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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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.

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June 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up post

So with June gone, we’re halfway through the year and it’s time to do not only a monthly wrap-up post but take a look at the first 6 months and see how far I’ve come in my goals for the year. In total, I’ve read 26 books which is one every week and exactly half of my goal of 52 books – so right on target with that one. Of the 25 books I’ve decided to read this list, I’ve read 12 which is pretty much on target too. So I just need to basically repeat this in the second half of the year.

I also want to talk about Armchair BEA, an online book blogger award that took place early June. For four days, bloggers socialized, talked about books and visited each others blog and discussed the many facets of book blogging. I met some fascinating new people, found great new blogs and had a great time. Although I haven’t changed anything on the blog after BEA, I certainly got a lot to think about as well as some new inspiration – and got more certain about some of the things I do. Maybe I will add some new features or change things up a bit at a later point, for now I’m pretty much satisfied with things as they are. I highly recommend anyone to join Armchair BEA if it is held again next year.

I’ve read 1794 pages this month which is a bit of an improvement on the last couple of months but still not quite where I want it to be. I made it through 4 books which is okay but again, I really would like to read 2000+ pages and at least 5 books.

  1. Haruki Murakami: Underground. Murakami’s take on the 1995 terror attack in the Tokyo subway. Interviews with victims and with members of the cult who did it. All together, they give an interesting view into terrorist attacks in general and the Japanese psyche in specific. 4 stars.
  2. Mark Helprin: Winter’s Tale. The fourth book added to my favorites shelf this year! (The other three were We Need to Talk about Kevin, Drood and The Woman in White.) Such an amazing book – Peter Lake, Beverly Penn, Athansor and all the other fantastic characters that you can’t help fall in love with. Bigger than life characters, beautiful language, great story – all set in a mythical New York. It’s a great, great book. 5 stars.
  3. Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders. I’m sorry to admit that these novels about ‘fallen women’ from the 18th century isn’t really working for me. Still, it’s an interesting read this story of Moll Flander’s life, several marriages and children, criminal career and prison time. 3 stars.
  4. Salman Rushdie: Shalimar the Clown. Amazing story about Shalimar, his wife Boonyi, Max Ophuls the American ambassador to India, and Max and Boonyi’s daughter India … It’s also about Kashmir, the relationship between muslims and hindus – and it’s such a great read! 4 stars.
Even though I feel like I worked hard with Clarissa this month, I haven’t finished the June letters yet. I have read more than half of them though, and at the moment, I’m enjoying them very much. Expect my Clarissa read-along post in a few days.

I finished the Haruki Murakami challenge – since I had only signed up to read one book by Murakami this year, this challenge was finished the moment I closed Underground. I do hope that I will have time to read more Murakami this year, time to read some of his fiction. All in all, I’m feeling on target with all my challenges.

So in July, I’m going to spend time watching Tour de France and reading about it, as I’ve already mentioned. I think I can read through the three books rather quickly and after that, I’m not quite sure what I want to continue with but I probably need to focus a bit on books for my challenge, maybe the two last volumes in the Earth Children’s series by Jean M. Auel, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley or The Message to the Planet by Iris Murdoch. I hope to get a lot of reading done in June to stay on track!

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Mark Helprin: Winter’s Tale (review)

When I buy books nowadays, it’s always books where I either know the book or the author. If I’m at a bookstore and find a book I don’t know, I always check it out at goodreads before I buy it. But still, it’s very rarely that I walk into a bookstore and find a book where I’ve never heard of either author or book. In the town where I live, we have a small book cafe where they sell used books. I rarely visit there – in fact, I have only been there about five times. One of these times, I saw a book that looked interesting. I didn’t buy it but I went home and looked it up. What I found out, intrigued me so much that I went back, walked straight up to it, took it and paid the very small amount it costed. 50 Dkr – about 8,5 USD. I have never heard of the title or the author before but I’m so happy that I visited that book store and bought that book. Trying not to sound corny, but it was just the perfect book for me.

The book was Winter’s Tale. The author was Mark Helprin. And the book is beautiful, lyrical, poetic, almost like a fairy tale – just amazing. It’s one of those books where you don’t feel like any words you write will or can do it justice but where you just want to shout out to people ‘read this!’.

The story is set in a mythic and fictionalized New York City at both the beginning and the end of the twentieth century. It centers around Peter Lake and the Penn family, especially his love, Beverly Penn. Peter Lake is a burglar from when burglars were still honorable. While breaking into a house, he meets Beverly Penn, an heiress. They fall in love even though she’s dying from consumption. Their love is the thing giving meaning to all of Peter Lake’s life, a life so fantastic and amazing that … well, you just have to read this book yourself.

And we must not forget Athansor, the huge white horse. Every scene featuring Athansor is heartbreaking, beautiful, touching. Athansor is a sort of protector for Peter Lake, a horse with incredible powers. He can run and jump faster and longer than any other horse and, oh yeah, he can fly. There are some harsh scenes that will be nasty to read for any horse lover but the beauty of Athansor is well worth the heartbreaking scenes.

This is one of those books where after you’ve read it, you read other reviews because the plot is so complex and enchanting that you’re looking for a way to summarize it without giving too much away but also, without just writing some nonsense which tells nothing about the book at all but makes it sound boring and uninteresting. I’m really not sure how to sum up the novel because there’s so much content in it and the complexity of the storyline is incredible. So that’s why I went looking for someone who could sum up this novel – without finding it. It’s something that must be felt, I think.

The writing in this novel is part of it’s attractiveness. Overall, it’s just beautiful. I could post any number of quotes, attesting to the gorgeousness that is Helprin’s writing. But since I always write very long reviews, I thought I’d tackle two things at once and show how he writes and choose a quote that talks about something else I want to address. Since this novel involves people sort of traveling in time – at least existing across quite a lot of time, Helprin of course has to address the matter of time.

‘If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer to that is simple. Nothing is predetermined; it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined. No matter, it all happened at once, in less than an instant, and time was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given – so we track it, in linear fashion, piece by piece. Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is – and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite  astonishingly beautiful. In the end, or, rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others.’ (p. 401-402)

So all time exists at the same time, if you can even say that. We are only to see one part of the time but people like Peter Lake, Beverly Penn and others are capable of more. They have a completely other vision of the universe than ordinary humans, they are larger than life characters and they live in a novel where time, life and death, love and divine beings are making humans capable of more than they thought. It’s about the limits of human experience and unlimited love. It’s an amazing metaphysical novel that has been put on my favorite shelf immediately after finishing.

There is so much more in this novel that I haven’t touched upon. Characters that will make you love them or break your heart. Peter Lake, Beverly Penn and Athansor will stay with any reader for a long time. Whenever you look up at a starry sky, you’ll try to see what  Beverly Penn saw – and ultimately, you’ll just return to the novel again to read about her visions, about Athansor, about Peter Lake, about love and the building of bridges.

  • Title: Winter’s Tale
  • Author: Mark Helprin
  • Publisher: Harcourt Books
  • Year: 1983
  • Pages: 748 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5