Best of 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

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In what turned out to be a very busy year, I've managed to read 85 books as of today.

I've spent the last three and a half months on the road producing a 12-part documentary for Pakistani TV. The project was exhausting - from managing difficult personalities to encountering "Amazing Race" level travel logistics. I honestly think it rained every single day we filmed. I kept count and by the end, I had been to fourteen different cities and been on more than twenty-five flights.

On the plus side, travel time means reading time! This was a strong year for me, with a wider variety than in past years - from psychological thrillers (Tana French) to literary fiction (American Dervish) to - gasp!- Young Adult (The Hunger Games). As always, I read heavily in history and historical fiction.

Hopefully, the next year will bring a calmer travel schedule and more opportunities to read and update this blog.

Top Non-Fiction
Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo - War from a woman's perspective and the impact violence has on home, food and culture.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo - A journalist's equivalent of a grand slam home run - the ultimate in thorough, non-sentimental reporting.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed - I was lucky enough to get an advance e-book of this memoir months before it blew up on the bestseller lists. Even then I knew it was the book of the year.
Killer Stuff Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton Do you love American Pickers, Pawn Stars and eBay? This is a fun and fascinating journey through that world.
Londoners by Craig Taylor  A kaleidoscopic oral history of city life - almost better than a trip to London.
Little America by Rajiv Chandrasekeran  If you want to know why the U.S. no longer has a chance of succeeding in Afghanistan, look no further than this book.
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz - A beautiful reminder of why books make life better.

Top Fiction
The Pretender by Mary Morrissey - An intense psychological portrait of the woman known as Anna Anderson.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear - My favorite discovery of the year. A WWI nurse turned private investgator navigates 1920s and 30s London.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles - A sharp wit and heart balance this tale of innocence lost in 1930s New York.
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons - A real sense of place anchors what could have been a typical WWII tale
The Siege by Helen Dunmore - Beyond a novel-reading experience - you feel unsettlingly close to the Siege of Lenningrad.
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak - Catherine the Great's rise to power is as fast-paced and tense as any thriller
World War Z by Max Brooks - Zombies can be so much fun and surprisingly moving.
Faithful Place by Tana French - All of French's first-person narrators are fantastic but this one digs into heart and place and the past and offers it all to the reader.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters - I adore books with story lines set in multiple time periods, with characters that all eventually connect. Not a trace of false cleverness - it all works perfectly. I still find myself thinking about the characters.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - Frustrating and unrealistic, sometimes too clever for its own good - still an unbelievably engrossing read.
The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields - Gorgeous evocation of a key turning point in the life of novelist Edith Wharton.
The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan - Almost impossibly, the beautiful writing in this novel comes close to honoring the Bard.
Zoe Ferraris "Finding Nouf/City of Veils/Kingdom of Strangers"  Pedestrian mysteries but the character development, sense of place and understanding of Saudi Arabian culture makes this trilogy unforgettable.
The Master's Muse by Varley O'Connor - A brave examination of husbands and wives, ballet and polio.

Biggest Disappointments
Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison - A self-indulgent mockery of historical fiction.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch - I wanted to love this memoir about sisters and reading but the endless repetitions made it seem like an essay stretched out to book length.