Friday, January 11, 2013

Books of 2012

I saw another blogger post an entry about the book resolutions she has in 2013, which is WAAAAAY better than another stupid weight-loss resolution (I have anger from how many dieting commercials are on TV this month). I'm going to try to copy her idea (I should probably give her credit for it. Her list is here: Gimme Some Reads Reading List 2013), but first, I want to review some of the books I've read in 2012.

One thing I'm always very frustrated with is Bestseller Lists. Most of the books I am looking for are or have been on some bestseller list somewhere. But so has Fifty Shades of Grey and other terrible books. You really can't trust those things. But you really can't live without them. (Maybe this is a snobby English-major complaint, but I'm sure there are people out there who appreciate literature with the same righteous anger I do who aren't English majors.)

So, I'm going to help you out by telling you some of the Bestseller List books that were horrible and some that were wonderful (though books on my list are not strictly best sellers. They also weren't necessarily published in 2012).

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami - I actually just finished this book YESTERDAY after plowing through it for over two months. It is 925 pages long!!! But so worth it. I loved this book. I will have to say that it probably isn't for everyone, though. For one thing, it does graphically describe sex. Not in any kind of erotic way, but it is explicit. For example, he is not afraid of saying "My penis went into her vagina," which I appreciate. I'd rather have that than crappy euphemisms. For another, the book is kind of slow paced. Murakami likes to detail for you the little things, such as the food that the characters prepare and eat for their meals, the bars they frequent and what they order, and their hygiene routines. I also really liked the pace, though, because I liked how it made me slow down and think about the little things in life. It put me in a very contemplative and deep mood. I could see how other readers might be frustrated by this novel because the climax happens pretty much in the middle of the novel, then things kind of slow down from there. Also also also, if anyone can tell me how, if at all, this is supposed to resemble/reflect/dismantle George Orwell's work, please comment and tell me! WOULD RECOMMEND. 

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling - There was no way that I was going to pass this book up. I LOVE J. K. Rowling, and always will. BUT this book was awful. I do have to say that it was beautifully written. I very much admire the way that Rowling moved about from each character's perspective, and managed to make all of the characters full and realistic. It was interesting to see the way all of the characters in this small town related to each other. The problem was the story. It was a brilliant idea, but also SO DEPRESSING. It's not even the good kind of sad either, like the kind of sad you actually like feeling because it's like an emotional exercise or whatever. This book just makes you really upset about the state of humanity. WOULD NOT RECOMMEND.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn - This novel is absolutely brilliant. But again, probably not for the faint of heart. It is weird as FUCK, sometimes gross, and always grotesque. But I think that's what is so fascinating about it. It's like when you watch TV shows about serial killers and you think "oh, that is so absolutely awful, how depraved, why-I-never," BUT YOU STILL KEEP WATCHING IT. And it's interesting that this book is in the horror genre, though nothing scary or suspenseful ever happens. It's just horrifying, I guess. But really, despite all of that, I love this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a very thought-provoking novel. I believe that this one says a lot about our society, despite the mostly fictional reality it takes place in. Also, not a difficult read at all. Probably about 300 pages. WOULD RECOMMEND.

Swamplandia by Karen Russell - Honestly, what drew me to this book was that the premise sounded a lot like that of Geek Love, and it was a New York Time's Bestseller. This ended up being a very depressing read, and again, not in a good way. Like Geek Love, it features a lot of depravity. Unlike Geek Love, that depravity is more realistic. Instead of being this messed up but clearly fictional family, the family featured in Swamplandia could very well be real. This novel is very much realistic fiction. And the last thing I want to think about is a 13 and 16 year old girl who are both basically abandoned by their father and how that leads to them getting lost, taken advantage of, becoming delusional, and getting raped by someone they grow to trust. And since I've already spoiled that rape bit for you, I'm going to tell you that it was probably one of the worst rape scenes I've ever read/watched (almost as bad as in Beloved by Toni Morrison), because the victim just let it happen. She was 13 and her mother had just recently died, so she had no idea that sex wasn't supposed to be like that. She knew she didn't like it, but she assumed that that was just a part of sex. HOW TERRIBLE IS THAT?! Ugh, it made me want to crawl into a hole and eat Cheetos all day. Also, this book was WAY too long, and way not worth it. WOULD NOT RECOMMEND.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - When I was first introduced to Ishiguro in high school, it was with his book Remains of the Day. That one is probably his most famous, but I hated it. I felt like nothing ever happened and it was boring as hell. And it is. You have to really learn to appreciate Ishiguro, because his novels are very subtle. But they are brilliant. I have no idea which novel of his you should start with (maybe A Pale View of Hills because it's probably the easiest to understand what's even going on, but it's also very dramatic. And I think it might be my favorite of his). This novel is no different. It is also slow paced and tranquil, but there's something beneath the surface. Like Murakami's novel, the mysteries of this story are never explicitly solved, but you are left to fill in the gaps yourself. One of the weird things about this novel - and what sets it apart from his other pieces - is that it is actually science fiction. I probably shouldn't tell you that because it takes a while for the story to reveal that part. That's one of the things that's so good about it! (Also, the book is better than the movie.) WOULD RECOMMEND. 

