In this final week between Christmas and the New Year I enjoy thinking about the year that is just about over--what I've enjoyed, experiences great and small, the joys and sadnesses of everyday life. In 2012 I've had some great adventures, developed some new passions, and taken on some new challenges. One thing that has remained constant in my 60+ years is book love--the old fashioned kind with bright covers and printed pages. So far I haven't adopted the new-fangled readers like iPads, Kindles, or Nooks. Still love to OWN my reading, have it stacked on shelves and tables, and be able to re-read, mark and highlight--and loan favorites to friends--at will. So, here you have most of the books I've read in 2012:
And then to break down these stacks a bit further. First, there would be a lot more books piled on this table, but I love re-reading books that speak to me from the beginning. Most readers have definite opinions about this, making the point that there are too many good books to keep re-reading the same ones over and over. For me it's just like visiting dear friends again and again.
In this category, I'll put these Old Friends: Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, a mix of time travel and historical fiction set in Scotland, France, and America. The action shifts from the 1700s to 1900s and put characters in the middle of English-Scottish conflict over the English throne at Culloden to World War II aftermath and the Revolutionary War in America.
I also put Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness series in the Old Friends category. This series is also historical fiction set in New York State, Canada, Scotland and New Orleans of the late 1700s-early 1800s. These novels deal with the settlement of the north, conflict among white settlers, American Indians, Canadians, French and English for control of the rich resources of the northern forests.
In both the Gabaldon and Donati books the characters are strong, the love stories are true and passionate, family loyalties are steadfast. Even the children and pets are memorable. Just what you would want from an old friend, so that's why I don't apologize for reading these again and again.
Next reading category would be by author or subject. If I enjoy an author, I want to read all they've written. This year a friend recommended Spencer Quinn's Chet and Bernie Mysteries. Bernie is a private investigator who has a very able canine assistant, Chet. Together they run the Little Detective Agency from their home in southern California. Chet is the very funny and quotable narrator of these tales. When I adopted a new puppy back in April I named him Chet, hoping that he'd be just as much fun as Chet the Elder. So far he hasn't disappointed!
In 2012 I got interested in Ken Kollett's books again after his Pillars of the Earth was made into a very successful mini series. Here are all the Folletts I've read this year, including the sprawling Fall of the Giants and the sequel Winter of the World. Like his books a lot because they're set in the early to mid-1900s against World War I and II and have enough historical background to make them compelling. I also like how Follett deals with the different social classes--and clashes--as war and commerce narrows the divide between the have and have nots.
Next big category has to be Scandinavian crime fiction. For me it began with the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy (Girl with Dragon Tattoo, . . Played with Fire, . . .Kicked the Hornet's Nest). I've re-read the books this year and seen Swedish and American versions of the films. From there I became interested in Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander Mysteries and the BBC TV series. Last year I traveled to Sweden, Denmark and Norway which only increased my interest in Scandinavian crime writers. Each writer uses the police procedural format with the main character being a personally flawed, but deeply committed to justice for the victim, police detective. In some cases, especially with the women writers, news reporters tell the crime story.
This year I've read Lisa Marklund, Camilla Lackberg, Hakan Nesser, and Stieg Larsson for Swedish crime. Jo Nesbo and Karin Fossum's works are set in Norway. And Jussi Adler-Olsen set in Denmark. Each of the writers fills his or her novels with current societal issues like unchecked immigration, domestic abuse, conflict over family roles. I particularly love the books because I've had the chance to see the crime settings like Vigeland Park in Oslo or City Hall in Stockholm.
Last category would be the No Category. Here I've included all the other books that I've read this year from recommendations, liking the author or subject matter. The Bookseller by Mark Pryor was set in Paris and involved crimes against the bookstall owners along the Seine. Minding Frankie was bittersweet because it was the last work of much loved Irish writer Maeve Binchy before her death this year. Private Games by old-crank out-book-a-week James Patterson was a great read because it dealt with attempts to sabotage the Summer Olympics in London. Peaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris was a surprise sequel to Chocolat which had Vianne going back to help her arch-enemy with some problems that even chocolate couldn't fix. And finally, a new writer for me, Paul Sussman--I was reading his The Last Secret of the Temple about the Israeli-Palestine conflict the end of November when it looked like there was going to be all out war between the two countries. Talk about timely and Sussman provided such a balanced look at both sides of this conflict. I'll read more from him.
And finally! Out of all the books I've read this year, here are my four Favorites
. I'll remember each of them for a long time. In each one the story is about strong women in times of conflict doing what they must to protect their loved ones at great personal cost: The Dovekeepers
--The Masada, Israel, 70 C.E.; Island Beneath the Sea
-- Saint-Domingue slave revolt,1770; Broken Paradise
--Cuban Revolution, 1956; Those Who Save Us
--World War II, Germany, 1940s.
A test of a really good book is that you regret when you've finished it, you want others to read it, and you envy them getting to read it for the first time. I hope to find many more in this category in 2013. Here's to good reading and I'd really love to have your recommendations.