Top Ten Books I Read In 2012

So I read quite a few good books this year, 42 so far and 11 of which I rated 5 stars. Of these, I’ve selected 10 and put together the list below. So it was quite easy to do. They are listed in an order reflecting only on the order I read them in, the last read mentioned first. These are all great books, if you haven’t read them, you should go do so now! As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

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  1. Elie Wiesel: Night. Wiesel’s short book about his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, is almost beyond description. It’s a must read for anyone, simply put.
  2. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of this book yet but it still seems that I have been talking about it all over the place. Hugo can write about anything and he frequently steers off on a tangent to do just so. Still, this story about Jean Valjean and Colette is a wonderful book, it’s a classic and it’s worth the many pages and the huge amount of time, it takes to take.
  3. Mark Helprin: Winter’s Tale. I really like magical realism. This story of Beverly Penn and Peter Lake and Athansor set in a mythic and fictionalized New York City is written in the most beautiful and lyrical way and I just loved it. So much in fact, that I don’t dare to read another novel by Helprin because I’m afraid that it will not live up to this one.
  4. Koushun Takami: Battle Royale. In some ways, this is the Japanese version of The Hunger Games. A class of kids with weapons are set free on an island to shoot each other down until only one remains. This is much more violent than The Hunger Games and it’s such an exciting book. Pure entertainment.
  5. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. How does a boy handle loosing his father? How does he handle loosing him in the 9-11 attack? This is a wonderful story of a young boy dealing with this loss and at the same time, it’s an experimental novel using pictures and more to tell this story. Foer is an amazing writer and he writes so well and not only uses pictures to emphasize his story, but also paints pictures with his words. And in this way, he is telling Oscar Schell’s story as well as the story of his grandfather who survived the fire bombing of Dresden during World War II.
  6. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. So if everyone knew just how thrilling the classics can be, everyone would be reading them. And to get them doing so, everyone should be handed this one and told to go read it. When I read it, I just sat down and read and read and read, ignored everything around me to finish this novel to figure out what happened to Walter Hartright, Laura Fairlie, Marian Halcombe and the woman in white.
  7. Dan Simmons: Drood. On June 9, 1865, Dickens was in a train disaster that influenced him for the rest of his life. This is Simmons’ account of what happened. And it’s amazing and exhilarating and exciting and even when you’re done, you’re really not sure what happened. It was so good!
  8. Lionel Shriver: We Need To Talk About Kevin. I read this in the beginning of the year and … well, after what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it just became an even more important book. Everyone should read this. It tells the story of a mother whose son guns down several of his school mates. Is it nature or nurture who caused this to happen? If it’s nature, can you do something to prevent it from happening? I don’t want to get political here but really, everyone should read this!
  9. Donna Tartt: The Secret History. Richard Papen starts attenting college and taking Classics studies. The group of kids studying Classics studies consists of 5 other students and are taught by the charismatic Julian. But right from the beginning, you know that this group of friends kill one of their own and you’re eagerly reading on to find out why and how this happened. This is Donna Tartt’s first novel and it’s amazing! Much better than other books with a similar theme like Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
  10. Yiyun Li: The Vagrants. This is one of those novels that hurts you when you read it but which is worth the pain. It’s set in China in 1979 and it’s about the execution of a 28 years old woman and the consequences of this death. I’m fascinated by China and what happened in China after Mao came to power, after the Cultural Revolution and more. This is a debut novel and you should definitely read it now so you can say you were in almost from the beginning!

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April 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

April started with a short 9-11 theme where I read three books related to 9-11. I really like it when you get to look at a subject from different authors’ point of view. I loved it when I read a lot about Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood and I have enjoyed it with these 9-11 books too. I really have to incorporate that more in my reading in the future! But … not much else happened with regard to reading this month.

Again this month I had hoped to make it through 6 books, but darn that Clarissa. She’s standing in the way of my making it to more than 4. I’m not sure exactly what happened this month. 3 out of the 4 books were rather short – and the last one, Battle Royale, was long (624 pages) but easy to read so even though I spent time reading Clarissa, I should have read at least 5 books. And this means that I’m only 2 books ahead now. I had hoped to be 4 books ahead at this point – I need to build up a solid lead to prepare for Les Miserables later this year …

So – here’s what I did manage to finish this month.

  1. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. An incredibly book about a boy loosing his father in the 9-11 attacks and trying to come to term with it. 5 stars.
  2. Don DeLillo: Falling Man. A survivor from the attacks on the World Trade Centers try to come to terms with his life and figure out how to put his life back together while a performance artist reenacts one of the victims’ fall all over town. 3 stars.
  3. Amy Waldman: The Submission. What if a Muslim American designs the winning monument for Ground Zero? What would happen? A good book that manages to evoke the feeling that was dominating in the time after the 9-11 attacks. 3 stars.
  4. Koushun Takami: Battle Royale. 40 students is put on an island, given weapons and told to fight each other ’till only one is still alive. The Hunger Games for adults – with much more violence. 5 stars.

