Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Few Good Books I Read in 2012

Below, in no particular order, is a list of a few good books I read in 2012. Some were published last year, others are much older. I'm not mentioning any books written by blogger friends in this list. 

Nightwoods, by the author of Cold Mountain, is written by a true storyteller. Mr. Frazier can paint a landscape with his words in a way few writers can. The heroine of the book had been satisfied with her life as a loner, living in an out of reach place, when her sister is murdered and she becomes responsible for her sister's very young and deeply disturbed twins. This book is about her growth as a human being as she tries to reach the disturbed children with the help of a man she meets. 

In this, the last book in Peter Hessler's trilogy about an American writer living in China, he is, as the title suggests, traveling by car in China. This in itself is an adventure and his description of the government exam questions for a Chinese driver's license is hilarious. In the first part of the book, Peter Hessler follows the Great Wall of China to Mongolia. In the second part, he describes life in a Chinese village, where he rents a house and meets up with the most adorable young boy. In the final part, he describes one of the modern, industrial cities and the lives of its factory workers. All three of Peter Hessler's books about China are priceless as far as I'm concerned. A strong recommend.

I loved this book about two families torn apart over their children's suicide pact. Or was it? A huge recommend from me.

The story of a 5-year old boy, Jack, kept in a room with his mother who was abducted by a twisted man and held in this room for years. The story of how Jack's mother makes his life interesting within the confines of one room is remarkable. By the author of Slammerkin, another good novel.

After a woman suffers a terrible tragedy, she leaves for Canada to begin a totally new life. The thought of going somewhere else, somewhere you've never been before, to find yourself again is very appealing to me. Perhaps I have done that myself. Douglas Kennedy writes page-turning novels about women. Some like his books, others don't. This one I really liked.

A book about a woman dealing with a debilitating illness, who gets a wild snail from a friend. And how the snail helps her through her illness. I know, it doesn't sound like a whole lot to write a book about, but it is absolutely fascinating. 

Here's another man who writes from a woman's point of view and does it really well. This book is about a widow, older, but I don't remember how old, who lives in Pittsburgh, alone with her dog. The book is just about her everyday life, but it's so well written, you feel like you know her well and wish you could just drop by for a cup of coffee. I don't know how a younger person would feel, but if you are over 60 and a woman, I think you will enjoy this book.

A book about twin brothers, born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Their mother dies in childbirth and their father disappears early on. The story of the twins childhood and teenage years takes place while Ethiopia is on the brink of revolution. They share an interest in medicine and fall in love with the same woman, which tears them apart. One twin leaves for New York and there the story comes to a head. This is one of those books about life and death, love and betrayal, that I don't really know how to describe. One thing I can say for sure, you will not forget this book, should you decide to read it.

Anyone who has seen Slumdog Millionare, will not easily forget the look of a Mumbai slum. And neither could I as I read this well-written and researched non-fiction book about life in Annawadi, a settlement in the shadow of the luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As the inhabitants dream of reaching a middle-class life, one enterprising teenager finds a way to make money sorting and selling recyclable garbage, another becomes a scrap-metal thief, while a woman uses the route of political corruption as a way out of poverty. This is a stunning and insightful book about the kind of life few of us could even begin to imagine.

The daughter of renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard finds out a few months before her father's death that he is black. Born in New Orleans in 1920, her father moved to Brooklyn with his parents, who had to resort to "passing" to obtain decent work. Anatole Broyard continued this throughout his life, as he raised his family in wealthy Fairfied County, Connecticut. In this book, his daughter examines her father's choices, researches the history of Creoles of color, and of her own family, and considers the impact her father's choice has had on her own life. A lot of research went into this well-written and very interesting book about race in America and how we are all affected by it.

I hadn't read this Pulitzer Prize winner when it first came out, but I'm so glad I did this past year. Definitely one of the best books I read in 2012, The Road describes a devastated America after a disaster that left few survivors and a burned land. A father and his son walk alone through this landscape, hoping to reach the coast. The book is about what happens to them on their journey, but, most of all, it is about the love shared between a father and a son. A sad, sad book, yet so very good. A book I will never forget and that I strongly recommend.

Saving the best for last, this is a book I wish everyone would read. The author hires an Australian guide, an Indiana Jones character, and sets out to follow the trail of Hiram Bingham, III, the American credited with discovering Machu Picchu and many other incredible sites, built by the Incas. It's a very well-written book: A history lesson of Inca rulers, princesses, and common folk; of Spanish conquistadors and the harm they caused; and of the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. It's also an important story of archaeology, of ruins found, of mysteries discovered, of the brilliance of the Inca architects and builders, and of course of Machu Picchu itself. But most of all, this is a story of a grand adventure, a story of mountains, of mists, of rivers, and of the people of Peru who live in the Andes of today. I think it's a fabulous book and my favorite of 2012.


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