This year, my reading life seemed to be anchored in studying history and looking for wonder. It is easy to get caught up with trivialities and the day to day, and for me, that is when I begin to feel the least like myself. Thank goodness for the books that keep my eyes open and my brain thinking--and, more importantly, for the people in my life this year who were such good reminders of truth and beauty.
I started this blog in January 2007, so each December since I've read through all my posts of the year and done a reading "year in review" that includes my top ten. What's different about this list and most book lists out there is that I get to maybe one newly published book a year (too expensive for this teacher and too heavy for this car-less commuter), so my choices never reflect the newly published. Here are lists past if you feel so inclined: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007. If you want a closer look at what they're about, click on the title for my original posting.
A laugh-out-loud/don't take yourself too seriously read:
1. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling. I read this book on the train home from my New Years gathering and finished it the first morning of 2012 and laughing was the best possible way to start a new year.
The best vacation reads:
2. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Crosse. This is a read for book lovers that I curled up with during this year's February break. It was thought provoking, but for me, mid-winter, it was more of an enjoyable escape during a week off work: a quest to make the perfect book store with a mystery tucked in.
3. Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy. I read about this book in New York Magazine and started it during one of the first few days of my summer break. One morning I took a roll and a coffee to Prospect Park, thinking I would spend 30 minutes or so reading. Two hours later I got up, completely moved by the poetic characters and language. Absolutely beautiful.
4. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand. The true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner, Air Force Bomber and POW in the Pacific during World War Two, this book was an incredible story of the endurance of a man as well as a heart wrenching glimpse into the life of a POW both during and after imprisonment.
5. Night by Elie Wiesel. Wiesel's memoir of his time spent in a concentration camp, I re-read this book with students in an incredibly powerful club in the spring. I would put this book on humanity's must-read list--it is dark and difficult to swallow, but so important.
6. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen. This is the story of William Dodd, America's ambassador to Germany in the thirties, when things with Hitler were beginning to heat up. It was a fascinating read and a great introduction to the politics leading up to World War Two.
7. Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. This book is a commitment: it is over 600 pages of very small type. However, I was completely enthralled by this biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian theologian from the 1930s and early 40s who was a key part of the resistance to Hitler and the Valkyrie plot to assassinate him. It was such an inspiring read of someone who refused to sit back in safety when something felt gut-wrong to him no matter what others were saying--and for that, he is a hero in my eyes.
A book that will keep you guessing long after you finish it:
8. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. This was probably the most challenging, unique read of my year and the kind of book that as soon as I finished it left me wishing I could immediately start over and then head into a literature course to discuss it.
A classic worth re-reading:
9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I loved reading this book in high school (my honors English teacher even helped us organize a mock-tail party in full dress attire a la Gatsby at the end of the year). I'm reading this book in a club with students later this year, so I reread it for the first time since graduate school and it gave me lots to think about.
My favorite book turned movie of the year:
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I read this years ago and enjoyed it and decided to re-read it before the movie came out. Chbosky captures the mind and coming of age of wallflower Charlie through a series of letters. I went to see the movie at BAM after an amazing brunch and it really turned into a perfect afternoon, because the movie version is incredible--the kind that restores one's faith in humanity incredible. I highly recommend both, but the book first, obviously!
I'm always looking for recommendations and I love hearing about people's best reading experiences of the year! Stay tuned for my New Year's Reading Resolution and my reading plan for the early months of 2013.
The New York Times wrote earlier this year about stories AND science: "The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters." So, that is your motivation for finding a new book or two to explore in the new year.