2012 in review: The literary edition

I am a freak of the 2.0 genereation.

I despise the notion of e-books and refuse to read books on a screen (the exception being a few classics I loaded onto my iPad for free before leaving for our South Island trip. I only finished one while we were away and I’m slowly making my way through the rest of them now. I do enjoy being able to look up the definition of a word right there and then on the page, but physical books and I shall not be parted.) I already spend at least 8 hours a day staring intently into a computer screen, and have no desire to increase that time.

Yet I am not a book buyer. I am an unapologetic library slut. Somehow, though, I’ve managed to accumulate a small pile of novels by my bed, and it’s making me antsy. Books are bulky and annoying (I like to borrow them, read them, and hustle them back out of my house).

Aside from books on loan from the public library, these books are:

  • Freebies from work – some I reviewed, some I did not
  • Lent to me by a friend
  • Gifts (one, to be precise)

I need to clean these out.

Seeing as we’re getting close to the end of 2012, I thought I might recap some of my more memorable reads of the year.

I read quite a bit of non fiction. Among this category, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother squeaks in as the most impactful of them all. Later I found out that Sophia, the older daughter (beautiful! accomplished! younger than me!), has a blog, which I promptly subscribed to. And as you do, I did a spot of Googling and was dumbfounded by some of the vitriol aimed at this family – the girls, too – unbelievable. This was an unsolicited review copy (woop!) and I actually want to keep this book around, that much did I enjoy it. I can only hope to blend the best of Chinese and western parenting with my kids – the discipline, the drive, with individualism and creativity. That may be a tall ask.

I also loved Caitlin Moran’s memoir How to Be a Woman on so many levels (Moranthology, a collection of her published work, also rocked it for me), and Mindy Kaling’s (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?) for sheer likeability and entertainment. See this post.

As memoirs go, The Glass Castle stirred up a maelstrom of emotions; hope for the human spirit and despair at the very worst of humanity. Heartbreak for the Walls children and the countless others like them out there. Jeannette’s tale is beautifully, blamelessly and unflinchingly told. You must, must read it.

Other non-fiction included Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity. Meh. I had high hopes for insightful analysis into one of my all-time favourite TV shows, and there were a few essays worth a read, but overall it was pretty weak.

Moving into fiction territory…

O (a presidential novel) may have received bad reviews, but I rated it four stars on Goodreads. I am neither a political buff nor a hardcore news buff, but I guess we media types like to read about ourselves and our industry. O was published back in 2011, a projection of what the 2012 battle could look like, but I read it in September 2012 – an interesting time, obviously, with campaigning actually underway. (And immediately after finishing it, I came across this Vanity Fair profile of the real Obama. All very synchronous.) Obviously the author couldn’t have anticipated Romney, exactly; his Republican nominee is Tom Morrison, a military type with an innate understanding of human psychology, who doesn’t want to play dirty, and is a formidable opponent. Sadly, there is no definitive end; this is  a novel about the process, but the narrative is the really interesting part for the junkies – the subtle power plays, the inner workings of campaigns and government and the news media.

Its faults? Look, the wee ears around the O on the cover were cute, but the  references to the president as only O got ridonkulous real fast, particularly in the news stories toward the end. The fictional liberties taken to humanise the president were hardly worth blinking at, and overall the characterisation is dreadful (weak, or in fact, non-existent). The thinly veiled characters based on real people occasionally were genuinely amusing (Palin, Huffington) but the treatment of women was unspeakably medieval. Of course both the beautiful, tough journalist and the sexy young volunteer would both sleep with the top O campaign staffer. Of course. At least he gets his just deserts in the end, and to the author’s credit, Regan also gets shot down very sharply by an actress at a political dinner, though I’m not sure who she was modelled on – Angelina Jolie?

A Woman in Berlin trod a similar line as an anonymous diary of a journalist in WWII, as did Night by Elie Wiesel. Both are stark in their simplicity, but a simply told tale was probably the best way to try and convey firsthand the atrocities of war. In the former, the women who were able to struck up alliances with Russian soldiers, who acted in part as their patrons, protecting them from rape by soldiers and bringing them essentials. In the latter, they experienced the horror of the Holocaust first hand, shipped into a concentration camp, mined for gold fillings, forced to turn upon one another.

Novel-wise, carrying on in the same vein, Fatherland offered a peek into a parallel universe, one in which Hitler triumphed and continued to hold Germany in his grip and keep the Holocaust under wraps from the rest of the world (see earlier review).

Life of Pi was a slightly frustrating read. Yes, gripping. Yes, fantastical. But the reason academic analysis doesn’t push my buttons is I’m really just a literary dilettante. I don’t like to thrash out symbolism and themes to death. This is one of those books. You can read it at its surface or accept the underlying tale it hints at, which is too terrible to accept. So while I loved this as a story, I didn’t love the work that goes into interpreting it. Absolutely a must read, however.

Love in the Time of Cholera reminded me of a Woody Allen film. Hateful characters I didn’t give a shit about. A spot of casual rape and pedophilia tossed in right at the end. Yes, it left that much of a nasty impression on me that I’m mentioning it. Would love to hear your take.

And last of all, I finally clued into Jane Austen with Emma and Pride and Prejudice – which I loved! Where have you been all my life? (I know, I know – I was too cool for the classics and looked down my nose at them. How wrong I was on this count.)

What books stood out to you this year?

6 thoughts on “2012 in review: The literary edition

  • Reply Leslie December 13, 2012 at 03:53

    Thanks for the heads up about “Love in the Time of Cholera”. It’s been recommended to me by a few people so I’ve had it on my list to read. From your description though, I probably won’t like it.

  • Reply Kathleen, Frugal Portland December 13, 2012 at 12:56

    I lost track of you after you changed your URL — SO GLAD you haven’t left! You’re back on my RSS reader.

    • Reply eemusings December 13, 2012 at 13:29

      WEIRD! Ah well, glad you checked in again 🙂

  • Reply nicoleandmaggie December 13, 2012 at 15:12

    I’m in the middle of an Emma reread. It makes me want to rewatch Clueless.

    If you like Jane Austen, try Georgette Heyer!

  • Reply Daisy @ Add Vodka December 13, 2012 at 16:18

    I’ve read a few of these, but not all of them. I loved the Glass Castle. If you liked that one, I’d recommend From Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray. It’s an amazing book! I love reading. But I also love my ereader. I’ll read off of almost anything though.. haha

  • Reply MakintheBacon$ December 16, 2012 at 07:09

    I am a fellow freak. I love the smell and feel of books. I enjoy and get excited when I go to the library. I enjoyed reading Life of Pi and will have to check out the Glass Castle. I have a growing list of books to read (personal and personal finance) on my blackberry and just added The Glass Castle to the list. Thanks!

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