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!

Related posts:

Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2012

 So we are getting closer to Christmas and it shows in the Top Ten topics as well. Last week, we listed the books we wished Santa to bring us and this week, we’re looking back on 2012 and listing the best new-to-us authors we’ve read this year. Looking back over the year, I think I’ve read some really excellent  books, I have read some not so good – and I’ve read books by authors, I haven’t read before or even in some cases, haven’t heard of before. So it was relatively easy for me to put together this list. As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

  1. Yiyun Li. The Vagrants was the first book I finished in 2012 and it was amazing. I just looooooved it. It was a wonderful book and it made me feel so sad. Both people and animals are hurt in it but it’s so worth reading. Yiyun Li is definitely an author that I will keep an eye out for.
  2. Lionel Shriver. We Need To Talk About Kevin freaked me out. It’s one of those books where you stay up reading it because you have to know what happens, you have to finish it – even though you have to get up early in the morning. It was such a nasty read but also very much worth reading.
  3. Dan Simmons. After finishing Drood, I knew I wanted to read more books by Simmons – especially The Terror because he mentions the story in Drood, and it sounds so fascinating.
  4. Wilkie Collins. Like Simmons, Collins was part of my Dickens-and-Drood reading this year. I grew to really like both Dickens, Simmons and Collins. The Woman in White is such a good book, I just sat there and read and read and read to finish it and find out what happened and I’m so looking forward to  reading The Moonstone.
  5. Jonathan Carroll. Almost all Carroll’s books sounds amazing. I enjoyed The Ghost in Love so much and I just want to read more, more, more. I think Carroll might end up on my favorite authors list some day in the future!
  6. Jonathan Safran Foer. Before reading it, I was convinced that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close would be good, but I had no idea how good. I already own Everything is Illuminated, which is supposed to be even better, and Eating Animals so I hope to get around to reading these next year.
  7. Mark Helprin. I had never even heard of Mark Helprin before finding Winter’s Tale in a secondhand bookstore. I bought it – and loved it. It’s an incredibly journey you take when you read this novel and the love story and the characters just stay with you afterwards. It’s a huge novel but amazing.
  8. Ken Follett. Of course I had heard of Ken Follett before. Over and over and over. And I really had no desire to read anything by him but a friend had gifted me The Pillars of the Earth years ago so this year, I challenged myself to actually read it. And guess what, I loved it! Despite a weak ending, the novel was so so good and I’m hoping on Santa bringing me World Without End this year.
  9. Iris Murdoch. A friend challenged me to read Murdoch’s The Message to the Planet – and I liked it quite a bit. It’s a novel that makes you think and challenges you and I think some of Murdoch’s other novels will do so even more. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by her.
  10. Victor Hugo. Les Misérables is one of those classic novels which are rather intimidating. But I had challenged myself to reading it this year and it was an amazing book. It’s huuuuuge but the story of the two lost souls at the center of the book is just beautiful. Hugo can write about sewers in a way that makes you think it the most pretty poetry. Sometimes you feel he has completely lost it but he always manages to bring it all together. And he’s even funny at times.

Related posts:

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.

China: Yiyun Li: The Vagrants (Review)

I have been fascinated by China for several years. I think what really sparked my interest was reading Jung Chang’s amazing family saga Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. I want to learn more about China so I’ve decided to create a reading list about China. I want to read both non-fiction and fiction, both Chinese writers and others. I’m really looking forward to diving into this huge nation and learn more about this fascinating country with an amazing culture but also such a devastating history.

My third choice on my China reading list, is a novel by the Chinese author Yiyun Li, The Vagrants.

When a pebble is thrown into a lake, rings start spreading further and further away from the spot where the pebble penetrated the water. So it is with humans. Our actions influence the people around us and spread in wider and wider circles. But with humans, it’s the relations between people that determines how the rings spread and these relations are not always easy to see. Sometimes people secretly know each other – or used to know each other. And sometimes, something is done to a person that causes ripples, rings and shock waves through a much larger group of persons than expected.

