Without 10 weeks of training to start the year, I was able to read even more books than I did last year. I also have refined my tastes to know what I’ll likely enjoy before I pick up the book even more than before. Philip Roth dominated my top 20 last year for two reasons: 1.) He’s the greatest living author today and, 2.) I read a majority of his work last year. I did a fair amount of rereading this year, but those books are not included on this list.
It’s going to be strange having far less free time when I return to the states and not being able to read between six and 10 books a month. However, it will be nice to have the great American library again.
Here are my favorite books (fiction and non-fiction separated) of 2012.
- Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth
I bought this in Chiang Mai in October of 2011 and held off reading it knowing it was one of Roth’s best and wanting to save the best for last. It’s hard to pick a favorite Roth, but this is definitely in the top three, but I wouldn’t recommend it to most of the people I know … especially family. Only Roth could take a character as despicable as Mickey Sabbath and make the reader root for him … to fail. Okay, maybe Bukowski. After passing it along to Josh, Joe and Dev, it’s back in my hands and I plan to reread it before going home.
- Journey to the End of the Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine
The main character travels from the trenches of WWI to Africa to Detroit and then back to France where he reflects on life, love and relationships in a beautiful language. Josh gave it to me and I didn’t know if I’d like it, but it turned out to be a surprise and something I will recommend to others.
- Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
A British woman in her twenties has an affair with an older man which leads her to working for the secret service where her knowledge of literature puts her in a position to be a spy for an up-and-coming young writer. McEwan has become a favorite author and this isn’t his only book in my top 20.
- The Counterlife by Philip Roth
It’s the only Roth novel I got lost in and didn’t know what was going on at parts, but the greatest living novelist cleared it all up and blew my mind by the last page.
- The Innocent by Ian McEwan
A young British man goes to West Berlin in the fifties to help build a secret tunnel between the divided city. He falls in love with a German girl and McEwan tells the dark and fast-paced tale with beautiful and easy-to-read prose.
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
The Japanese author’s depressing story of two lovers divided by sanity and distance, I fell in love with Murakami’s words with this book.
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
A generation-spanning novel starting in India in the mid 1970s during a civil rights battle involves four main characters and what they do to get by together despite their original differences. It’s one of those long novels you’re sad to put away when you’re done with it.
- Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
Some say it’s McCarthy’s most autobiographical novel. Suttree is about an intellectual living among country folk off the Tennessee River near Knoxville. There’s not much of a plot, simply the main character (Suttree) going from situation to situation reflecting on life through the outcasts of society.
- Solar by Ian McEwan
If you don’t like depressing novels, don’t read this. Strangely, depressing literature cheers me up. Maybe it’s because a sad story like Solar is so damn well written and much like Sabbath’s Theater, I found myself rooting against the main character, but still loving him.
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I could tell it was well written when I got done with it and realized I loved this story of an English butler in a modern society going through his memories of a past when butlers were a much more important part of the British landscape.
- The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
I’ve since tried multiple Greene novels and none of them were nearly as good as this one. Greene writes of the possible end of a relationship while taking the reader through the divided moral and religious thoughts of the characters.
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Another one of those novels (like A Fine Balance) that is a little sad to put down when you’re done because it’s been such an enjoyable part of your life for the past week.
- After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Don’t expect to know how everything turns out in this short novel taking place in one crazy evening between a number of strange and very different characters.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Why I waited so long to read this classic, I don’t know. If the second half was as good as the first, this would probably be in the top 10.
- Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy
The adventure of a woman crossing the American southeast more than a half century ago to find her abandoned child whom her brother (also the child’s father) told her had died. McCarthy takes a strange situation and makes it light hearted.
- From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming
I never picked up a James Bond novel until this year and this was the best of the ones I’ve read so far (also Casino Royale and The Man With the Golden Gun). The quality of writing in paperback novels has gone downhill significantly since the 1950s.
- House of Sand and Fog by Andre Debus III
Strangely, it’s not as depressing as the film with a different ending.
- Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy
The last of three Border novels (starting with All the Pretty Horses), McCarthy makes me want to camp and drink coffee by the fire.
- The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
The second of three books, The Crossing makes me want to ride by horseback through the deserts of Texas and Mexico.
- Women by Charles Bukowski
An extremely repetitive story (drinking, sex, insults and more drinking), but some great insights from Bukowski.
- Baseball Between the Numbers by the Baseball Prospectus Team of Experts
I realize this isn’t the most important non-fiction book I read this year, but it was the most eye opening and entertaining for this baseball geek. The book, like Moneyball, shatters many of my preconceived ideas about baseball and how it’s played such as the study that finds managers have been putting their batters in the wrong order since the beginning of the game (statistically speaking, a team will score approximately seven more runs a season if they bat their best batter first, second-best second and so on).
- Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film by Peter Biskind
I study baseball, I study music, I study literature and I also study films. Biskind impressed me over a decade ago with Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and he impressed me again with the story of independent films in the nineties.
- Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell blows my mind every time I read his books (The Tipping Point, Outliers). Blink is about how those first impressions of people and things really do matter and he always has the numbers and studies to back it up.
- Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin
I’ve been a fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band since I was a kid and listened to my sister’s copy of Born in the USA, but this was the first time I’ve read a career-spanning biography of the boss. I was happy to find out that despite his good-guy persona, he can be a bit of a dick just like the rest of the rock stars.
- In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
The story of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany in 1933 is fast-paced and suspenseful. It propelled me to read …
- The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard Evans
The first of three Third Reich books, this one doesn’t miss a detail beginning in the mid 1800s and ending with the Nazis seizure of power in 1933.
- What is the What by Dave Eggers
Eggers has become another favorite author in the last two years. This one tells the story of a Sudanese refugee and his escape of his home country destroyed by civil war along with his attempts to fit into American society.
- The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant
The greatest baseball player of all time? I may or may not agree by what day it is, but I won’t argue with you. From Alabama to Eau Claire to Milwaukee to Atlanta and back to Milwaukee, Bryant is a great sports writer (also see Juicing the Game) and The Last Hero is another great baseball biography I can add to my list.
- The Third Reich in Power by Richard Evans
The second of three books (the third, The Third Reich in Power, I’ll get to next year), this one covers Germany in the years between the Nazis ruling the country (1933) and the beginning of WWII (1939). Every time I put it down I couldn’t help but say to myself, “What an ass.”
- Have Glove Will Travel by Bill Lee
One of the greatest baseball personalities to ever play the game, Lee tells the story of his final year in the big leagues followed by his ambition to keep playing even though the majors had black balled him. Lee plays in the minors, goes to Cuba and the USSR and kept this reader laughing all the way.