I’m not going to pretend I read enough books from 2012 to create a best-of list for that. Instead, here are the best books I read this year.
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I have no idea how Murakami manages to have such magnetic writing and such profound and strange plots, but he’s fantastic at it.
- The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka, translated by Donna Freed
I read all of Kafka’s novels in high school but never got around to his short stories until now. They’re brilliant, of course, fascinating and mindfucking to read. It’s a shame that I’ve finished all of his fiction… time to move on to his journals!
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
Englander’s short story collection actually is from this year, and it’s as funny as it is dark and Jewish.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This book improved my life.
- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, 1948 by Yoram Kaniuk, and Jarhead by Anthrony Swofford
I’m grouping these four together because they’re all brilliant war memoirs, intelligently and critically-written. All of them fictionalize events in order to produce truth, and to diminish the events of one’s own life with fiction takes some serious humbleness.
- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
I’ve actually read this for the first time years ago, of course, but rediscovered it on its 50th anniversary this year. Truly one of the most intelligent, meaningful children’s books ever written. A profound classic that thoroughly deserves its place in the canon that is has now.
- Dubliners by James Joyce
Much easier to read than I anticipated, Joyce’s short story collection is as beautiful as it is haunting.The Dead, the coda novella, is particularly excellent.
- Traveler of the Century by Andres Neuman
An astounding novel of ideas and romance,Traveler of the Centuryis large but worth it. This book really tuned in my interest to world literature.
- The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson
I have this habit of reading books with weather opposite to the time of year. I readThe Long Ships, a Scandanavian, 11th-century-set Viking novel in July while in Israel. It’s about the adventures of Red Orm, a boy who runs away from home to become a swashbuckling viking. It’s awesome.
- The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
I read this one in December. It was published a year after Jansson’s mother passed away, and it’s about a young girl living on an island with her grandmother and father, learning about life and people. Quiet and moving.
- The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
A bestseller a few decades ago,The Dud Avocadowas resurrected from being out of print by the New York Review of Books. It’s one of those wealthy-whitepeople-having-problems-with-romance novels, and the characters are well-developed and funny.
- A Death in the Family by James Agee
I’ve been a huge fan of Agee’s screenplays and film criticism, but never got around toA Death in the Familyuntil this year. It’s his only novel, published after his unfairly early death at the age of only 45. It won the Pulitzer in 1958, though, and deservedly - it’s a moving, beautiful book about family, religion, and American life.
- Cain by Jose Saramago
It’s great to have discovered Saramago this year.Cainwas his last book - a novella about the Biblical character and his time-travelling adventures. An angry and complicated look at G-d, no other book made me think more this year. I’m currently reading Saramago’s Blindness, which I suspect would make this list if I finished it by the end of this year.
- Stoner by John Williams
One of those perpetually overlooked books,Stoneris about a man who decides to become an English professor. The book follows his journey through academia, failed romances, friendships, and everything else essential in a life. No other book so successfully depicts the virtues of a small life.