Best Books 2012

Last year I had a hard time to narrow down the choices and ended up with a very long list. This year it was far easier. All in all it wasn’t such a great reading year. Still, there were 13 novels and 2 non-fiction books I found outstanding.

I added the links to my posts and a quote from my reviews.

Charlotte Wood – The Submerged Cathedral

Australian author Charlotte Wood’s lyrical novel The Submerged Cathedral caught me unawares. Reading it felt at times like daydreaming. It has a hypnotic and very gentle quality that isn’t easy to put into words. It is highly symbolical and complex but still down to earth. The voice and choice of themes are so unusual, I’m really glad I discovered it on Kim’s blog last year (here).

Virginia Woolf – The Voyage Out

Reading The Voyage Out makes me realize once more what I like the most about her writing. Yes, the style, especially in the later novels, is fantastic, with its flow of interior monologue, the way she uses time and how she describes the passing of time. But there is something else that stayed with me forever since the day I have read Mrs Dalloway. Her writing has an exhilarating quality, an effervescent intensity of feeling that made me think of a German expression which I adore: “Champagner Wetter” or “Champagne weather”. Champagne weather is used to describe a very fresh but sunny spring morning on which the air is still cool, nature has returned to life, the first tentative, tiny leaves appear, the first blossoms can be seen. It’s already a bit warm in the sun but still chilly in the shade. It’s like drinking the first glass out of a freshly opened, nicely cooled Champagne bottle. It bubbles and goes to your head. Virginia Woolf’s novels are full of scenes conveying the mood of champagne weather.

Robin McKinley – Chalice

What I loved so much about this book is the atmosphere. Sweet and floating, like the scent of beeswax candles. The descriptions are beautiful and following Marisol’s journey has something enchanting and almost hypnotic. The world building is exquisite. I was there in Willowsland the whole time. And Marisol is such a great character, so real. She is very insecure and has to find her way in a hostile environment but her strength and her love for her home guide her. I liked how she lived, on her own, outside of the Great House or the village, only with her bees whom she treats like pets.

Antonio Tabucchi – The Edge of the Horizon

I liked it because it’s a very melancholic story and the descriptions are wonderful. Instead of taking a trip to Lisbon it was like taking a trip to one of those typical old Italian towns with the narrow and steep alleys. The book has many descriptions of quiet moments like this one towards the end:

“When the night began to fall, he turned on the radio without turning on the light. He was smoking in the dark while looking out of the window and observing the lights in the harbor. He let time slip away. He enjoyed listening to the radio in the dark, it gave him a feeling of distance.”

Helen Dunmore – Zennor in Darkness

Dunmore conveys the soft light of the Cornish coast, the beauty of the lovely landscape, the slow pace of life. This softness is mirrored in the way she changes the point of views, blurring the edges, softening the transitions, so that it feels as if one person’s consciousness and interior monologue, was flowing gently into that of another character. Reading it made me dreamy and I felt as if I was watching a water-color come to life. I read this book very slowly. I could have finished it in a few evenings but I put it aside frequently to make it last.

Amor Towles – The Rules of Civility

This is the reason why I always look forward to new releases because ever so often you discover a new book and simply enjoy it to the extent of wanting to start all over again after finishing it. This doesn’t always have to be a book that will enter the literary canon, it can just be a novel that makes you spend a few extremely entertaining hours. Like a well-made movie.

Charles Dickens – Great Expectations

Great Expectations offered everything I expected from Dickens and so much more. The only thing I could criticize is that it was predictable and that there were a lot of coincidences which didn’t seem all that realistic but who cares. There is so much in this novel to like that I can easily forget its flaws. The characters were, as was to be expected, quirky and over-the top, much more caricatures than portraits, but drawn which such a wonderful imagination that I loved each one of them.

