Last year I think I finished fewer than 20 books, possibly an all time low. So instead of the usual top ten, this year I give you my top five. I can assure you what they lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality.
5. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. First, a disclaimer: cousinly incest features prominently (and unapologetically) in this book. Not in a graphic sex kind of way, but in a love story kind of way. If that bugs you don’t read it and blame me for recommending it. BUT. Oh the voice–what makes this book work so well is the tight point of view and the absolutely real voice of the protagonist. This was one of those stories that made me feel like I’d just been through the harrowing experience along with the characters, and like a good friend had moved away when the story was over. Read it if you like flawed, believable characters and stories that make your heart ache.
4. Among Others by Jo Walton reads like the journal of a precocious teenaged brainiac who loves sci-fi and fantasy novels . . . and also happens to be a witch. The magical elements of the story are woven into the rest of the protagonist’s daily life so smoothly it’s easy to accept them as real, until later when you’re doing dishes or taking a shower and you go “hey wait a minute!”. Also, Among Others features a protagonist with a disability and explores the way her disability affects how she is received by her peers and teachers. Read it if you love magical realism and/or books about books.
3. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson. Every time I read anything by Jeannette Winterson I wonder why anyone else bothers to write at all. Last year there weren’t many books that could hold my attention and get me to sit still for more than 30 minutes at a time, but Winterson’s work always pins me down until I finish. Written . . . got me thinking about grief, and about how easy it is for us to describe our sorrows–and how difficult it sometimes is to convey moments of joy and relief. The narrator of Written on the Body–unnamed, of undisclosed gender–lingers over his or her grief for pages and pages, while moments of happiness are hinted at or barely glanced over, almost as if he or she is terrified to even mention them lest they be snatched away. Read it if you like meditations on love and loss, or if you can’t get enough of delicious prose.
2. The Chronology of Water: A Memoir by Lidia Yuknavitch. I couldn’t decide if I liked Yuknavitch’s biography until I was at least half way through it. Not that I was bored or uninterested, just that I couldn’t see where it was going, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it once I did know. And I’m not sure the exact moment when I went from thinking “What the fuck?” to “FUCK YES!”, but it was probably while I was reading the memoir in a frozen yogurt shop on a dark, rainy Saturday and weeping into a watered-down cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows. I suppose this memoir wouldn’t be for everyone. I’m sure reviewers use words like “unflinching” and “unapologetic” to describe it. Yuknavitch herself, in an interview at the end of the book, talks about how hard it is for people to accept narratives about addiction and abuse that don’t follow the culturally acceptable script of sobriety and sanity. She put it better than I can but I had to give the book back to my girlfriend so I can’t give you a direct quote. Read it if you love unconventional grammar and unexpected outcomes.
1. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson. Yes, my two favorite books of 2012 were memoirs of wretched childhoods and battles for sanity. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about me based on that fact. In the case of Jeannette Winterson’s autobiography . . . well. She and I shared a lot of common childhood experiences, and a lot of common struggles in adulthood as a result, so it spoke to me in a pretty personal way. Also, see “delicious prose” above. Read this if . . . hell, just read it, Winterson’s writing is gorgeous and compelling and this memoir manages to be both honest and hopeful. Read it, and send me thank you presents for recommending it.
What were your favorites?