I just barely made my annual goal of reading 150 books; this year the book-reading machine was derailed by spending lots of time poking around in guidebooks to Egypt, Jordan, and England. I did not count most of those books in my reading totals.
But here’s my list of the Best of the Best of those 150 that I read. In sort-of descending order…meaning that I save the best three for last.
1) Going Bovine by Libba Bray
I find so many of my very favorite books by reading books my friends hate. Why is that? Do we really have such opposing tastes? But I honestly don’t see how anyone could hate this book. It’s a smart, clever, snarky real-life fantasy with heart and social commentary and brilliance all wrapped up with yard gnomes and mad cows.
2) Surviving Survival by Laurence Gonzales
I’m reading a lot more non-fiction that I used to, which is excellent. This one is completely fascinating. And if anything horrible has happened to destroy your life, this book might actually bring you genuine help and relief.
3) Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost
Now this is the kind of travel book I like, one that doesn’t feel it has to sugar-coat anything. I couldn’t put it down! And I kept reading bits of it aloud to anyone who happened to be in the room with me, which is a sure sign I’ve found a truly fascinating book.
That said, if you’re planning a trip to China, this book just might change your mind. I’ve never really felt much desire to visit China in person, and now? I’ve *definitely* absolutely crossed it off my list of to-go places in the world. Just the pollution alone…GAH. I’m not sure the Chinese are going to live long enough to become the next Superpower in the world.
4) The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne Valente
Absolutely brilliant language, characters, and storytelling. If this book has a flaw, it’s that the language is *so* lovely and perfect, that I found it difficult to be sucked into the story at first. I just kept reading every single sentence over again and examining it like I would a jewel. It’s technically a ‘children’s book’, but if you’re the sort of person who shuns reading a book because it’s shelved in the children’s area, then shame, shame, shame on you.
5) Breasts by Florence Williams
I was introduced to this book when a particular skeevy guy handed it over the library front desk to me…with a particularly skeevy smile. I started flipping through it, and while I imagine the skeevy guy was quite disappointed by it, I was captivated. Fascinating, educational, and you (yes YOU!) have to read it if you own a pair of breasts – and especially if you ever plan on having children. The chapter on breast milk blew my mind, and I now believe breast milk to be one of the most amazing things on the planet.
6) White People by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Such a lovely story on the fear of death, and why that fear shouldn’t exist.
7) Stay Awake by Dan Chaon
I was SO HAPPY when I saw this book on my to-be-processed cart at my library. Dan Chaon is an absolute master (and my personal favorite) in the short story genre. His language is like poetry – and in this collection, numerous times it literally does slip into poetry, in the most natural way possible. I find myself re-reading sections: the first and second time because they were so beautiful, and then again because I want to discover how he did that…right there. That perfect bit of writing.
My story favorite is definitely the last: “The Farm. The Gold. The Lily-White Hands.” Haunting. I think it’s now on my list of the five best short stories ever written.
8) The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
So good, and so well done. It’s really quite impossible to put this book down. I loved the interweaving of the the past and the present. It’s a perfect example of how to do that style of writing.
9) Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller
This book is not about the martial arts, or at least the majority of the book is not. The book is actually about how to prepare yourself to survive violence of any kind, and the reasons why you might, or might not. Fascinating, because Miller lives with extreme violence as a daily event, and knows of what he speaks. I particularly appreciate that his emphasis is on avoidance; his belief is that although there are times when violence is unavoidable, for most ‘ordinary’ people, it IS avoidable, simply by the decisions we make, daily. But we can’t make the right decisions if we don’t understand what we’re doing, and that’s where this book could become a life-changer.
Highly, highly recommended to everyone, women and men. Especially if you think you don’t need a book like this!
10) Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller
I have several characters in my head that are professional criminals. I’ve always been pretty sure I know what their mindset is, but I was excited to read this book, because if I was wrong, I knew I could trust the author to shatter my illusions. (Rory Miller is the Real Deal.)
It turns out I actually do have a handle on real violence and the criminal mind! What Miller says in this book is nearly exactly what I already believed to be true, so yay me and my fictional fiends.
And then he adds on brilliant information on what exactly being tasered is like, what different types of bullets do to the human body, and where and how to strike if you want to cause someone the most pain and/or incapacitate them the fastest. And much, much more. Valuable knowledge, this.
And I love how he cuts through the politically-correct BS, and talks about the difference between men and women when it comes to violence, and how female police officers SHOULD be trained, as opposed to male officers. And when it came to women protecting themselves by avoiding dangerous situations, I wanted to stand up and applaud:
“When I tell someone that the most important thing a young woman can do to avoid being raped is to avoid places with lots of young men (and if you absolutely have to go to those place, don’t drink) the dumb responses range from: ‘Girls have a right to have fun’ to ‘You’re just blaming the victim’ all the way up to the ludicrous, ‘A woman should be able to walk naked into a biker bar and not be bothered.’ These are political ideals. They might even be the way the world should work. They are not the way the world actually works. The responsibility for self-protection has to rest with the potential victim because the potential rapist has no interest whatsoever in her safety or rights. The potential victim is the one who cares.”
11) The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
This is The Best Book I read in 2012. Sometimes, when you read a book, it’s so different from the inside of your own head that it feels prickly, or cruel, or too big inside you. Sometimes, you love a book for just those reasons, for the differences between you. Sometimes, you read a book like that over and over and over again, until it alters the actual shape of your brain. And then you say: This book changed my life. And you love it for the rest of your life.
And sometimes, a book just is you. From the first moment you begin reading, it’s already the most perfect size and shape. The Raven Boys is that kind of book for me. It just feels so comfortable; it’s something I could have written myself, the language, the humor – it’s all so perfectly me. These characters…wow. I never even really cared about the plot, I wasn’t reading because I needed to know what the ending was, I just wanted to be here, spending time with these people. They fit me.
Do you have a favorite book you read this year? I’m always looking for suggestions! 🙂