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2012 books -- what sticks out for you?


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#1 sandik

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 11:40 AM

Yes, it's the classic "end of year wrap-up question" -- what did you read this year that really stuck out, for whatever reason (including the "whatever were they thinking" prize)? Add to that books that you might be giving as holiday gifts (or hoping to get as same)...

#2 liebs

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 12:30 PM

Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton and Hilary Mantel's Bringing up the Bodies.

#3 dirac

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 10:15 PM

Great idea for a topic, sandik. I don't always get to many new books as they come out, but America Aflame by David Goldfield stood out for me. Frank Langella's book, with the admirably forthright title Dropping Names, was an entertaining read. Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations,new last year, was also good, especially with the accompanying CD.

(All three of them would be nice gifts for the right person. It could be me, but I think if you're giving a book as a gift it should be a new or at least newish one. Not necessarily new material, a new poetry collection would be fine.)

I didn't read anything horrible per se, but there were one or two disappointments.

#4 sandik

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 10:34 PM

I should answer my own question -- despite the fact that I've got towers of stuff that need reading, I picked up Nicholson Baker's "The Way the World Works" at the end of the summer and schlepped it everywhere until I was done. It's a collection of essays, which I like since I can skip around in a way that fiction really discourages, and it's a lovely combination of arcane information and mild crankiness. Which seems to describe me lately.

#5 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 03 December 2012 - 09:16 AM

I recluded myself for 5 days in Dominican Republic with no cell phone or computer and took "The Inextinguishable Symphony" by Martin Goldsmith, a somehow different take on the Jewish experience prior to WWII from a man whose parents belonged to the Kulturbund, a cultural refuge of sorts. Goldsmith mixes up the history of his family (and what he can piece together of the missing parts) with the history of the Kulturbund, and the Goldsmith couple's involvement in the Nazi approved Jewish Orchestra which kept them alive, all resulting in a slower-paced, but still fascinating look at an aspect of Nazi Germany that I hadn't encountered before. The book gives an inttimate view into the machinations and propaganda that actually supported the artists (including musicians, dancers, actors, and singers). A very interesting point on the story goes as a description of what happened with the St. Louis-(the ship of Jewish refugees that was refused landing by both Cuba and the U.S.).

#6 bart

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Posted 03 December 2012 - 02:37 PM

I agree with liebs about Mantel's Bringing up Bodies. (Which led me to re-read Wolf Hall, though I read that only last year.) .They are among the best works I've read in many years. Tudor history has spawned some of the worst film and fictional treatment I've ever seen, but Mantel's two novels are works of genius. It's interesting to compare them to her excellent but much earlier historical novel, A Place of Greater Safety, centering on the relationship of Danton, Desmoulins, and Robespierre.

I have difficulty in identifying a single "standout" for the year. My standout at any one time tends to be whatever book I'm absorbed in right now. That means Ross King's Leonardo and the Last Supper. (He also wrote Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling.) It's the kind of book that compels me to do something I enjoy very much -- go to the shelves and pull down other books, maps, collections of art reproductions. The internet is a remarkable source, too, especially for quickly locating specific paintings and drawings and for Google Satellite Maps and Street Views of locations.

#7 sandik

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Posted 03 December 2012 - 05:01 PM

That means Ross King's Leonardo and the Last Supper.


Oh, thank you for the heads-up -- my partner really enjoys his work, and I don't think he's seen this one yet. (shhhhh...)

#8 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 09 December 2012 - 04:37 PM

Sigh ... I'm almost always at least a year behind when it comes to books, movies, recorded music, TV (which I have to do via Netflix since we've turned off cable) - everything that's not live, in other words.

But I do keep current when it comes to Hilary Mantel! I'm with liebs and Bart on Mantel's Thomas Cromwell (soon to be) trilogy -- I look forward to each new volume the way the YA crowd looked forward to each new installment of the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series. (For what it's worth, I'm the same way with George R. R. Martins' Song of Ice and Fire saga, although his books are delicious in an entirely different way from Mantel's beautifully crafted novels.)

