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Top 5 books of 2012

The end of another year is upon us, and I am choosing my five favourite books. It's tough. It's not been a bad year, but last year I read Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, and nothing I've read this year has been in that league. The best books I've read, generally, have been rereads, but I shall eliminate those. I give the most honourable of mentions to two books by living American authors, Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall and Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys, which will both stay with me. Harold Pinter's The Caretaker was the best new (i.e. not reread) play I encountered this year, and Tony Parker's study of murderers Life After Life the best non-fiction book. But I have whittled it down to these five:

Nina Bawden - Carrie's War
A.S. Byatt - The Children's Book
Charles Dickens - Dombey and Son
Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's Travels
Winifred Watson - Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

If I had to choose one, perhaps the Swift. Not a bad five by any means, but I hope 2013 will be a better reading year than this one has been. Have you read anything mindblowing in 2012?

2012 was the year in which I read mostly Charles Dickens. No surprise that my top 5 is also very Dickensian.

The one exception is Dimitri Verhulst with De Zeven Laatste Zinnen ("The Seven Last Words). I'm not saying he's a better author than Dickens but this was a special little book. It is a cooperation with the Ensor String Quartet. They asked him to write seven secular stories to accompany Haydn's 'Sieben Letzten Worte'; The last seven sentences Jesus said on the cross. Each (very short) short story is followed by the music it is written for. With the book were two CD's, one with Haydn's music played by the Ensor String Quartet and one with the stories, read by the author.

Top 5 this year in order of reading:
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens - The Pickwick Papers
Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist
Charles Dickens - Dombey & Son
Dimitri Verhulst - De Zeven Laatste Zinnen

If I had to choose the best of those I would say The Pickwick Papers for the sheer joy reading it gave me.

Joe McWilliams

Looking at my 2012 reading list I see I read a lot of crime fiction - more than usual - and some of it was pretty good. Phlip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy I'd rate pretty highly in the genre, and Robert Wilson's stories set in Sevilla Spain and West Africa were quite good.
George RR Martin deserves a nod as well for his Song of Ice and Fire fanstasy stuff.

But as for my top five...
1. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
2. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
3. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
4. The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian
5. Dark Star by Alan Furst

One book stood head and shoulders above the others and that was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.  I also loved The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, by TE Carhart.  But after that it gets tricky.  I see a few of you mentioning Dombey and Son, but I wasn't totally enamoured with it.  I loved Wind in the Willows, but perhaps I should be looking to adult books for my top five.  

The remaining three therefore are:  Revelation by CJ Sansom, Traitor by Stephen Daisley and The Family That Could not Sleep by DT Max.  

Honourable mentions to the two Patrick O'Brian books I read, The Danish Girl, Three Day Road (I have the sequel to this from the library waiting to be read), Started Early, Took my Dog by Kate Atkinson and, for something different, the 19th century crime novel The Mystery of the Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume.
Joe McWilliams

Interesting you rate the Sansom book so highly, Caro. I tried Dissolution recently and found it just so-so. Perhaps he gets better with practice.

By the way, what you wrote above gives the impression (or could) that the two Patrick O'Brian's you read are entitled The Danish Girl and Three Day Road, which you didn't mean to do.

I should have given honourable mention to the Maurice Gee story you recommended. (Meg?). It was really a very well-written tale in a small-scope sort of context.

I delayed replying to this as I was hoping I would finish Dracula in 2012 - and I did, with 20 minutes to spare!  

I also thought I had not read much during the year, so a top five wouldn't mean much - and it's true that I read very little, but I did read some really good stuff.

My top 5, in the order I read them, are:

The Kill by Emile Zola
Pincher Martin by William Golding
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Love and Summer by William Trevor
Dracula by Bram Stoker

I also re-read most of  Lawrence Durrell's Avignon Quintet, but these were a re-read so I did not include them in my deliberations.

Honourable mention to The Submission by Amy Waldman, So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan (which came cose to ousting Half-Blood Blues), Fup by Jim Dodge, Canada by Richard Ford and two books by Alison Moore, a good new writing talent - The Lighthouse was the one that got all the publicity, as it was shortlisted for the Man Booker, but I preferred her novella The Pre-War House.

Dracula and The Kill fight it out for my top book of all, but that accolade goes to Zola, mainly because it is a better novel - a truly great piece of writing, even in translation.

Oh, I forgot about Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin...that definitely ousts Half-Blood Blues, wonderful though the latter was.

So my top 5:

The Kill by Emile Zola
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
Pincher Martin by William Golding
Love and Summer by William Trevor
Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Kill by Zola is still my top book of the year.

I did not read a great deal in 2012 but the following are the best of the bunch that I recall

Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks
The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale
We Had it So Good by Linda Grant
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Hello Evie

Did you post a review of Giovanni's Room anywhere? I note from a quick look at your reading log that you read it back in March. If so, I must have missed it.

The only James Baldwin I have read is Go Tell it on the Mountain which I recall I did along with Himadri and Gareth in a group read a few years back. Have always wanted to return to another of his as I thought that was excellent.[/i]

I read Go Tell it on the Mountain as well - I think it may have been the only one of the books we said we'd read together I managed to finish, but it was excellent. Smile

2012 was not a massive reading year for me and I haven't kept any record of what I read, but just off the top of my head, and in no particular order:

1. An Exclusive Love - Johanna Adorjan
2. Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Fielding (a reread, but hilarious none the less)
3. Janice Gentle Gets Sexy - Mavis Cheek
4. Mr Big - Ed Vere
5. Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson

Doubtless once I've remembered some more I will want to go back and amend this!!!

Hector - I didn't write much about Giovanni's Room, but perhaps I really should go back over those best books and write a bit more about them!  It was a revelation to me - not least for being set in Europe.  I will try to put some words together.  And my reading resolution will be to write a review of anything I read that I think is worth reviewing, good or bad!  You've been warned...then again, I'm not good at keeping NY resolutions.

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