Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Read in 2012
So I’ve been keeping a list on my blog of all the books that I have read this year. Mostly so that I could have a place to keep track of it all. The following books are from that list, which you can read in its in entirety here.
Top Ten Tuesday is an original meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish.
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
Okay, so I love Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette. I really do. So for a few years now I’ve debated reading the biography that inspired the film. This past January I took my Christmas money and bought the book. I devoured it, and then proceeded to share every little detail I learned about the French Revolution with my family.
(Thankfully, some of them are geeks, too.)
I never thought I’d sympathize with Marie Antoinette—what with my socialistic, justice-for-the-people tendencies—but honestly, the French were cruel to her.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Book Two in The Hunger Games Trilogy
Young Adult Fiction
I read Catching Fire in less than six hours. I’m not bragging—that’s just how compelling I found the story. I did not want to put it down.
While The Hunger Games is a fascinating story and can work well as a standalone novel, what I love about Catching Fire was the chance to explore the world of Panem and its heroes. And although it is rather romantic at times (at least as romantic as Katniss Everdeen will allow it), it’s more The Empire Strikes Back than Attack of the Clones.
Shoot, Katniss even steals Han Solo’s line:
“I love you.”
… I never see these things. They happen too fast. One second you’re proposing an escape plan and the next… you’re expected to deal with something like this. I come up with what must be the worst possible response. “I know.”
Catching Fire explores Katniss’ very public relationship with Peeta, as well as her now forbidden friendship with Gale. It introduces the characters Finnick Odair and Joanna Mason, victors of previous Hunger Games who Katniss and Peeta find themselves forced to trust. It also reveals just how revolutionary Katniss and Peeta’s actions at the end of The Hunger Games really were.
Plus, it has one of my favorite moments in the entire trilogy—the moment that I knew I loved Katniss Everdeen:
“… I have zero interest in these Capitol people. They are only distractions from the food.”
There are, of course, flaws in Collins’ novels—one being her insistence on writing in first person present tense. I still find that jarring. And exhausting. However, the world, the characters, and the grittiness of the plot kept me reading.
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
Book One in the Graceling Realm series
Young Adult Fiction
“… you’re better than I am, Katsa. And it doesn’t humiliate me.” He fed a branch to the fire. “It humbles me. But it doesn’t humiliate me.”
This novel was fun. I read it after I finished The Hunger Games trilogy, and I was just so happy to find yet another strong female character to love. I think I’ve made myself clear on the other books in this series, so I won’t dwell on Cashore’s management of plot. I will, however, applaud her for her vibrant characters and beautiful worlds. She is a master at description and character.
I also appreciate her themes and her approach to her characters. While I disagree with her treatment of romance and sex, especially for a young adult novel, I will say that I can relate to Katsa in her struggle with whether or not she should have a relationship with Po. As a woman in this day and age, I value my independence and self-worth, and I struggle with equality between the sexes. Cashore’s handling of Katsa’s doubts and fears of becoming less herself by giving herself to Po, even in love, was extremely thought-provoking and heartfelt.
Graceling is a very feminist novel, but it isn’t as angry, man-hating, feminist as I expected.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
People who live good stories are too busy to write about them. Nobody ever strapped a typewriter to the back of an elephant and wrote a novel while hunting wild game. Nobody except for Hemingway. But let’s not talk about Hemingway.
I read this book at the insistence of my best friend. It’s fascinating. It’s the story behind the making of the film Blue Like Jazz, an adaptation of Donald Miller’s previous book of the same name. The reason A Million Miles was written is because Miller was confronted by a very ugly truth: while his book Blue Like Jazz held a lot of great and powerful truth, his life was not interesting.
Blue Like Jazz was a book that was part memoir, part series of essays. A movie can’t be that, so Miller and the creative team behind BLJ sat down and created a story that will tell the message of BLJ. (When I first heard that, I was terrified. It sounded like the worst possible thing you could do to a book. Having seen the movie, I can say that it works. Go see it.)
A Million Miles isn’t really about Blue Like Jazz: The Movie. It’s about Miller’s decision to start living his life. He argues that if we were to live our lives as if they were stories, we would demand more out of life and out of ourselves. I have to agree with him.
I like the part of the Bible that talks about God speaking the world into existence, as though everything we see and feel were sentences from his mouth, all the wet of the world his spit.
I feel written. My skin feels written, and my desires feel written. My sexuality was a word spoken by God, that I would be male, and I would have brown hair and brown eyes and come from a womb. It feels literary, doesn’t it, as if we are characters in books.
You can call it God or a conscience, or you can dismiss it as that intuitive knowing we all have as human beings, as living storytellers; but there is a knowing I feel that guides me toward better stories, toward being a better character. I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness.
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Young Adult Fiction
“We’re not going to say good-bye.”
“Of course not,” I said, trying my best to smile back at him.
“I’m just going to say… see you around,” he said, taking a few steps toward his dad’s house.
“Don’t be a stranger,” I said.
“Take care,” he said, stepping away.
“So long,” I said.
“Talk to you later,” he said, walking away, still facing me.
“See you soon,” I called.
Morgan Matson knows grief. And I don’t just mean the pain and sorrow one feels initially at a loss, but the grief that sticks. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour was presented to me as a fun, romantic story. It is, but it’s not, too.
Amy is mourning the loss of her father and the breakup of her family. Her father has died, her brother is in rehab, and her mother has decided she and her daughter are to move from California to Connecticut. It is up to Amy to finish the school year and then drive the family car across the country to her mother’s new home. There’s just one problem: since the car accident that took her father’s life, Amy has been too afraid to drive.
