While the title may be somewhat misleading, as I think no books on the list were actually written this year, I stand by it. Following are the list of the top five books that I read in 2012, whether it was for the storyline, the characters, or just the style of writing. I’m sure most people would disagree with me, as none of the heavyweight authors made the list this year (sorry Hemingway, Wilde and Rowling, you’re still fondly in my hearts), but I hope you enjoyed them none the less!
- Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik (1996)
Hands down, this was the most absorbing book that I picked up all year. I’m not sure what it is about me, but for some reason I have a weird fascination with central characters that are absolutely, completely…insane. The central character is deprived, awful, violent, vindictive…in no way, shape or form would I want anything to do with him in the ‘real world’. He creates a society where hurting and killing people is appreciated and applauded, and his alter ego recruits hundreds of men to do his biding, and to spread the violence elsewhere.
But personally, I think the narrator is the stand-out feature of this book. Despite his lack of redeeming qualities and his narcissistic personality, I still liked him. I still felt bad when he was hurt, literally and figuratively; I still wanted him to get the girl; and the naughty, moral-free part of me (we all have it in us) giggled when he did something outstandingly awful. For me, this is a sign of an outstanding book; it’s easy to love a book where you love the characters, much less so when all the characters stand for everything you’re against.
Furthermore, author Chuck Palahnuik has a very distinctive writing style that is prevalent in his other books (side note: as a result, it’s very easy to get sick of him, so try not to read too many of his books in one go!); random facts are continually spewed out, twists are frequent, and all of his characters have a rapid, egotistical tone-of-voice that gives the reader the impression that something is always happening, or we’re on the cusp of something big.
Overall? If you haven’t read Fight Club, even if you have seen the film (which I haven’t, whoopsie for me), give it a go. It may very well be out of your comfort zone of what you normally read, but I think it’s worth it. Not a single person I have asked has disliked this book, or the film for that matter, so if there’s one book you read in 2013, please make it this one!
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)
For someone who doesn’t like or appreciate circuses, freak shows, sideshows or anything of the sort, I was amazed by how enthralled I was by The Night Circus. So what was so amazing about it? While the plot had many twists and turns, and the characters were likeable enough, the predominant feature of this book, which time and time again people have mentioned, is the vivid imagery that Morgenstern produces. The Night Circus and the world around it is a world that you long to be a part of, in the same way that readers for years have wanted to actually go to Hogwarts, or visit Middle Earth. The Night Circus makes you reject that we live in a world that is missing magic, and makes ordinary circuses seem lacklustre and fake. From the descriptions of the food (toffee apples and chocolate mice), to the tents (the cloud room which allows you to float; the wishing tree that lights one wish from another), to the people (Marco the magician, Tsuskiko the contortionist), every aspect weaves another layer of the fantasy, making it all the more believable.
If you’re after a book that will spark your imagination and make you long for another reality, please give The Night Circus a go. For a full review, check it out HERE.
- We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003)
I truly love books with bleak topics, don’t I? And is there anything more bleak than a child shooting up his fellow students at his high school? Perhaps a mother who never truly loved that child in the first place. We Need To Talk About Kevin addresses issues that most of us would choose never to think about, because the mere thought of them sends shivers down one’s spine. While Shriver aptly tackled what it must be like for a mother to deal with the aftermath of a school shooting undertaken by her own offspring, what I found most compelling about this novel was the notion of someone not loving their child.
Let me address the fact that at the end of the day, I’m not in love with babies or children. While I think they’re cute, I also see them and envisen hard work, lack of sleep, mess and so much responsibility. But never for a moment did I ever think I wouldn’t be utterly in love and adoring of my own children (genetics of course). But what happens if your child is born and you don’t feel an emotional connection with them? What if your child is, at the heart of it, bad. We can argue the nature vs. nurture theory, but despite good parenting, some children grow up to be awful, awful people.
This is a subject that I think very few authors could tackle successfully, but I believe that Shriver did it both succinctly and profoundly (although, I did notice she somewhat manages to overuse the word tautology, which I didn’t actually think was possible). Written in the form of a series of letters from Eva to her husband, Franklin, the story unfolds, slowly, and creepily, with a sense of foreboding that lingers even after you’ve finished the book For a full review of the book, check it out HERE.
- The Reader by Bernard Schlink (1995)
What is so outstanding about this novel is that it makes you, as a reader, reconsider how you view things. Schlink’s writing is simple, straightforward and absolutely poignant; you really feel for the characters, despite their copious flaws. While the first half of the novel does explore love, and the many forms that it can arrive in (as well as the matter that sometimes, against our better judgement, we fall for people we know we shouldn’t), it was the second half of the novel that really intrigued me. I’ve always been interested in novels that address World War Two, and in particular the Holocaust, especially novels that look at it from different points of view. Schlink’s perspective on the Holocaust, and more importantly the guilt and shame that Germany felt as a nation for many, many years later, had the most clarity of possibly any book I have read on this topic.
If you wish to read about a well-known and explored matter, but hope to have your mind widened and your views changed, give The Reader a go. Otherwise, just check out the review HERE first.
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
While in terms of writing styles, The Hunger Games falls short of many other books that I read in 2012, its storyline and overall message is what stuck with me.
When I was younger, I found it a lot easier to become absorbed in a book and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting, staying up until the dead of the night. Granted, that may have been because I had much less I actually needed to do, but still, very few books evoke this response from me now. The Hunger Games was one of these books. The love triangle between Katniss, Gael and Peeta had me hooked, and therefore I had to keep reading.
However, the other aspect of this trilogy (although the first book is still by far my favourite), that makes it unique is its perspective on war, battle and violence. While the concept of children fighting to the death, literally, may seem inappropriate for a Young Adult genre, Collins tackles the subject with aplomb. Not since The Tomorrow Series by John Marsden has an author showcased the shocking, yet realistic, aspects of war. Usually we’re shown bravery, glory, adrenaline and great battles won, without dealing with the horrendous casualties of war; friends and lovers dying, changing who you are to survive, dealing with the aftermath when it’s all over. The Hunger Games addresses all these issues, and more, but as a story that is not scary or unacceptable, but rather entertaining and enthralling.
Since it was adapted into a film at the beginning of the year, I think I can safely assume that most people have read the books. However, if you haven’t, please pick up the novel instead of just watching the film, if you want to understand the real depth that the story provides. Otherwise, if you’re lazy, you can check out my review HERE
Special Mention: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1943)
Technically only a novella, and originally written as ‘Le Petit Prince’ in de Saint-Exupery’s native French, The Little Prince is one of the most heart-warming books I think probably exists anywhere. Easily read in a sitting, it tells the tale of a little prince who goes from planet to planet trying to seek the meaning of the world, and to understand it better. During his travels he meets many different men, who are all searching for a meaning as well.
Although it was written as a children’s novel, The Little Prince is famous for being very profound about well, life. The most notable line in the book “What is essential is invisible to the eye” is continually repeated, and although it may be a short book, pictures and all, there’s a lot we can learn from a strange little prince from a different planet.
What were your favourite books in 2012? What do you have planned for 2013? Let me know!