Other books published 2012 that I managed to read and liked:

Laurent Binet's "HHhH." Binet is troubled by historical fiction for what I gather are both moral and, to a lesser extent, aesthetic reasons. (Mantel appears to be entirely at peace with the genre, bless her.) So, his gripping retelling of Reinhard Heydrich's assassination by Czech resistance fighters is interrupted at regular intervals by little tangents describing the narrator's travels in the course of researching the event and / or his anxious musings on the nature of history vs fiction and the like. It's not nearly as irritating as it sounds, although he tells the story of Heydrich and his assassins so well you sometimes wish he'd just get on with it already. But I'm glad I read it. His chilly Heydrich is both puny and monstrous.

Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" was a blast as a summer read. It's gimmicky -- Flynn isn't quite fair in the way she sets up the plot twist that made the book notorious -- but it's lots of fun anyway. I gather it's going to be a movie, although by rights it should be a mini-series.

"The History of the World in 100 Objects." OK, technically it was published as a book in 2011 and started life as a series of BBC podcasts, but I got it for Christmas last year, so I'm putting it on the list. Neil MacGregor -- the director of The British Museum -- manages to extract a ton meaningful historical, cultural, sociological, and psychological information from even the most fragmentary or seemingly pedestrian ancient artifacts. (He includes spectacular ones, too, of course.) His tone throughout is wondering, generous, enthusiastic, even sweet. I don't think it's the kind of thing you sit down and read in one go, but if you're looking for something you can put on your phone to dip into when you're on the subway or waiting in line at the DMV, this is it. (The photographs of the objects look just fine on mine.) Or you could visit the website and listen to the podcasts here.

I read Robert K. Massie's "Peter the Great" and the recently published "Catherine the Great" back-to-back. Highly recommended -- as a reading experience they're as immersive as novels. I was finally able to wrap my head around The Great Northern War (who knew Sweden had an empire), the battle of Poltava, and the many partitions of Poland.

The "meh" list: Jeffrey Eugenides' "The Marriage Plot" and Alan Hollinghurst's "The Stranger's Child." "The Stranger's Child" isn't bad, really, but it's a let-down after Hollinghurst's earlier "The Swimming Pool Library" and "The Line of Beauty."

The "I can't decide" list: Haruki Murakami's "1Q84" and Kate Zambreno's "Green Girl." Glad I read them, not sure I'd recommend them. "1Q84" feels like it needs a sequel, although I'm not sure I'm up to another 1100 pages of Murakami's peculiar world.

#9 sandik

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 09:24 AM

"The History of the World in 100 Objects." OK, technically it was published as a book in 2011 and started life as a series of BBC podcasts, but I got it for Christmas last year, so I'm putting it on the list. ... Or you could visit the website and listen to the podcasts here.


I've been thinking about this as a gift for someone, and feeling blue that I wasn't giving it to myself, but I didn't know there were podcasts!

#10 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 12:49 PM


"The History of the World in 100 Objects." OK, technically it was published as a book in 2011 and started life as a series of BBC podcasts, but I got it for Christmas last year, so I'm putting it on the list. ... Or you could visit the website and listen to the podcasts here.


I've been thinking about this as a gift for someone, and feeling blue that I wasn't giving it to myself, but I didn't know there were podcasts!


The podcasts are wonderful. There are indeed one hundred of them and they average about 15 minutes each. You can listen on the BBC site or download them all in iTunes. The book is essentially a transcript of the podcasts with pictures.

#11 vipa

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 05:30 PM

I loved Louise Erdrich's - The Round House. I'm a fan of her work. She's a great story teller.

#12 dirac

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 04:50 PM

Sigh ... I'm almost always at least a year behind when it comes to books,


I don't know, Kathleen, going by your post it looks as if you managed rather well this year. :)

Thank you, vipa. I've never read Erdrich but there must be someone else here who has?

#13 Barbara

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 07:16 AM

Count me in as a Louise Erdrich fan! I think I've read all her books (The Beet Queen and The Master Butchers Singing Club are favorites) Still on the wait list at my library for The Round House.

#14 Barbara

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 07:18 AM

Meant to add that my favorites this year were In One Person by John Irving and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, which I enjoyed as an audio book read by the wonderful Jim Broadbent.

#15 dirac

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 09:20 PM

Thanks, Barbara. I haven't read Irving since The Hotel New Hampshire, no particular reason, just didn't feel the urge to grab his next one off the shelves.


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