Enter Roger, the very attractive young family friend who agrees to chauffeur Amy. Roger is struggling with his own loss: his girlfriend has just dumped him, and he’s determined to win her back. What was meant to be a simple trip becomes an epic road trip when Amy and Roger decide to take a detour and set out to discover America.
The book is set up like a scrapbook. They are parts but no chapters, and each section is divided into regions of the United States. Pictures, playlists, receipts, and postcards are scattered throughout, adding to the story that Amy tells as she confronts her grief and begins to heal.
It’s sweet, but powerful.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
I asked the renter, “Can I tell you my story?”
He opened his left hand.
So I put my story into it.
This book is heart-wrenching, not because it’s about a boy whose father was killed on 9/11 in the World Trade Center, but because it’s about a boy trying to make sense of chaos and madness. Like Amy & Roger, it is a novel and a scrapbook. Oskar includes pictures and other things within the pages of his story.
It’s not just Oskar’s story. It is also the story of his grandparents, a couple torn apart brought back together by grief.
It’s a very difficult story to read, but it is powerful.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
“Talk about your truth universally acknowledged, am I right?”
It’s not a book, but it is an adaptation: the webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern take on Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice.
Lizzie Bennet is a twentysomething who has taken to the internet to record her life in a series of vlogs. When her older sister Jane catches the eye of the new guy in town, the young and rich Bing Lee, Lizzie enthusiastically encourages the relationship, although she’s put off by Bing’s frustrating friend Will Darcy. With her best friend, the practical Charlotte Lu, and her flirtatious free-spirit sister Lydia, Lizzie attempts to navigate her way through the drama her life soon develops.
Having read the book and seen countless film adaptations, I think I know the story of Pride and Prejudice pretty well. However, LBD has explored aspects of the story that I have never considered before.
The best example of this is in the character of Lydia Bennet. In the novel, Lydia is an immature girl who runs away from home with George Wickham, causing a scandal and leaving her family in disgrace. Because of her actions and because of his love for Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy finds the couple and forces Wickham to marry the youngest Miss Bennet. After this, Elizebeth and Darcy reconcile and are married.
In the novel and in the movies I have always seen Lydia at worst an antagonist and at best a catalyst. Elizabeth and Darcy needed an event that would allow them to overcome their pride (and prejudice) and end up together. Lydia must always disgrace her family and run away with Wickham before Lizzie and Darcy can marry. It’s formulaic. And it’s easy to make Lydia a two-dimensional character.
LBD doesn’t seem to want to play by the rules.
In LBD, Lydia Bennet is wild and immature at times, yet she has displayed many strong and noble attributes. She isn’t just an immature and bratty little sister; she’s also an insecure and lonely young woman who looks up to her older sisters but doesn’t connect with them. In LBD Lydia isn’t a plot device—she’s the hero of her own story.
I suppose only time will tell if Lydia’s story is a tragedy or comedy.
The Once and Future King by TH White
You can read my detailed thoughts on this novel here. Just know that this is a spectacular work of literature.
I especially found the analogy of King Arthur to the Biblical King David astounding. I had never thought to compare the two before, and it was such a remarkable layer to the story.
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text we would translate aloud in German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, back into Dutch. They were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the light bulb. I would think of Haarlem, each substantial church set behind its wrought-iron fence and its barrier of doctrine. And I would know again that in darkness God’s truth shines most clear.
I’m not sure how I got through my intensely Christian childhood and education without reading The Hiding Place. But I did. It was sitting on a shelf at my sister’s house, and I took it, read it, cried over it, and loved it.
The Hiding Place is about Corrie ten Boom and her family’s efforts to help save their Jewish friends and neighbors from the Nazis during World War II. It also accounts Corrie’s time as a prisoner in a concentration camp. Corrie survived to tell her tale, and it is one of love and forgiveness.
What I liked about the story was how human Corrie was. So often we take heroes and martyrs and we treat them with such holy respect that they become too righteous and perfect to be real. We aspire to be them, but we never can. Corrie was different. While Corrie speaks of her father and sister with such love she elevates them to sainthood, of herself she is blunt and honest about her struggles. It is because of her family that Corrie learns what it means to love all people, even Nazis. Several times Corrie relates a moment in which she and her sister witness brutality. Corrie’s heart reaches out to the victim, wanting to protect them and comfort them as they are humiliated, beaten and abused. Her sister Betsie’s heart breaks for the aggressor, the villain who torments the victim. It’s hard to understand Betsie, and at times it’s even hard to agree with her, but she pushes Corrie and the reader to understand what God means when He tells us to love our neighbors and pray for our enemies:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Such a belief is easy in theory, but as I’ve been reminded by the horrific event in my country this week, it’s terribly difficult to do.
Even so, The Hiding Place comforts me with its message that if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love.
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Young Adult Fiction
“Well, Mr. Peter Nobody,” said Molly, “do you know how old you are?”
“How old are you?” said Peter.
“I’m twelve,” said Molly.
“I’m thirteen,” said Peter.
“Wait,” said Molly. “I just remembered. Today is my birthday. I’m fourteen.”
Peter frowned. “Wait,” he said. “If you were twelve, and today’s your birthday, you’d be thirteen.”
“Not in my family,” said Molly. “In my family, we only celebrate even-numbered birthdays.”
I mentioned two weeks ago how much I love Peter Pan. This book is a fun idea of how Peter Pan became the boy who never grew up. It’s honestly a heck of a lot better than that silly Syfy TV movie Neverland.
Although I like Neverland…