The following are my favourite reads of 2012. As usual, I’m listing books that I read over the course of this year and not just 2012 releases.
- The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan — As I said back when I read it: “I love books like this exactly because they don’t focus on individual “strength”, on a single woman’s ability to turn her back on all these unreasonable demands and to build her own happiness. I admire women who do this; I’m interested in their stories and in the exciting possibilities they raise. It goes without saying that I want to see defiant, empowered, happy and successful women represented in fiction. But making it all about individuals overcoming society’s sexism can draw attention away from the fact that the system needs to change. This is why I also want scarred Misskaellas and passive sea-wives in my feminist fiction: they’re the ones who didn’t quite manage to walk away, and I don’t for a moment believe that this means they deserved what they got.”
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green — There are many good reasons to love this novel; mine are mostly what it says about the role stories play in our lives and its unapologetic celebration of intellectual engagement through its two smart teen protagonists.
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein — All these months later I’m still in awe of Wein’s brilliant narrative structure. Also, as Amy so well put it, I love how the novel presents “a strong relationship that wasn’t romantic but still deeply meaningful” (not that queer readings aren’t also possible, of course). More stories like this, please.
- The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher— My only Persephone of the year was a firm favourite, which just goes to show that I should read them more often. This 1924 novel about a family whose circumstances force them to try a reversal of traditional gender roles is more contemporary than it ought to be.
- Farthing by Jo Walton — A country house mystery, an alternate history, and an absolutely chilling political thriller. Aarti and I are reviewing this together in early January, so expect much more gushing then.
- The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker — I’m so glad I finally got around to reading Barker’s classic WW1 novels. A brilliant analysis of how the war disrupted people’s understanding of gender and class, as well as of the social and psychological upheavals of the period.
- Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky — A beautifully written, detailed, sometimes satirical but still very humane look at life in France during the Nazi occupation.
- Railsea by China Miéville — Giant moles! Trains! Adventures! Metafiction! Intertextuality in spades! This novel was an absolute joy to read, and amidst all the fun it made me think about the compelling power of metaphors, the dogmas we don’t realise we hold, and the many roles narratives play in our lives.
- At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson — Johnson has been one of my favourite authors for some years, and it was a pleasure to see that her first full-length short story collection was every bit as gorgeous as I expected.
- The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson — Of course there had to be something by Ibbotson on this list. I started the year with The Morning Gift and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. This love story set at the beginning of WW2 remains my favourite of her novels to date.
- Seraphina by Rachel Hartman — Fabulous worldbuilding, wonderful characterisation, and an impressive combination of fantasy and mystery elements.
- Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers — A moving account of a friendship between an elderly writer and a teenage boy, and one of the best descriptions of what it’s like to want to be close to another person that I’ve encountered in recent times.
- Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta — Yes, you were all right: this is a stunning novel. At its heart this is a story about trust, and Marchetta does a brilliant job of subtly changing the way her world is presented as her protagonist, Taylor, becomes less frightened and more trustful.
- The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy — Much like in The Changeover, Mahy writes about a young girl’s desires and fantasies without once shaming her. The family dynamics are also brilliant.
- The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol Tavris — The line “But the point is to direct our attention to the straitjacket, not its dutiful wearer”, which I found in this book, was probably more helpful to me than anything else I read this year. As I said in my review, “reading it really helped me make sense of why the victim-blaming language people often use to discuss women (or fictional characters) they perceive as “spineless” bothers me so much.” Tavris makes several other useful points about the risk and gendered implications of defining our problems in strictly individual rather than political terms. I couldn’t recommend this book more highly.
- Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus — Marcus’ history of the Riot Grrrl revolution is not only a brilliant piece of music journalism, but also a book I found useful when it comes to making sense of my own intellectual growth and of my history with feminism. Reading about how these girls used zines in a way that allowed them to “claim the space to be wrong” helped me understand my own goals when it comes to blogging and lead directly to this post.
- The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone — Gladstone’s non-fiction comic about the media was another book I found extremely useful as a blogger, even though on the surface it’s not about blogging. But I suspect that anyone who has ever made the decision to put their words out there in the world will find much of use here.