I only read 1495 pages this month. Normally, I read more than 2000 pages a month so I’m not sure what happened. Yes, I did read some Clarissa, but still. I did that too in the previous months. And in some of them I read more than 2000 pages as well as a book on my kindle and some Clarissa. So this month was just bad. And I don’t know why…

So I did rather lousy with my challenges this month. I did read 3 books for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge so I have now read 13 books so far for this challenge. So I’m more than halfway there so this is going good. I did read another bonus chunkster this month for the Chunkster ChallengeBattle Royale with it’s 624 pages. I still need to read one book which is greater than 750 pages so I didn’t make any progress with this challenge. I didn’t read anything by either Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman, so no progress with either of these challenges. I’m struggling along with the Clarissa read-a-long – I’m finding it really hard to take time from the other books I’m reading to sit down with Clarissa. So I’m behind but not a lot and I will catch up at some point. I’m stubborn enough to finish this book this year (at least I’m pretty sure I’m that stubborn…!). And finally, my own challenge, my list of 25 books that I want to read this year … and I managed to read … none. Zero. Zilch.

Since I didn’t read even one book from my list of 25 books, I have some catching up to do. Since I don’t want to play catch-up in the last months of this year, I have to get some books read from my list and for the other challenges. So I have to focus on that in May. I plan to finish The City & The City, of course, and probably also Dragonfly in Amber and The Mists of Avalon – and hopefully 1 or two more. And that’s just to catch up! Sighs … But I made this list because I really want to read these books so I just have to buckle down and get to it! And that’s what May is for!

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Koushun Takami: Battle Royale (review)

It’s impossible to write a review of this book without mentioning The Hunger Games. So let me start there and then I’ll return to it later. When I heard there was a Japanese novel with roughly the same plot line as The Hunger Games, I had to read it. I mean – a Japanese author writing about kids killing each other on an island? Have you seen Japanese tv-/reality-shows? There’s no way this is not going to be good. So I got it from the library and dove right in. I read it as quickly as I could and I really enjoyed it.

Most people by now have either read or seen The Hunger Games – or at least it feels that way. At least everyone know what it’s about. Battle Royale is like The Hunger Games – but with more serious weapons, more violence and more deaths.

In Battle Royale, one class of 40 students is chosen to go to an island and fight it out until death. They’re drugged while driving in a bus, supposedly going on a school trip. Instead, they’re taken to a school on an island and here, they are informed that they are going to participate in the Program.

To convince them that this is real, they are shown their dead teacher who tried to stand up for them and when a couple of students either protest or whisper to each other, they’re killed by the soldiers. So now, everyone grasp that this is reality. Each student has had a collar put on and are told that if they enter a forbidden zone or if there has been no killings in 24 hours, the collars will explode, killing them. They are all given a random backpack with a weapon in – weapons goes from uzis and machine guns to rusty knives and binoculars. And then the games begin.

Some of the students don’t want to play the game and try to stay out of it while other immediately embrace it and go all in. Others still are so scared and panicked that they just act when they meet another student on the island. What Takami does very well is to show why these students act like they do. When reading books like this, I often wonder what makes people do what they do but then again, they are put in situations so extreme and are bombarded with impressions that are constructed to force a certain reaction out of them. And that is what happens in this book too. Some students react violently, some heroically, some rise above and some fall so far down…

When reading this, you get to experience every death. Whenever a student dies, you are right there with them. Some students are main characters – others are just featured for a few pages before they’re killed off by one of their class mates. It’s a bloody mess, frankly, and it’s so very good.

So did Suzanne Collins rip off Battle Royale when she wrote her hugely popular The Hunger Games series? There is no question about there being a lot of similarities between the two. But just because the basic idea is the same with teenagers killing each other off in order to win, and just because there are other similarities as well with some having to play the game more than once as well as some similarities in the endings, I don’t think Suzanne Collins did rip Battle Royale off. The Hunger Games is not Collins’ first book so she know how to write a novel. And I read one of her rare interviews where she talks about the inspiration for The Hunger Games. According to this, she was flipping through channels one night and saw young people competing for money on one channel and images from the Iraq war on another and these things merged in her mind and from that, she got the idea for The Hunger Games. This makes sense to me. Maybe she did know of Battle Royale when she wrote her books, maybe she didn’t. According to her, she didn’t. Either way, she certainly made the idea of teenagers fighting it out to the end her very own. She created something unique with her story and her characters and even if some of the themes are similar, the stories are different.

And maybe both Suzanne Collins and Koushun Takami owe something to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies where a group of boys get stranded on an island, tries to self-govern but everything breaks down and they end up forming two groups, fighting each other. Not many deaths in this novel though. But Collins and Takami step that part way up as well as change the reason for the children being there – from it being an accident to it being a planned situation, created to cause casualties.

I think both books – all three, in fact – have their own merits and I highly recommend them all. I can’t quite say if I prefer The Hunger Games or Battle Royale. I think they both have their strengths. Battle Royale is probably not suited for The Hunger Games intended readers but it’s a great, thrilling read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

And finally – here’s what Stephen King had to say about it back in 2007 on Entertainment Weekly:

Recommended to me by novelist Kelly Braffet (Josie and Jack), Battle Royale is an insanely entertaining pulp riff that combines Survivor with World Wrestling Entertainment. Or maybe Royale is just insane. Forty-two Japanese high school kids who think they’re going on a class trip are instead dropped on an island, issued weapons ranging from machine guns to kitchen forks, and forced to fight it out until only one is left alive. Royale bears some resemblance to Richard Bachman’s The Long Walk. You probably won’t find it at your local bookstore, but you can order it online. ”No prob,” as Takami’s Springsteen-quoting teenagers are fond of saying.

  • Title: Battle Royale
  • Author: Koushun Takami
  • Publisher: VIZ Media
  • Year: 2003 (original 1999)
  • Pages: 624 pages
  • Source: Library
  • Stars:  stars out of 5

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