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Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Books of 2012

As some of you know, I like to make lists of the "best of" the previous year. I've done a better job of keeping track of my reading this year. Years ago, I developed a spreadsheet to track it all, but didn't do a good job of keeping it up to date 2008-2011. Since reading is often my escape a lot of what I read isn't too meaningful, but I used to try to make sure that at least half of my pages read were valuable for something besides entertainment. Although I managed to get (most) everything in the spreadsheet this year, I didn't make any effort to guide the choices into valuable channels. Sigh- we always fail at standards we set for ourselves.

OK... Here are the totals. I read 80 books (that I remembered to record- I think I might have missed a few). The ratio of valuable to escape wasn't so good. By number of pages, it was 1:4 with silly stuff winning. These are almost all mysteries. I suppose, now that I'm writing them, I can consider it research at some level, but it's still escape (if I'm honest).

Here are the 10 best in no particular order. Don't try to read much into the selection.

Brief Review
UnbrokenLaura HillenbrandBiography
Since this has been a recent best-seller, you may be familiar with it. Someone gave me a copy. It's a biography of Louie Zamperini who was an Olympic runner, but then was shot down over the Pacific in WWII. He was taken prisoner by the Japanese and tortured. Yet his spirit was never broken and came to put his faith in God.
Washington's CrossingDavid Hackett FischerHistory
This is a 2006 book that primarily covers the winter campaigns of 1776-77 in the American Revolution from the loss of New York through the successful crossing of the Delaware, the two battles of Trenton, the battle of Princeton, and what he calls "the Foraging Wars," of the rest of the winter. He's used new documents that have come to light and re-evaluated a lot of existing ones. His conclusion is that the American forces really got their act together after New York, and those campaigns were a true turning point of the war. One of the many appendices was really interesting too. He gives an overview of the general attitude of historians from the diarists and memoir writers through the present day. That was as good as having an extra book.
American CreationJoseph EllisHistory
This is another recent book about the Revolutionary Era. It's focus is the writing and ratification of the Constitution. He points out how divided the participants were in their opinions, not unlike the political situation today. However, they did manage to work out a compromise. At the time, neither side was happy with it, and they weren't at all sure they had managed to create the lasting document it has become.
Animal DreamsBarbara KingsolverLiterary Fiction
I'm not a big fan of Literary Fiction, but this one wasn't so bleak as what seems to be the norm these days. A young woman, Codi, returns to the town of her childhood and takes a job teaching. Her father is failing, having Alzheimer's. The book alternates between the two points of view. She comes to terms with some of the difficult portions of her teen years, and her roots in the desert town.
Manchild in the Promised LandClaude BrownMemoir
Claude Brown recalls his childhood in Harlem, and how he managed to change his ways and escape from the slums. He really captures the culture and makes you live it with him. However, be prepared to be offended if you read it. The language is raw and reported just as it was. Interestingly enough, Brown grew up in the 40s and very early 50s before drugs were so pervasive. He credits part of his decision to get out of a life of crime to seeing what drugs did to some of his friends and enemies as they began to use them
The Boys from BrazilIra LevinFiction
This is now a fairly classic movie. With apologies to Gregory Peck, the book is perhaps even more chilling. Somehow the movie seems a little silly, but the book isn't. If you aren't familiar with the plot, it's a story of Nazi leaders who have escaped to Brazil after WWII and are trying to recreate the exact conditions of Hitler's youth in order to produce a new Reichfurer.
Dandelion WineRay BradburyLiterary Fiction
I can't believe I'd never read this book or even heard of it. It's a loosely autobiographical coming-of-age book by the famous sci-fi writer. His ability to get inside the head of a pre-teen boy is astonishing. I am always amazed at the adult writers who can still remember what childhood was like, and make us remember too.
In the Bleak MidwinterJulia Spencer-FlemingMystery
This is a mystery set in a small New England town. Because it has the small-town setting, and was so well written, it's one of the books I'm holding up as a standard for my writing of the Anastasia Raven series. The protagonists are a female Episcopal priest, and the local police chief.
BushwhackGerald ChicaloAdventure
This is a strange book. It purports to be true, and I was willing to believe that part way through. But then I decided it has to be fiction. It first appeared in serial form on a hiking forum. Truth or fiction, it's a gripping tale of poor planning and bad decisions made on a hike through a remote section of the Canadian Pacific Northwest. Since I've seen people make equally poor decisions (fortunately, with less dire consequences), I couldn't put it down and stayed up all night reading.
The TestamentJohn GrishamLegal Thriller
This seems different from some of the other Grisham books. Basically, an elderly man, not a nice man, leaves all his money to an illegitimate daughter that the rest of the family has never heard of. A young lawyer is sent off to the jungle of South America to find her, as it is discovered she is a missionary. She refuses to have anything to do with the money, and the relatives are all contesting the will. The book is mostly about how it all affects Nate O'Reiley, the young lawyer. Plenty of food for thought.
There you have it! Maybe I'll have a more balanced diet of books in 2013. Or maybe not.

See Books and Trees for the best books of 2011
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Jackie said...

I haven't read the book 'Washington's Crossing' but I did see the movie starring Jeff Daniels.

It was very interesting and very good. I know I certainly came away with an even greater appreciation of what Washington and his men went through!!

I hope you have grand new year!!

Happy New year Shark!!:-)

vanilla said...

You read some good stuff. Well played.
Happy new year!

Karen and Gerard said...

I remember I liked THE TESTAMENT and Gerard liked UNBROKEN. Those are the only two on your list we are familiar with. We each did two "favorite read" lists this year, one for non-fiction and one for fiction.

Ann said...

All of my reading is for entertainmet value and I enjoy a good mystery.

John said...

I tried to read "Dandelion Wine" but didn't get very far :-(

The best book I've read lately is "The Death of Grass" by John Christopher...

Sharkbytes said...

Hi Jackie- Actually, that is a based on a different book, but it's the same event, of course.

vanilla- It looks much better since I got the bug to read about the Rev. Need to do better this year.

Karen- My next stop will be to look at your lists.

Ann- That's OK too!

John- I'll keep my eyes open for The Death of Grass

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