- Dotter of her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot — Mary Talbot intermingles an account of her early life with a biography of Lucia Joyce, James Joyces’ daughter. The result is a brilliant piece of social history, and an intelligent account of how gendered expectations affected the lives of two women so many decades apart.
- Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You by Agustín Fuentes — Fuentes dismantles three pervasive myths about human nature in clear and accessible terms: the belief that race is a biological category rather than a cultural construct; the idea that the veneer of civilisation hides the beast within all of us, especially in men; and the usual Mars vs Venus gender shenanigans. How could I possibly fail to love this book?
- Straight by Hanne Blank — “The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality” is just that. Blank disrupts categories that we take for granted by putting them into historical context and drawing attention to the fact that our current social organisation is not in any way inevitable.
First of all, the usual disclaimer: I know I say this every year, but there’s no telling who’ll be reading one of these Year in Review posts for the first time, and it really matters to me that people know that I don’t believe that how much you read in a year says anything about you as a reader other than, well, how much you happen to have managed to read that particular year. I share my reading stats because I find them interesting and hope that others might too, but I definitely don’t expect to be congratulated for reading x amount of books, and I most definitely don’t want to encourage the idea that reading should be seen as some sort of competitive sport. As far as I’m concerned, you get to call yourself a reader if you enjoy reading, and that remains true whether you read a book a month or a book a day.
Oh, and the other usual disclaimer: there’s some overlap between categories, which is why not all these percentages add up to one hundred.
Total books read: 164 (6% down from last year, which is actually a smaller decrease than I expected.)
Novels: 106 (65%)
Short Story Collections and Anthologies: 5 (3% — sigh.)
Comics aka Graphic Novels: 34 (20% — about half of these were Buffy and Angel comics.)
Non-Fiction: 38 (29.3%)
Poetry: 4 (2.4%, which is still more than last year. Baby steps?)
Plays: 0 (I seem completely unable to get back into the habit of reading drama without classes to offer me structure and encouragement. My Irish Studies professor would be sad.)
In translation: 10 (6.1%.)
Classics: 24 (14.6% — about the same as last year.)
By Women: 103 (63% — Yes, I read more women this year, but I refuse to worry about the lack of a perfect 50/50 split in my reading as long as the reviewing landscape out there looks like this.)
By Men: 53 (32%)
By Men and Women: 8 (5%)
By People of Colour: 24 (15% )
lgbtq: 13 (8% — I had an unofficial goal of reading 50 books by POC and 25 books by lgbtq authors this year, but as you can see I fell short. I still did better than last year when it comes to authors of colour, but not as well on the lgbtq authors front.)
Re-reads: 3 (2%)
By new to me authors: 37 (35% — I changed how I calculate this percentage this year, which is why the number is a bit different. What I did was stop including non-fiction, since I seem to pick it based on subject matter far more than on the author. One of my goals for this year was to read more from the back catalogues of authors I already know I enjoy instead of going after the new and the shiny, and I seem to have done reasonably well.)
From my TBR pile: 41 (25% — New category which shall henceforth be known as The Number of Shame. This basically excludes library books, e-books, review copies, and books I purchase and read immediately after. Apparently these make for ¾ of my reading :S)
E-books: 61 (37% — Also a new category, and it’s interesting to see how having an e-reader has affected my reading life. It seems that it makes it much too easy to go after shiny new books from Project Gutenberg or NetGalley, and my TBR pile suffered as a result.)
Favourite authors discovered this year: Elizabeth Wein, Pat Barker, Irène Némirovsky
Least favourite book of the year: The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter
Best reading month: January (23 books, or 14% of my annual reading. What is it about January? Maybe the prospect of turning a new leaf gives my reading life an energy boost?)
Worst reading month: September (5 books, or 3% of my annual reading. Moving month! On a side note, this is the third year in a row that September is my worst reading month. This always seems to be a time of life changes for me for some reason.)
How about you? What were your favourite reads of the year? What was your reading year like in general? Any bookish plans for the new year? Usually I do a post with reading goals at around this time, but this year I decided not to. Less structure and more following my whims will be my motto for 2013.