Sylvia Toswnsend Warner – Lolly Willowes

I’m glad I discovered this wonderful novel. It has freshness and vivacity, is clever and witty and the descriptions are detailed and atmospheric, the portraits of the society and the people are true to life and Lolly is a very endearing character, an illustration of the importance of “a room of one’s own” and the right of women to live an independent life, even outside of society and without a man. It’s certainly one of the rare novels in which a being considered to be a useless burden on society shows that she doesn’t need society in order to live a truly happy and  fulfilled life.

Guy de Maupassant – Bel Ami

After having read Bel-Ami, I think that he might very well be one of the best writers in any genre. It’s one of the most perfect books I’ve ever read. I couldn’t name one single flaw. As much as I like Balzac there is always this and that, minor things, sure, but still, some imperfections. Not with Maupassant. What also surprised me is that this book could have been written nowadays. The society has changed, the world has changed but the way he writes about love, sex, power, money, careers… It’s outspoken and modern.

Louise Penny – Still Life

If I could I would move to Three Pines, the small fictional village, located a few hours from Montreal, in rural Québec. It’s a small village that sounds as if it was a place where time stands still and reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. Old cottages face a small village center and are surrounded by old trees and lush gardens. The place is very green and picturesque, the descriptions of it atmospheric and full of tiny details of the season. It’s the end of autumn, dead leaves are falling, it rains and the temperature is slowly dropping. A storm will come and soon it will be winter. Before the crime is solved, snow will begin to fall and a lot of the investigation will have taken place in front of a cozy fire.

Jetta Carleton – Clair de Lune

I absolutely loved this book. I tried to slow down while reading but it was pointless, I just rushed through the pages and when I turned the last one I was quite sad. It contains such a lot of intense scenes and the most uplifting ending since I’ve read Nada last year. Since the largest part of the book is set in spring, there are a lot of wonderful outdoor scenes in which the three friends walk in the streets, stand in the rain or just stroll through the fog. There is a breathlessness and joy of life in these pages that is exhilarating. It renders the enthusiasm of young people for whom everything is a discovery, be it literature, art, music, love or friendship. At the same time there is the anxiety about war and the knowledge that the freedom and carefreeness they experience is going to end.

Carrie Ryan – The Forest of Hands and Teeth

I never felt like reading a zombie novel before and if it hadn’t been for Sarah’s intriguing review I wouldn’t have tried this book but I’m glad I did. It has a very special and haunting atmosphere, very captivating and oddly enthralling. The word zombies, is never used, by the way, but it’s clear from the descriptions. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is part I of a trilogy. I won’t rush to read part II and III right now but I feel like reading them some day.

Edda Ziegler – Forbidden – Ostracized – Banned

Edda Ziegler’s fantastic book on German women writers under National Socialism Verboten – Verfemt - Vertrieben (Forbidden – Ostracized – Banned) was easily my favourite read this year. I hope that some English language editor will buy the rights to this book and have it translated. It’s an introduction to the most prominent German women writers under National Socialism, a detailed historical account of the times and an analysis of publishing history.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

I didn” get a chance to review this yet but if you are looking for a truly original genre blend – memoir + book on writing, this may be the book for you. Or if you are one of those who keep on saying “I would write if I only had the time” – this may be for you as well. An inspiring, motivating and really lovely book on writing and the life of a writer.

46 thoughts on “Best Books 2012

  1. ah…you did this earlier than me ;)
    mine will be posted tomorrow.

    I thought a Christmas Carol would be in your list. I remember the reviews of some of your favs because I found them as impressive reviews

    • I have a few posts scheduled. End of the year wrap up frenzy…
      I liked Great Expectations far better. I could have included another two, both Japanese authors were very good but I’ve forgotten the details, i thought I will only inlucde books I liked a lot and still remember the details.

  2. Really interesting list, sorry to read you haven’t had as good a reading year as you would have liked. I haven’t read any of these, although do have Lolly Willowes on my shelves. Looking forward to that one after enjoying her novel Summer Will Show. The Ziegler book about German women writers looks incredible, I hope it will be translated into English too!

    • Thanks, Eva. The year started really well, I think most of the books are from the first few months and then I started to start one after the other without finishing them. It happens sometimes. The last two years were incredibly good.
      I’m sure you will like Lolly Willowes. I’ll have to read another one some time. Yes, it would be great if someone decided to translate that book.

  3. That’s a great list, and a reminder I should get started on my own “best books of 2012″ post. Thanks.:)
    I have read “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” last year and my feelings echo yours. That cover is gorgeous, isn’t it? I enjoyed it, would like to read part 2, even 3, but I’m in no rush. And every time I wanted to say the name of the novel, it would come out “The Forest of Hands and Feet”!
    Bel-Ami was a beautiful movie, I haven’t read the book but the movie was so full of drama and emotion, a pleasure to watch.
    “pen on fire” sounds intriguing. I love memoirs and books on writing and this one has both!
    Not much left to say about Great Expectations – that’s a beautiful story and I’m glad to see it made the “best of” list.

    • Thanks, Delia. I’m looking forward to see yours. The cover of “The Forest…” is great but I get the tite wrong every time! I’m glad I’m not the only one.
      It seems that part II and III are huge let downs though… I can’t remember seeing your review.
      You should read Bel-Ami. That’s such an amazing book.
      I think I saw books on writing on your blog before, one I’ve read as wellm, about memoir writing. Pen on Fire is really great. It has tons of short chapters and all sorts of topics and exercises as well plus a lot about her life.

  4. I kept meaning to read Robin McKinley’s The Chalice this past year. I really enjoy her work; I just keep getting distracted by other shiny books. I’m sure you understand.

    More Robin McKinley for 2013!

    • After having read Chalice I bought at least three others of her books and …
      There will definitely be more McKinley next year for me as well.
      I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

    • Thansk, Anna. I’m sure you’d like some of them. I loved Zennor in Darkness.
      I thought I’ll do it now or it will get too hectic.
      I’m looking forward to your list.

  5. I’m on vacation visiting my folks on the other side of the country right now, Caroline, but I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all the blogging entertainment and camaraderie you’ve provided over the course of the year: merci beaucoup! Continued happy reading to you in 2013–hope to get to your Dickens and Maupassant selections from your 2012 best of list & maybe a title or two from the Lit & War Readalong list if I don’t get too distracted. À bientôt!

    • How nice to see you here. I missed you! I suppose not all of my best of choices will make you rush to a book shop this year.:)
      Thank you as well for your posts and comments and a bit of drama (Classics Club, remember…?) and for joining me in the one or the other adventure. Boy, did we fail on our World Cinema – Foreign Film Mission! I’ll post a wrap up as there is one winner (as I had announced in the initial post).
      It would be greatif you can join the one or the other discussion next year.
      I hope your having a great holiday.

  6. I’m happy that Great Expectations made the list. That is one of my favorites. However, that’s the only one I’ve read from your list. My TBR just keeps growing. Happy holidays Caroline!

  7. Hi Caroline

    Thanks for narrowing down to less than 15 the amazing pile of books you read this year. I’ve only read Great Expectations (and it was a long time ago)

    You always make me discover new writers, so thanks for that too.

    Happy holidays.

  8. Bel Ami is one of my all time favourite novels–can’t believe it took me so long to get to it.

    I also am a fan of The Voyage Out. Someone recently told me he couldn’t finish the novel…ah well different tastes.

  9. So glad you loved Lolly Willowes, and I have The Rules of Civility and Claire de Lune to read next year – yay! Always fun to read people’s best of lists, and I love yours, full of interesting things!

  10. I always enjoy revisiting my reading year this way. Now that the holiday is more or less behind me (and hopefully all the busy-ness that goes along with it–and I don’t really do anything special for New Years so can just relax until it’s time to go back to work) I can finally start thinking about what books will be on my own list, which I’ll be putting together in the next few days. I also loved The Rules of Civility and have Claire de Lune on my reading pile (I came so close to reading it right after I read your original post on it…), so will pull it out next year. I know Litlove chose Lolly Willowes as one of her faves, too, and now I see you loved it–I will look for a copy to buy now as well. I really enjoyed VW’s A Voyage Out when I read it and this is a reminder that I want to read more of her work. Hope you had a really lovely Christmas Caroline and are enjoying your break!

    • I love these list too. In your case it’s pretty likely I bought many of the books during the year when you mentioned them already.
      Yes, Clair de Lune is lovely. maybe it’s not like Moonflower Vine but I enjoyed it, it spoke to me more.
      I’m sure you will like Lolly Willowes.
      I’m enjoying my break and I’m glad there is still another week and a half. I’m not sure about New Year. At least it won’t be at my house. Christmas was enough. I’m still recovering.

  11. I am sorry for being late in commenting. I wanted to read this post slowly before commenting. Your favourite books from 2012 look like must reads :) I remember reading your thoughts on ‘Champagne Weather’ and liking them so much. When I read it again here, I felt so happy! With your permission, I will share it with friends in Facebook. Hope you don’t mind :) I have still not read a Virginia Woolf book yet. But I am hoping to remedy that this year. It was interesting for me to read how you read Helen Dunmore’s ‘Zennor in Darkness’ slowly and enjoyed every sentence, while you read Jetta Carlson’s ‘Claire de Lune’ quite fast as you wanted to find out what happened next. Books are beautiful, exciting and engaging in so many different ways, aren’t they? Thanks to you, I discovered Antonio Tabucchi last year. Hoping to read more of his works in the future. Maupassant is perfect when compared to Balzac, is he? I should really read his ‘Bel-Ami’ then. I am reading a Balzac book now – ‘Le Père Goriot’ – and am liking it very much. It is definitely easy to mistake ‘The Forest of Hands and Teeth’ as ‘The Forest of Hands and Feet’ :) So glad to know that you had so many favourites last year, Caroline. Hope you have some wonderful reading adventures this year and you discover amazing new books and writers. Happy reading!

    • Of course you can share the “Champagne Weather”. :)
      It’s funny, I didn’t even pay attention but there really are books I love that much that I slow down while I love others that much that I have to rush through them.
      I hope you will read Virginia Woolf. The first I’ve read was Mrs Dalloway and I rushed through almost all of her other novels that very same year. I was still at uni and had a lot of time.
      Balzac has flaws, just like Dickens. I suppose that happens when you write a lot and very fast and your books a serialized. I don’t think any of Muapassant’s novels was ever a series. Le Père Goriot is maybe the most importnat of is novels and certainyl one of my favorites. In no other novel we encounter such a lot of all of his charcaters which come back. It’s central or key novel. I hope you like it.

      • Thanks Caroline! I will look forward to reading a book or two of Virginia Woolf this year. When I thought of reading a Balzac after you recommended his works, I thought if he has written a few books – maybe five or six – like Flaubert, I will try to read all his works. Then I checked in Wikipedia and discovered that he has written nearly 90 novels :) That is like a few novels a year – I can’t believe that he was so prolific! The first page of ‘Le Père Goriot’ is so nice with beautiful sentences and imagery. I am looking forward to continuing to read it. Thanks for recommending it.

        • He was maybe one of the most prolific writers. It seesm he drank 3 – 4 liters of coffeee per day to keep going. Whn he died he wasn´t that old but in very bad shape. Guy is actually reading the whole of his work chronologically. If you want I can give you a best of list. I´ve read maybe 15 or so.
          I find Le Père Goriot ideal as a starting point. Much better than Eugenie Grandet which is much more of a stand-alone and not one I liked much. I prefer his books set in Paris.

          • It is interesting to know that Balzac loved coffee :) It is my favourite drink too! I would love to know about the best Balzacs and your favourites among them. Please do write to me about them. It is awesome that Guy is reading all the Balzacs chronologically! He is such an amazing reader!

            • My laptop is broken at the moment and I have a hard time accessing gmail from this old computer…My overdue e-mail will come, including suggestions. :)
              Yes, I´m a coffee drinker too. Not like Blazac but still. I enjoy drinking it.

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