As we enter the sixth month of the year, I want to share with you my favorite books of 2012 so far. Consider these my strong recommendations. I review a lot of books here at pagesofjulia (I’ve read 61 books so far this year! although some of those reviews are yet to come, they will all be reviewed), but I do not recommend all of them, as you know.
Two sections here: first, I have four books that I’ve loved and encourage you to check out. And then, some general notes about what I’m enjoying, in broad categories.
The four best books of 2012 so far come in an even mix. Two audiobooks, two in print; two brand-new, two a few years old. (None older than ten years here, but see the second section below.) Three fiction, one non. In the order I discovered them:
- A Difficult Woman, a new (April 2012) biography of Lillian Hellman by Alice Kessler-Harris. Hellman was a controversial and contradictory figure, multi-faceted and fascinating, and I love Kessler-Harris’s handling of her complicated life, which touched upon so many areas of politics and art; K-H presents H as a sort of representation of the United States in the twentieth century. This book made me want to do huge amounts of further reading!
- The Likeness (two-part review) was Tana French’s first novel, and my favorite of her three (though I enjoyed them all). Cassie Maddox, a Dublin detective, goes undercover as a dead girl, who was posing as a fictional person, one of Cassie’s earlier undercover personas, to try to catch this mystery girl’s killer. She infiltrates an incredibly close group of cohabitating students, almost a family, and fuses into their world alarmingly well. I listened to the audio version and adored all the accents.
- The Lacuna I listened to as an audiobook, read by the author, Barbara Kingsolver, and I recommend this format as well as the book itself. It is the (fictional) story of a man who is raised back-and-forth between the United States (where his father lives) and Mexico (where his mother is from), spending his formative years in Mexico City employed by the household of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and for a time, Leon Trotsky. This is a fascinating book about people, some famous, some not, and the McCarthyist period in the US. Kingsolver performs the voices and accents beautifully.
- The Song of Achilles is Madeline Miller’s first novel, and what a feat! This is the story of Patroclus, a minor character in Homer’s Iliad. Here he becomes protagonist and narrator, telling the story of his upbringing and lifelong close friendship with Achilles (eventually his lover), and the ten years they spend at Troy making war. Very moving.
EDIT: Check out last night’s announcement of this year’s Orange Prize winner: Madeline Miller, for The Song of Achilles! I have good taste. If you look closely at past years’ winners, you will see another of my top four as well!
SECOND EDIT: Also check out my interview with Madeline Miller, which was such fun!
Section the second:
After choosing the above four individual books (no difficulty really, as each jumped out at me decisively), I wanted to share a few areas I’ve been reading in with great enjoyment. For one thing, you have probably noticed (if you follow me) that I’ve recently (re)discovered Edward Abbey and other nature writers. I can’t choose one book by Ed Abbey to especially recommend. So far in 2012, I have loved all of his that I’ve read, and the two “further reading” books he’s inspired. They are:
- Fire on the Mountain, a lovely novel (based on history) by EA about an old man holding out when the government tries to take his ranch from him to use as a missile range, and the grandson who stays to fight it out with him.
- The Journey Home is a collection of EA’s essays and journalism, every single one a gem, and similar to
- Down the River, another collection, with a river theme.
- The Monkey Wrench Gang is EA’s best-known novel, about a gang of social misfits practicing sabotage against industry & government when they threaten nature. Wild and wacky.
- Edward Abbey: A Life is a biography of EA by James Cahalan, and I found it well-done, on top of the obvious attraction of its subject being totally engrossing.
- Walking It Off is a memoir by Doug Peacock (EA’s close friend, and inspiration for the hero of The Monkey-Wrench Gang) of his life as a war veteran and untamed eco-defender, and as EA’s buddy.
Along these sames lines, I found Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac lovely, beautiful, inspirational, educational, and an important part of my study of Abbey and his ilk.
And finally, I have to mention my consistent favorite guy, Ernest Hemingway. In this case, the standout book is by his son Gregory. Papa: A Personal Memoir, is heartrending and sensitive, and a uniquely loving portrait of EH.
I have been long-winded as usual. In a nutshell: the four titles up top, and any Edward Abbey or Ernest Hemingway (or select related readings), deserve your attention this year!
What have YOU read so far in 2012 that has blown you away?