book yet from Barbara Kingsolver (after The Poisonwood Bible) and now I’m totally entranced by Crossing to Safety. I just finished Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie’s autobiography. He writes well, but I wish the book had been half as long.
      Thx again. Un beso, Judy

    1. I would include The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Quiet by Susan Cain, IQ84 by Haruki Murikami and Cloud Atlas. And Annabel by Kathleen Winter. But I think you have read most of those previously.

      1. judith, We are friends but also friends-in-books. I cherish the friends who enjoy the same kind of books I do as there is always something to share. The books you mentioned I have read in previous years – except Annabel, which I read this year. I almost put it on the list but somehow it didn’t make the cut. 12 favorites isn’t many.

        Judith, I love the end of the year where I collect Best Books lists all over the place to get ideas for good books. Now I am collecting Upcoming New Releases lists, oh my god I just have to quit sleeping to have time to read all I want. Stegner’s Angle of Repose is on my Kindle, it will be one of the next few books I read for sure. Never have been able to get into Rushdie, though.

    1. Thanks for sharing your list and thoughts. I always find something I want to read. I wish I had the time to research as you do but then I do have you my friend thank goodness.

    1. Oh goody! I’ve been following your blog and your reading list for years. Steve and I are flying to Mazatlan on Weds for a week — now I’ll have new sure bets to read on my kindle by the pool at the Old Mazatlan Inn. I feel like I know you through both your writing and your reading list. I’d love to meet you if you have time… I hope you are feeling well… I’ve been sending you positive energy and thoughts as you move through the chemo.

    1. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this
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