Friday, January 25, 2013

Top 5 Books I read in 2012

Photo by:  Futurilla of Flickr
This post, and some of my subsequent posts on similar topics, may seem a bit late because, y'know, we're almost a month into the new year at this point and people have already forgotten their resolution to stop drinking and exercise more and have returned to their habits of not moving for 72 hours straight while binging on Heaven Hill whiskey and Strawberry Hill.  WELL SCREW YOU I DO WHAT I WANT!

Here are my top 5 books that I read in 2012.

A few caveats:

* These are my personal favorites.  Your mileage may vary.  I am not you and you are not me.  Unless you're a secret clone the government made from the spare hair follicles I keep leaving in my brush, in which case you are me.  Or am I you?  EVERYTHING I'VE KNOWN IS A LIE!
*Note the title of this is "the top five books that I read in 2012.  That doesn't mean they came out in 2012, only that that's when I read them.
* If I don't mention something, it's that I don't like it.  It just means that I only wanted to write about 5 books rather than do a breakdown of all 20 books read last year.  Also, I read a lot of great books, which helps.
* These are listed in no particular order.  It was already difficult paring things down from the initial 20.  For God's sake, don't ask my to try to organize my thoughts, too.  What do you want from me?  I'm not a wind-up toy to be engaged whenever you fancy, you monsters!

5) Under the Dome - Stephen King

I have been a fan of Stephen King's ever since I was 12.  The first book of his that I read was The Talisman, followed by reading about half of It.  I haven't actually finished it--not because I don't enjoy it (I do), and not because I find it too scary (I don't--not that it isn't scary, I just don't scare that easily), it's because it's so damned long that I keep getting interrupted with things that I have to do, and so I can't donate the brain power to it.

I thought I would have the same problem with Under the Dome.  It's a massive tome of a novel, and I knew something would interrupt me reading it and I'd have to put it down, and I wouldn't be able to get back to it for a long time, and I'd forget what had been happening up until that point, and then I'd have to start all over, but then I would feel fatigue from not wanting to start over again, so I would just put it aside, and isn't this an epically long compound sentence?

In point of fact, I didn't not have to put it down--partially because it didn't let me.  From page one it had me riveted, and I spent the rest of the book wishing I could read faster so I could find out what happened next.  I finished it in about three weeks, but it only took that long because I was reading it and juggling a particularly busy stretch of my job at the same time.

King has always had an amazing knack for characterization, and his look at small-town politics and what might happen if people were put into a self-contained situation is incredible.  Each character feels like a real person.  Each character has their own motivations and drives, even the villains--rather than just being mustache-twirling cartoons.  In a way, this story felt like a companion story to Lord of the Flies, but rather than young boys, this looks at how people of all ages would handle total isolation.

4) Blackbirds - Chuck Wendig

I discovered Chuck Wendig last year from my friend, Brooke Johnson.  I read one of his lists of 25 pieces of writing advice, liked his tone, his writing style, and his artisinal use of profanity.  I gave Blackbirds a try partially because he kept talking about it on Twitter.  It was a fantastic decision.

Miriam Black, Wendig's main character, is broken, but understandably so.  You'd be broken, too, if you could see the detailed ways that everyone that touched you would die.  It's a morbid and fascinating rumination on mortality and fate, and Miriam has a razor sharp, acerbic wit that will keep you laughing when you're not praying to whatever deity you find holy that she makes it out alive.

And if you like Blackbirds, Wendig wrote a sequel.

3) Fuzzy Nation - John Scalzi

I so badly wanted to include Redshirts on this list.  I actually got an ARC of Redshirts, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was funny, smart, and even tugged at the heartstrings a bit.

However, Fuzzy Nation, while having been out for a while, felt more fleshed out, and ultimately more satisfying both as a story and with its humor.  I'll admit to having never read Little Fuzzy, the book that John Scalzi is "rebooting," so to speak, with this novel, but I know that Scalzi's novel is very well done.  It proposes a lot of very interesting biological things involving flora and fauna on alien planets, it examines the relationship between workers, corporations, and nature, and there's even some Lawyers In Space action.  It's cool, it's weird, and it's hilarious.

If you want a book that is perfectly crafted, this is the book for you.  It's so well written that, upon finishing, I wanted to reread it just so I could point out to myself where Scalzi laid the ground work that would either be built on later, or would foreshadow later events.  Scalzi may openly admit to writing "marketable" books, but by god he is a gifted writer as well.

2) Krampus: The Yule Lord - Brom

I feel a little bad saying this, but I didn't want to include this book on my list.  It was a book I bought completely on a lark because the premise was so ludicrous, and the subject matter happened to hit just right on my preference range, that I had to buy it.  But I didn't expect anything of it, I was just looking for 1) a book about Krampus because I love counter-cultural ideas and, 2) a fun read for right around the holiday season.

But here's the thing about Krampus...it's actually good.  Like, legitimately, surprisingly good.  It caught me off guard like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (the book, not the movie) did.  It took a ridiculous concept, played it straight, but ultimately wound up succeeding as a novel.  You care about both Krampus and his human reluctant helper, Jesse, and although their stories are different, they blend together in fantastically unexpected and wonderful ways.


***MINOR SPOILERS YOU'VE BEEN WARNED***
Plus, tying Krampus in with Norse mythology was decidedly brilliant.
***MINOR SPOILERS YOU'VE BEEN WARNED***


1) The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

I love John Green's novels.  I've seen criticism that his dialog is too snappy and fast paced and drags people out of the realism of the world, and to those people I say: You must be hanging out with the wrong teenagers.  I've seen plenty with the level of wit and charm that Green writes.

Not only is Green talented with dialog, but he often taps into an emotional core and truth in situations that makes you feel like the doors of the universe are being thrown open and Green is pointing out all the gears that make the thing keep going.  He's an amazingly gifted writer, and how Green managed to take a book about two characters with cancer and keep their relationship from becoming some sappy Nicholas Sparks-esque cliche is a miracle.  But he does it.  He paints Augustus and Hazel as beautifully flawed, funny, sweet, and tragic, all at the same time.

Honestly, TFioS (at it is called on the internet) earned it's spot on the New York Times Bestseller list for a solid year and then some.  It is an amazing work, and if you have not read it yet, you must do so quickly.