I love end of the year lists, and I love lists of end of the year lists. So I thought I’d share a few of the books I read and loved these past twelve months.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Ten pages in I thought, “Wow, this is well written.” Halfway through I thought, “Well, this is clearly the best book of the year.” Six months after reading it, I’m giving serious thought to quitting my life, going to J-school and spending decades trying to become one tenth the journalist Boo is.
Zona by Geoff Dyer
You know bookies set odds over Hollywood deadpools and the next Nobel Laureate in Literature, but did you know there’s also a game rigged around what topic Dyer will tackle with his next book? I had $100 on the Canadian Yukon. Somewhere there’s a very happy millionaire who went with Tarkovsky’s Stalker. This book is brilliant and a wholly new genre of nonfiction–in the year of a million TV recaps, he went with a movie recap. Published in hardcover by Random House.
Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos
Just a great bit of zaniness from Spain, where Villalobos is biding his time before becoming the next César Aira. Imagine a Mexican drug lord’s incredibly spoiled 11 year-old wandering around the desert compound, obsessing over hats and pygmy hippos. And it’s a novella! We need more novellas.
The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack by Mark Leyner
Bear with me here. We all know the postmodern novel became too coldly self-aware in the 60s and 70s, where its head eventually disappeared up its own ass. But guess what? Inside that ass, Mark Leyner is screening Buster Keaton films and animated gifs. In terms of literary invention, kitchen-sink omnivorousness, and world-beating wit, Leyner wins hands down.
THREATS by Amelia Gray
Some novels have an atmosphere all their own, a weather that emerges from the page and into your life. You know when you first see William Eggleston’s photographs, and then a couple days later some formica countertop will strike you as 100% Eggleston? Gray’s prose is like that. (Worth reading for the dentist-office love scene alone.)
A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald by Errol Morris
In Cold Blood for the 21st century. I cancelled social plans to keep reading this one.
A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
Right time, right place. I’m only beginning to understand how terribly awesome/awful my 30s will be, but this debut novel makes for good guide. Everything Hutchins writes about San Francisco could apply to Seattle, Portland, or Brooklyn.
Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin
This is a nice companion piece to Hutchins’s novel, since it’s about coming to terms with one’s youth and youthful dreams. Probably my favorite part of Baldwin’s memoir is when he and his wife decide to leave their storybook Parisian existence for the backwoods of North Carolina.
NW by Zadie Smith
Yes, I love the Felix chapter too. But the rest of the book? It’s far more complicated than first glance, and rewarding of close attention. The guys at Slate put it best in their book club debate: it’s a book meant to be Googled, to be wrestled with.
Books Published Before 2012
I read a lot of older books this year too. A few highlights:
Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard
Budapest by Chico Buarque
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje