My Top 50 Reads of 2012

It has been a great year of reading. So much has been read. A little way too much actually. I have managed to read 180 books in all and the feeling is beyond what words can explain. Everything seems surreal and wonderful. Books as always proved to be there throughout the year. Some I left midway and some I completed and most of them I loved. So to decide which books were my best reads out of 180 reads has not been easy, and yet I have to write this post as the end of the year is close and right round the corner. After all, a great new year of reading will soon begin.

So here are my favourite reads of 2012. I have tried to keep in to 50 books. It might move to more. Also, it is not necessary that the books I have read and enjoyed were all published in 2012. Some have been old reads, which I either discovered or rediscovered so to say.

1. You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik: Paris. An English teacher. His sly and students with cruel intentions. An affair gone wrong and it all comes falling down.

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2. Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil: Bombay and its underbelly. A eunuch and the city in all its glory and muck. A great read. I was disappointed when it did not win the Booker Prize.

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3. The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda: A lesser known writer and a collection of short stories which are weird, funny and full of heartache and loss. I had never even heard of the writer before picking up this book, but now I will have to hunt for more works.

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4. We the Animals by Justin Torres: A family. A grouping of stories. Demented lives, and fractured tales and yet something soothing and hopeful at the end of it all.

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5. Unpacking My Library: Writers and their Books: Edited by Leah Price: Writers and their bookshelves. Selected writers choose their favourite books (all-time). A joy to read with pictures of their libraries. Stunning in most cases.

Buy Unpacking My Library

6. Smut: Stories by Alan Bennett: Two unlikely stories by the master story-teller. A little out of place in today’s time and yet where the writing is concerned, no one can surpass him. Hence, this book made it to my list.

Buy Smut

7. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo: If a book manages to tell you more about your city and give you a totally different perspective, then maybe the book has impacted you a lot. This one did it for me. It spoke to me about Mumbai and its dark corners and life that survives. Brilliant writing!

Buy Behind the Beautiful Forevers

8. Coltrane by Paolo Parisi: This book made me aware of John Coltrane and its music. It is a graphic novel which is so different and refreshing. A must read for Jazz fans.

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9. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson: Safety nets no longer exist. Life is not predictable. Nothing remains the same. Everything changes. Jeanette Winterson’s memoir/autobiography was one that was the closest to me this year. I could identify with her on so many levels. The awareness of sexual identity and its repercussions are empathetically portrayed in this one.

Buy Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal

10. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka: Japanese Women. Illegal immigrants. Different lives and the same story at the core. Trying to adjust to a new country – the US of A. Alienation, loneliness and oddity at the heart of the book.

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11. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan: Nothing like a book that defines love in such a beautiful manner, making a story that could be anyone’s story. The Lover’s Dictionary is an ode to love – a subtle love letter to love and its nature.

Buy The Lover

12. A Life in Words: Memoirs by Ismat Chughtai: Feisty. Not giving up in the face of any adversity. A writer and her memoirs. Her life and how she got to where she did.

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13. Please Look after Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin: A mother. Her kids. Her absent husband. Her life as lived before she disappeared. A book full of love and loss and vulnerability. Something that no avid reader should miss.

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14. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: The past and the present merge beautifully in this novel of Hollywood and simple lives. It is something unique and unlike what you would have had read. At least for me it was.

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15. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan: Jazz is the main character of this book. Three African-American men. Germany. A jazz group. Friendships broken and some formed. Misunderstandings. Love. Losses.

Buy Half

16. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: Need I have to say anything about why this was one of my top reads this year? I don’t think so either.

Buy 1Q84

17. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: A classic sometimes moves you like no other genre of literature can. This one sure had that effect on me. Two friends. One wanting it all. The other satisfied in what he can get. Life has its own plans.

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18. The Arrival by Shaun Tan: The immigrant experience couldn’t have been put better than how this book portrays it. I am so glad I got a chance to experience this book and so must you.

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19. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: How can one not love reading about the incidents that led to the execution of Anne Boleyn? I love the Tudor Era and how this book said it all through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell.

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20. The Submission by Amy Waldman: Two years have passed since the 9/11 attacks. A contest to build a memorial. A clear winner. Mohammed Khan, an architect who is as much a citizen of US of A as anyone else. But of course there are problems and issues. A great romp of a read.

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21. Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto: This book shines in so many ways that it was just impossible not to have it included in my list. A family dealing with a mother’s state of mind and coping through with hope and uncanny way of loving.

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22. Lovers by Daniel Arsand: 18th Century Love. Love between two men. Forbidden. Consequences. Poetry of the language. Arsand deserves a standing ovation for this one.

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23. I am an Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran: An unusual collection of love stories. A Bengal Tiger in Love. Loved that story and it still stays with me. The rest of them are also very good.

Buy I Am An Executioner

24. The Free World by David Bezmozgis: 1978. The migrant experience of a Russian family in Rome, on their way to the US. Everything eventually falls apart. Outstanding read of the year.

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25. The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger: A Bengali woman from Bangladesh. An American man. An unusual marriage. A different perspective.

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26. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: A fourteen-year old who loses her uncle to AIDS and strikes a friendship with his partner, getting to know more about her uncle and the family secrets.

Buy Tell the Wolves I

27. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson: North Korea. The son of an orphan master. A spy. A love story that jumps unexpectedly out of the pages. Different narratives. A little difficult to read at times, but definitely worth it.

Buy The Orphan Master

28. Winter Journal by Paul Auster: A writer’s life. His journey almost. His writing. The anguish most of the time. An introspective re-telling.

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29. The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya: Afghanistan. War-time. A girl waiting to claim her brother’s body so she can give him a decent burial. Antigone in a different form. A great read.

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30. Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell: Nothing happens in this book and yet so much does. A suburban housewife. Angst, ennui and loneliness told through a hundred chapters.

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31. Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie: A writer in exile. His thoughts. His times when he wasn’t allowed to live the way he wanted to. One of Rushdie’s best according to me.

Buy Joseph Anton

32. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: Literature, love and life. Trying to balance and make sense of all of it. Almost a dedication to Austen. A must-read for all literature lovers.

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33. Silent House by Orhan Pamuk: A family and its reunion in troubled times of Istanbul. Different perspectives. Different thoughts. A well-told tale of views and clashing of emotions.

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34. The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph: One of the best Indian reads for me this year. Striking and full of sadness, this novel explores relationships between fathers and sons and what happens when there is no communication.

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35. Aerogrammes and Other Stories by Tania James: These stories are illuminating. On the nature of love, longing and desire. They are soulful and should not be missed. I had a great time losing myself as I was immersed reading this one.

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36. The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy: Cats, cats and more cats. Cats that speak. Adorable cats. Ferocious cats. Naughty cats. Cats. The Wildings was according to me a fantastic debut this year.

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37. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan: A spy. A mission and love which always occurs unexpectedly. This book was not something which I thought McEwan would ever write and there he surprised me. What a book!

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38. Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro: Alice Munro’s stories sparkle with life and break your heart just as easy. She is a mistress of words and no one can take that away from her. She is the short-story form personified.

Buy Dear Life

39. Between Clay and Dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi: An ageing wrestler. A courtesan whose trade is no longer what it used to be. Two dying arts. One story that captures it beautifully. A book not to be missed.

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40. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy: A booker shortlisted book. A book of madness and the family-vacation silence broken by a stranger. A book that will grip you from the first sentence and not let go.

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41. The Elephant Keepers Children by Peter Hoeg: Two children on the search for their parents, who are criminals. The story revolves around the children’s perspectives and how the narrative falls together is the crux of the book.

Buy The Elephant Keeper

42. Grimm Tales: For Young and Old by Philip Pullman: A retelling of the Grimm’s fairy tales, this version by Philip Pullman is class apart. With footnotes and detailing of every tale, this sure will be a reread for me.

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43. Lazarus is Dead by Richard Beard: Lazarus was resurrected. The story in the Bible. The way the story has been retold from Lazarus’ perspective and the changes and the interpretations and some more points of view from various books and movies. A definitive read.

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44. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett: The Queen develops a new passion: Books and Reading. This novella is probably one of the best I’ve read this year. Touching and so sweet without getting sentimental.

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45. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe: A mother who has been diagnosed with cancer. A son. Their love for books and reading. A book club. A heart-warming tale. A book not to be missed.

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46. One for the Books by Joe Queenan: “One for the Books” is truly a love song, a poem, a recollection of reading, and most importantly a reader’s tribute to books and reading.

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47. My Ideal Bookshelf: Edited by Thessaly La Force and Art by Jane Mount: Different people. Different walks of life. Their favourite books are painted in ink and color by Jane Mount. A great mini-coffee-table book.

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48. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Two teenagers. Diagnosed for cancer. They fall in love and that’s when the book begins. To live, to love and to be.

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49. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers: A book about war and its impact on soldiers and their families. On both the sides. On how easy it is to declare war and how difficult to face the aftermath.

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50. Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story: Edited by Lori Stein and Sadi Stein: 20 short stories selected by 20 contemporary authors, almost their favourites and a sure shot success of a book at hand.

Buy Object Lessons

So these are the top 50 favourite reads of mine for this year. Here’s to 2013 and another year of some more fascinating reads. The target is to finish reading 200 books in 2013 and that is quite possible. I will so achieve it.

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2 thoughts on “My Top 50 Reads of 2012

  1. Aarti

    Wow, 180 books- am only half way there in 2012 and am hoping this year is better.. Good to see some books I’ve read and enjoyed feature in the list!

    More books .. more reading 🙂

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Joe Queenan: My 6,128 Favorite Books – WSJ.com | Stephanie L. Gross, MSLIS

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