Every year I record new books I’ve read in a battered blue notebook. I started the list in my Junior year of high school. To make the list, books must be read completely (not skimmed or read in part/abridged), books must be new (not re-reads), and the books must be “grown up length” vs. the board books we’re reading by the dozens these days. At the end of each year, I review the list for favorites and overall themes.
The 2012 total is 56 new books – less than some years, but not bad considering we spent large chunks of the year mired in adoption paperwork or juggling our new babies. As usual, there were several big classics and many smaller ones. After several novel-heavy years I tried to diversify this year – science, history, biography, poetry, plays, and other genres. I also read a fair amount about adoption and adoptive parenting. Finally, I did some catching up on a few popular youth novels I never got around to growing up. Normally I write a blurb about every book, but in the spirit of getting something published before the hungry twins wake up, this year I’ll just review my favorite dozen, and categorize the others. If there’s time, the extra details may get filled in later.
THE WINNING DOZEN: FAVORITES/MUST READS
Bleak House by Charles Dickens: A great Dickens with wonderful characters. The ending felt a little abrupt even for Dickens’ usual “and all is revealed in the final chapter” style, but the book was very enjoyable. The recent BBC miniseries adaptation (2009? I think?) is also very good and mostly faithful to the book.
Maphead by Ken Jennings: This book is so much fun to read if you love maps or geography, which I do. In tone/complexity, it’s similar to books like Freakonomics, Moneyball, or Gang Leader for a Day.
The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Colladi, illustrated by Robert Innocenti: This is a book edition that we’ll be buying. My parents owned a plain, un-illustrated version of Pinocchio growing up but it never caught my fancy. This edition illustrated by Roberto Innocenti was a visual feast, with lush, detailed paintings enhancing the story throughout. Part of an overall attempt at catching up on youth novels I missed.
The Tenth Man by Graham Greene An engaging novella about cowardice, consequences, and relationships. My favorite Graham Greene so far.
My Name is Aram by William Saroyan A delightful book. William Saroyan’s semi-autobiographical story My Name is Aram draws from his childhood in a large and crazy immigrant Armenian family in California. Sweetly funny, naive, insightful, hilarious, poetic, all in turn.
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey My mother-in-law introduced me to Tey a year ago and I really enjoy her mysteries. Brat Farrar is not very complex – the key is easy to guess – but she creates wonderful characters and settings. Her books are perfect for vacation days or a cozy afternoon by the fire.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo A great classic that I started seven years ago. Got to page 700. Started over this spring. And that’s how you turn a 1460 page book into a 2100 page book. Great story.. I loved it, except for the 50 page interludes on Parisian sewers…
What Went Wrong? The Clash between Islam & Modernity in the Middle East by Bernard Lewis Very interesting, well-written book. In the Middle Ages, the Middle East far exceeded Europe’s abilities in science, literature, philosophy, military strength, etc. Without providing an definitive answers, Lewis provides a balanced look at what changed (or didn’t) in the Middle East as Europe took and held the lead in military strength, technology, etc. Engaging reading.
Nine Horses: Poems by Billy Collins Surprised myself by loving Collins’ poetry after picking it up on a whim at the library. I usually don’t get engrossed in much poetry besides the story-telling epic kind (e.g., Paradise Lost, The Illiad…)
The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor Winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A good, thoughtful novel. Gently paced, with complex believable characters – a numb, recovering alcoholic priest. A manipulative old man. His children. A clownish but lovable junior curate. Hard to put down, despite moving slowly, primarily through conversations. I think Sally Thomas originally recommended it, but our library didn’t have a copy so it took until my birthday this year to crack it open.
The Mark of the Horse Lord and Knight’s Fee by Rosemary Sutcliff Sutcliff wrote some of the finest historical fiction ever written. In The Mark of the Horse Lord a gladiator in ancient Roman-controlled Britain wins his freedom and heads north into tribal Scotland. Gripping and lyrical. Knight’s Fee brings war-torn medieval Britain and the gradual merger of Normans and Saxons to life through the story of a boy named Randall.
The Complete Adoption Book by Laura & Raymond Godwin While not perfectly organized, this was the most thorough introductory overview we found on adoption, types of adoption, adoption issues, etc. In retrospect, I’d skip the sections on which countries foster faster adoption because the laws change so fast and so often and nothing from that part applied by the time we read the book. It gave us a good foundational understanding for picking the type of adoption we wanted to pursue, choosing an agency, preparing for our homestudy, and thinking about open/closed adoption and adoptive parenting.
A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (sort of new – my mother read this out loud to us when I was in elementary school, but I’d never read it for myself)
The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley
The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz
20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge
Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning, and A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room by Lemony Snickett:
44 Scotland Street and The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith:
A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Giver by Lois Lowry
No Biking in the House without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene
Jacob have I Loved and The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Nowhere Else on Earth by Josephine Humphreys
Alone by Richard Byrd
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White
OK, BUT WON’T READ AGAIN
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
What’s to Become of the Boy by Heinrich Boll
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
Lost States by Michael J. Trinklein
Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington
A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel
The Greatest Science Stories Never Told by Rick Beyer
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
More Stories from My Father’s Court by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Dear Birthmother by Silver & Speedlin
When the Tree Sings by Stratis Haviaras
White Parents, Black Children: Experiencing Transracial Adoption by Smith, Jacobsen, and Juarez
Strange Defeat by Marc Bloch
Erewhon by Samuel Butler
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark