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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January 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

So January is over and it’s been a good month. Especially with regard to reading. My goal for this year was to read 52 books and in January, I’ve read 5 books which means that I’m not only on track – but ahead of the game.

Allmost all of last year, each day I logged into Goodreads I was greeted by a sign telling me how many books I was behind so to actually be ahead, is really nice.

The year started really well with 3 5-stars reads – then a very solid 4-stars read and then a book, that was a bit of a disappointment.

  1. Yiyun Li: The Vagrants. A wonderful book with a very gripping rendering of life in China in 1979. Heart-breaking. 5 stars.
  2. Donna Tartt: The Secret History. A very intelligent book about a group of very intelligent Classics students who re-enact a Bacchanal with – in their view – troubling consequences. 5 stars.
  3. Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin. A very disturbing read where a mother in letters try to come to terms with her son being a high-school killer. Definitely not a book for new mothers! 5 stars.
  4. Stephen King: 11.22.63. King’s take on the JFK assassination. A really great time-travelling book where King explores the America of the late 50s-early 60s. Very compelling read. 4 stars.
  5. Chan Koonchung: The Fat Years. A book that could have been so much but failed to live up to it’s potential. Still inspiring a lot of thoughts though. 3 stars.

I’ve read 2200 pages – the longest book this month was Stephen King’s 11.22.63 checking in at 740 pages. On top of that I’ve read one e-book: The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung.

I’m also on track with challenges, I think. I’ve read 4 books for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge where I’ve signed up for 25.  And I’m doing even better on the Chunkster Reading Challenge. I am committed to read 6 chunksters and I’ve already read 3.

See more on my challenge page.

For February, I first of all want to finish Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals. But then I really want to spend some time reading Charles Dickens since on February 7th, it’s the 200 years anniversary for his birth as well as watching some Dickens related movies and TV. But more on that later.

Donna Tartt: The Secret History (Review)

So this is my second novel by Donna Tartt – and her first novel. And it’s an amazing first novel. Our main character, Richard Papen, starts attending Hampden College when he’s 19. Here, he starts taking Classics studies. Now at this college, Classics studies is only for the select few. In fact, the entire class consists of 5 other students – Henry, Francis, Bunny and the twins Camilla and Charles. And their professor, Julian, requires them to take all their classes with him – only in a few cases does he allow them to take classes with other professors. This means, that the Classics group becomes a little tight knit group of friends. Now the other 5 have known each other for a while and are for the most part very privileged kids and this is the group Richard tries to enter.

And he does succeed. To a certain extent. He becomes friends with them but still, he feels that they keep something hidden from him. When he finds out that they’ve had a bacchanal where they’ve accidentally killed a man, he is drawn even closer in – and finds out, that he wasn’t the only one left out.

In the very beginning of the book, in the prologue, we’re told that the group kills one of their own. They kill Bunny. The rest of the book is an investigation of the events that led to the murder – and what happens afterwards.

This is a mystery, an intellectual thriller. It’s a book about very privileged kids, not very lovable or charming, but you still end up somewhat caring about what happens to them. And you care a lot about what happens in the book. Each time I sat down to read just a little bit, I ended reading much further and for longer time than I intended. This is a page turner in it’s own way – especially after Bunny has died.

In a lot of ways this book is over the top – we have murders, suicides, drugs, incest, sex, alcoholism. Everything is exaggerated. But it reminds me of the Greek tragedies where everything too was so excessive. In a good way, I mean. I think the structure of this book can be viewed in the light of hubris, ate and nemesis – like any good Greek tragedy. For the first part we follow the characters’ lives. Their self-indulgences, their aloofness towards other students, their relationships with each other. And in a lot of ways, they’re really arrogant. It’s a tough group for Richard to get into because of this – but when he becomes a part of it, he becomes a part of the arrogance as well. Especially Henry, the leader of the group, is so superior in his intellect and knowledge that he hardly can avoid feeling superior to everyone else. But we all know, the gods punish hubris – and then the madness begins. They reenact a bacchanal, kill someone and that leads to the whole affair with Bunny. Also – the whole idea of them being able to have a bacchanal is pure hubris. Of course, it’s Henry’s idea. And after the bacchanal, after all the craziness, after ate, we know what follows. Nemesis. If there’s one thing this book teaches, it is that actions have consequences – even if you think you can get away with murder, there’s a price to pay. I like that in a book that has the studies of Classics as a major part of the plot, the author uses the traditional Greek story telling tricks to tell her story.

I was fascinated mostly with the character of Henry. He personifies the whole hubris-ate-nemesis theory in this book. He’s so intelligent and so intellectual, he can read several languages and has a huge knowledge. But he doesn’t know how to live. How to act. How to just be. Until he murders someone, that is.

Still, I have one issue with this book. Or I think I do. I’m not sure. The more I think about it, the more perfect the ending may be. At first, I thought it was too easy. It shocked me but I thoughtt the author could have solved it better. But now, I think it was just right. I don’t think it could have ended any way. Greek tragedies also always ended with people dying left and right. Why shouldn’t this modern tragedy not end up the same way?

  • Title: The Secret History
  • Author: Donna Tartt
  • Publisher: Penguin Book
  • Year: 1992
  • Pages: 629 pages
  • Stars: 5 out of 5 stars