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - This is definitely a quick, fluffy read. The Eyre Affair is very silly, and takes place in a silly alternate world where dodos are cloned and made housepets, time travel is real, and literature and art are so beloved that people riot in the streets over it. The protagonist, Thursday Next, is basically a literature cop, and she is called in when original manuscripts are stolen. When the villain of the book removes characters from the original manuscript and kills them in "reality," they disappear from every copy ever made (making him truly a barbarian). It is up to Thursday Next to save this from happening to Jane in Jane Eyre. This book would probably be entertaining for anyone who loves literature, and to those who love Jane Eyre. WOULD RECOMMEND.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith - A lot of people don't like the idea of taking a classic and changing it to fit modern whims, such as when Grahame-Smith put zombies in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Of course, neither of these books are brilliant literature. But if you've read the original Pride and Prejudice and seen all the different movies a million times, it's interesting, funny, and entertaining to see your favorite passages mixed in with new passages about zombies attacking the fancy ball. This book is in that same vein, except Grahame-Smith didn't take an original novel and add in new stuff, but instead made up a basic biography of Abraham Lincoln and put vampires in it. In this novel, the Civil War was started because of vampires (they would feed on slaves). There's really not much to say about it except that it is an okay book. And a very easy read (Colby finished it in one night. I was not quite so ambitious. And in France when I started it). (Again, book is better than the movie. By a lot.) WOULD RECOMMEND.

The Plague by Albert Camus - I read this at the beginning of 2012, so I don't remember it very well. It's a famous book, probably a classic. It's very well written. But also, it's slow and drags on a little bit. The characters were hard to keep track of, and almost all of them were French men with similar professions and personalities. I don't think I even bothered in my head to try to imagine up different appearances for them, and instead made them all look the same. It's interesting and probably worth reading, but I don't feel like it said a ton I wouldn't have guessed myself about the human condition and the responses people would have to a plague and a quarantine. Probably the most interesting parts were at the beginning when the plague was gaining ground and we could watch its progress. WOULD RECOMMEND. 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - By now, if you read through all of this, you can probably tell that I like books that are both really thoughtful, and that make you think. At first, I really liked this book for that reason. All of the characters are overly analytic. They are introverts and observers, and most of the book is a diary of their observations. I got so caught up in this thinking about and appreciating daily life nonsense that I found myself drinking tea and staring into space for over an hour once day. The main protagonist is studying critical theory and I was also studying critical theory as I read it, so it was interesting to see it described differently. But in reality, who wants to read a novel where a character is reading about phenomenonism, or whatever it's called. Those theories are interesting, but also really boring. You don't want to be reading about them in your free time. And you definitely don't want to read about a character as she is literally studying and reading something. The other protagonist comes off at first as a misunderstood prodigy, but then turns into a spoiled brat. And not to spoil it too much (SPOILER ALERT), but the studying-critical-theory-and-drinking-tea protagonist, who is supposed to be the elegant hedgehog (what an underhanded compliment, by the way), dies at the end. Randomly, out of nowhere. For no good reason, except maybe to make the other characters in the book appreciate a person that they had overlooked previously. Whatever. WOULD NOT RECOMMEND. 

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith - I read this book for my American noir class, but I enjoyed it. It's longer than other noir books we had to read, and much slower paced. Probably the most fascinating thing about it, especially in comparison with the other books I read, was that it took place from the point of view of the killer. Most of the book is filled with tension and suspense, so don't be put off when I say it is slower paced (I meant that relatively). You never really feel sympathetic to the protagonist, but he's also very fascinating. For example, one of the readings that people frequently come away with (mostly because the movie based on this novel made it this way in no uncertain terms) is that the protagonist is gay. This means that a lot of his crimes comes from unrequited love, as opposed to the alternative where the motivation is because Mr. Ripley hates being lower-classed and looked over. Either way, the psychology behind this serial killer is really interesting. It was also nice to finally see a female writer after all the Dashiell Hammets and and Raymond Chandlers. WOULD RECOMMEND.


  1. Thanks for mentioning my blog post. :) I like your run down of all your last-year reads. I've actually only read one of these books -- The Elegance of the Hedgehog; but I liked it. It's been a year or so since I read it, so I can't fully remember my thoughts, but I think one reason I liked it was because there several surprising moments of laughter. Like the bathroom scene in the old man's apartment. Making mundane things that funny, is pretty impressive. I really want to read Never Let Me Go; I saw the movie and was thrown for a loop by the end, but definitely appreciated the story all the more. Glad to know the book is even better. Cheers!

    1. I'm glad you're not upset that I linked to your blog post! I don't know if there's an etiquette to that. I liked Elegance of the Hedgehog in the middle, but I didn't like the end. And definitely try out Never Let Me Go! Thanks!

  2. Link away! Makes connections possible. :) Yeah, I'm curious how I'd feel if I read Elegance again. I recently recommended to a friend and she didn't get past the first few chapters.

  3. Thank you so much for the wonderful book! I finished it few days ago and can't get it out of my head. It is pure magic. It was everything I hoped it would be and much more. ...
    the movie fifty shades