Something(s) to read, 2012

Up here above the 42nd parallel the weather is such that I'm staying inside and reading more, and you might also plan to spend extra time indoors in the next few weeks. Or months. So in case you wondered, here are the best books I read in 2012, complete with my brief notes to myself about them. They're in no particular order; they're all good and some are even better than that. I hope you find something new here to enjoy!


Fiction

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
More poetic than I remembered, and great all the way through. What a surprise, right? Chapter 19 is some of the best writing I can remember reading, but the whole thing shines. (Too bad about the n-word, though.)

A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan
Startling and well done and fun.

Lemons Never Lie
Richard Stark
Excellent crime fiction ride via Donald Westlake's Grofield. It's not Parker, but that means you get to like the main character all the way through.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Stories of Your Life and Others
Ted Chiang
Excellent short story collection; consistently thoughtful and imaginative and well-written.

Doomsday Book
Connie Willis
Science fiction set in centuries past. It's sad and beautiful. There are repetitious passages, but you can make an argument that they're thematically important and true to the period.

Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Fun! A good summer page-turner.

American Gods
Neil Gaiman
Enjoyable and meandering in a good way; well-plotted and in very well written. I'm glad I waited to read the author's preferred text.

The Speed of Dark
Elizabeth Moon
Very good book on autism and what it means; I suspect it's written as aspirational (in terms of the ending) by someone who knows autism personally. It carried me along effortlessly.

Prepare to Die!
Paul Tobin
Fun superhero story, proving you can do something new with the tropes. If you're as good as Paul, that is.

Young Adult

The Waiting Sky
Lara Zielin
Her best so far. Pulls you right through. I'm tempted to say it spins you around and sucks you in, but that would just be cheesy.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay
Suzanne Collins
Great premise and plotting, and exciting to read. In the end, I think of this as The Road for young adults. Not plausible through-and-through, but still a page-turner.

Fire and Hemlock
Diana Wynne Jones
Horrible cover on a pretty fine book. As Sara Ryan pointed out, it creates an absorbing world that held me off balance for most of the story.

Non-Fiction

A More Perfect Heaven
Dava Sobel
Another remarkable book by Sobel, in the tradition of Longitude (at least in length) and Galileo's Daughter in terms of building a resonance with the character of Copernicus.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot
Amazing story, well written and structured, and a page-turner throughout. Read this.

Distrust That Particular Flavor
William Gibson
Some great stuff in here, esp. "Disneyland with the Death Penalty", "My Private Tokyo", "Johnny: Notes on a Process"

Rin Tin Tin

Susan Orlean
Great writing, great story.

Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman
Excellent book on how and why we act, react, and think. I think it's particularly insightful about bias and choice, and along with Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein should be required reading for the whole world.

Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens
Andrea Wulf
Interesting story, and a great origin of big science/international cooperation. Makes current travel difficulties pale by comparison.

Lincoln at Gettysburg
Garry Wills
Terrific close reading of Lincoln's address; the context and the structure are both fascinating and illuminating. Terrific book, and a guide to powerful speechmaking as well.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
Sean Howe
Fascinating, but I don't know what lessons to learn except that you shouldn't expect job security or creative license unless you're at the very top of the executive heap. And it is a heap. Made me want to read, or re-read, some of the more interesting-sounding (in a train-wreck sort of way, on occasion) series.

The Signal and the Noise
Nate Silver
Silver takes a victory lap even before his amazing calls of the 2012 election. A great book, full of important ideas.

Where Did Our Love Go?
Nelson George
History of Motown, focusing on business dealings but with plenty of interesting analysis of how/why Motown worked, and then didn't. Quintessential Detroit, both good and bad.

Graphic Novel

The Cardboard Valise
Ben Katchor
Elliptical and occasionally beautiful. A pleasure to read and see, and a wonderful physical package.

Walt & Skeezix: 1929-1930
Frank O. King
The extended sequence about Skeezix's inheritance is too long by a lot of weeks, but overall the book is still a treat and a ticket back to a wonderful, imagined world.

One Soul
Ray Fawkes
Technically and formally brilliant, but emotional and attractive as well.

Harvey Pekar's Cleveland
Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant
Not his best writing, but still good, and Remnant's art is terrific all the way through. Meet the new Crumb, and the new standard for drawing Pekar.

Drama
Raina Telgemeier
Another note-perfect story about being someone just discovering yourself, and learning to like what you find.

The Mighty Alice
Richard Thompson
Mighty, as always.

The Score
Darwyn Cooke
Another good entry in the Parker series of adaptations by Cooke. What else to say; hard-boiled just the way real lugs and dames like it.

Big Questions
Anders Nilsen
Remarkable. Not sure what to think, or how to analyze this, but it's up there with the great graphic novels I've read.

Sailor Twain
Mark Siegel
Much, much better in one chunk than serialized. And it was great fun serialized. A lovely book, worth revisiting.


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