This is what The Vagrants is about. It takes place in China in 1979 after the Culture Revolution in a very short amount of time. Gu Shan is a young woman, 28 years old, and she is the pebble. This novel is about her death and the consequences of it. We don’t really get to know Gu Shan all that well – and what we do get to know, isn’t all that sympathetic. We learn about her through the people influenced by her death – people who knew her, was influenced by her actions, who know her parents – or who see her as a symbol for the resistance against the Communist Party.

Her parents, Teacher Gu and his wife, doesn’t know how to handle this. In some ways, Teacher Gu just wants to forget and move on. It’s better to stay blind than to see, he thinks. But not everyone can forget. Some people trust in the security of masses and wants to do something to right what they see as an injustice.

This is a novel that makes you sad. It makes you sad inside to read about how people treat each other, treat their children and what they do to animals. Maybe this is an expression of how an entire people was desensitized and lost their inner sense of right and wrong by the Communist Party’s various revolutions, propagandas and more. I have a hard time with people caring so little about their children that they don’t even take the time to name them but just call them Little Fourth, Little Fifth and Little Sixth. Of course, these were just girls so why should they name them? Waste of time, I guess.

This novel was full of stories like this. Stories about people hurting and suffering and not having the capacities to take care of each other because life is just so hard and all your focus is directed at survival. Putting food on the table. Staying out of trouble.   But even though you do everything right, the actions of others can get you into trouble. The authorities doesn’t always fact check all that much before they start asking questions – in a rather persuasive way. And if your name is connected with a counterrevolutionary, trouble is coming and it’s knocking on your door late at night.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The characters in this book are so well-written. They all have flaws, they all make wrong decisions, they all suffer the consequences. I think my favorite characters were Tong and Nini because to me, they symbolize the children of China. Nini is a crippled girl. She lives with her parents and 5 sisters and is basically their maid. Since she’s handicapped, there’s no point wasting time on getting her an education – or a husband, for that matter. She has to take care of her sisters, get coal to keep the family warm, make dinner and more.  She constantly has to take care of her baby sister, Little Sixth, but taking care of her is rather easy – you just tie her to the bed so she doesn’t fall off and then leave her to herself.

Even though Tong is a boy, his parents were not thrilled to have him. So at 1 month old, he was shipped off to his grand parents in his country. His parents bring him back when he’s 6 years old, together with his dog. Both he and his dog have a hard time adjusting to life in the city with people they hardly know. There was this one place in the novel where Yuyun Li writes about how Tong had to hit his dog to teach it not to bark all the time and it just made me so sad for this boy and his dog: “In his previous life in the village, Ear had not been trained to stay quiet and unobtrusive. Had it not been for Tong’s parents and the neighbor’s threats to sell Ear to a restaurant, Tong would never have had the heart to slap the dog when they first arrived. A city was an unforgiving place, or so it seemed to Tong, as even the smallest mistake could become a grave offense.” (p. 12-13). And these few lines in the beginning of the book not only sums up Tong’s and Ear’s lives, they sum up the lives of every person in China at that point in history.

I haven’t even really begun to fully explores all these persons and their lives and how it all connect. Teacher Gu and his wife, Old Hua and his wife, Bashi, Kai and her husband Han and his parents, Jialin, Kwen … Everyone. Everyone has a story to tell in this book. Everyone has a story to suffer.

I recently read an article exploring the current status of the one-child policy in China. Lots of people lived lives like Tong’s – growing up for a short or long while with their grandparents because their parents couldn’t fit raising a child in with working. This is how people live. And that’s the point of this book. It’s a novel but it’s based on real people. This is how life in China was – and still is, in some ways. And besides this being a wonderful novel, it should be read because of how it shows China and her people.

Previous posts about my China theme reading: