It’s that time of the year where we listphiles look back on those twelve months past and arbitrarily order what we consider to be “the best” movies, music, books, etc of the last three-hundred-sixty-five days. I don’t really like using the word “best” in my year end lists because, let’s be honest, it’s all just subjective anyway. So I prefer to call it my “favorites”. My year-end favorite and least favorite movie list is coming after the end of January so I have time to catch up on some of the films I’ve missed. But I do have another list prepared: My favorite books that I read in 2012.
Yeah, I do watch movies all the time but occasionally I’m able to squeeze in a book or two while I’m switching discs in the Blu-Ray player. This year, I was able to read thirty books. Not too bad considering I was already watching tons of movies and playing a load of Skyrim. But seriously folks, I love books. I’ve got a bookshelf literally overflowing with them and recently acquired a kindle. Used bookstores are one of my favorite places in the world and I can never resist a book sale. If I hadn’t graduated college with a Bachelor’s in film, an English degree would have been my second choice.
Now, unlike most year-end lists, this one will cover any book that I read in 2012 and not just the ones that came out that year. Truth be told, I didn’t actually read any books released in 2012. I have far too many other books to catch up with to worry about staying current with my reading. If you’re one of those people who can speed through a book in four days, I envy you. Too many good books and not enough– Anyway, no time for tangents. Here are my five favorite books that I read in 2012, presented in alphabetical order so as not to make any of them jealous.
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
This was my introduction to William Faulkner. Like many I know, I never read it in high school but of course I knew about it and had heard how difficult it is. Personally, I didn’t find it to be so. There are, of course, sections of the book where characters will either go off on unrelated tangents or their stream of consciousness narration will make little sense. Despite these regular confusions, I found the book to be thoroughly engaging. The sprawling story is heartbreakingly tragic and beautifully written with each of the many characters feeling fully realized and distinct. I would love to see a film adaptation of this (and apparently there is one in the works).
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
This is perhaps the scariest novel I’ve ever read. I’m not kidding when I tell you that at one point I actually had to put the book down and walk away for a bit because it was freaking me out. It’s much more of a psychological horror than anything overt and the things left unseen and unexplained are far more frightening than what could be described. The book follows a group of people who move into the house in order to investigate its reported paranormal activity. It mostly focuses on a troubled young woman named Elanor who may or may not be haunted all on her own. This was made into a very good film in 1963 and an utterly wretched film in 1999, both with the title shortened to The Haunting.
House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
House of Leaves is a film critique, a psychological horror story, a twisting narrative maze, an experimental novel, a mystery, and a love story. It is all these things and more. I won’t go too deeply into the plot because part of its thrill is in the discovery and slow reveal. Mark Z. Danielewski sheds all narrative convention and presents at least three stories all at once. The bulk of the novel is an academic study of a documentary film named “The Navidson Record” by a man named Zampanò. In the documentary, a family moves into a house only to discover that one door leads into an impossible space. The other half, told mostly in footnotes of Zampanò’s manuscript, is narrated by Johnny Truant and follows his journey in putting Zampanò’s book together. The three stories interweave and play off each other both in their narrative and on the actual, physical pages of the book. The way it plays with structure is brilliant and the way it creeps into your psyche is frightening. This is not for people who like their books simple and clean.
The Raw Shark Texts – Stephen Hall
What starts out as a pretty typical mystery/thriller very quickly becomes something else entirely and something you’ve never seen before. Our main character wakes up one day and has no memory of who he is and only snippets of his past are available to him. When he discovers a letter from “The First Eric Sanderson” telling him that he is “The Second Eric Sanderson” along with detailed instructions for putting his memories back together. Like House of Leaves, this is also experimental book but told in a more straightforward manner. It deals with conceptual creatures, un-space, and man who has discovered the secret to eternal life. Also like HoL, it defies genre and sits firmly within several all at once. This is an completely original kind of story and you won’t come across anything like this anywhere else.
We – Yevgeny Zamyatin
Take equal parts 1984, Brave New World, The Matrix, Brazil, and Equilibrium, mix those all together and you’ve got the inspiration for all these works and more. This was one of the very first futuristic dystopian novels ever written. Equilibrium in particular is so similar (apart from the whole “gun kata” thing) that it may as well be called a loose adaptation. It takes place in an unspecified future time where a totalitarian government controls the entire world. Citizens live in all glass apartments, are assigned lovers, emotions and individuality are suppressed. But our main character, D-503 who tells his story through journal entries, meets I-330 who engages in illegal activity such as smoking and freely flirting with D-503. Through his interactions with her, he begins to “wake up” and experience life and starts taking part in a rebellion against the government. The book, being narrated by the main character, has a fascinating style where he starts out very matter-of-fact and bland in his descriptions but as he wakes up more and more, the language becomes vividly beautiful and even poetic at times. It ought to be recognized as not only one of the best, most seminal sci-fi novels but also one of the very best Russian novels.
Next week, I’ll tell you about my favorite music of 2012. So come back, won’t you?