One time my husband, looking at the wall of books in this photo, said, "I can't believe you've read all those books."
"Sweetie, those are the ones I haven't read," I replied.
So my list is long. And with a friend like Nancy Olson, former owner of Quail Ridge Books, calling me weekly with a new list of must-reads, I don't see that I'll be clearing those shelves any time soon!
That being said, although I usually read 40-50 books a year, I've only read around thirty this year. But I have read some incredible books and herewith is my list of recommendations for the year:
First of all let me say that I'm still pushing Mark Helprin's book In Sunlight and In Shadow. It is out in paperback now. You can read about it in my October 2012 post on books here.
10. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. The Wall Street Journal says it best: "Ms. Gilbert has turned out the most ambitious and purely imagined work of her twenty-year career: a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist."
9. The Round House by Louise Erdrich. I've gone a few years without reading Erdrich although I'm a huge fan of her writing. This book, which follows her themes of Native American culture, won the 2012 National Book Award.
8., 7. Two books of fairy tales were on my list of great reads this year: Phillip Pullman's re-telling of the classics, Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, and Angela Carter's collection which combines re-telling of old stories and her own original fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber. We lost a great writer when Carter died in 1992, but she left an impressive body of work.
6. The author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid, wrote How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia in my favorite second person POV. Andrew Anthony says of the book,"If Hamid set out to write a satire on the globalised dream of consumer-driven economic development, he ends up being undermined by the strength of his characters. You can't help but root for them in their perilous climb out of the mire of penury, while all the time being relieved that you are not really 'you.'"
5. Stephen Kiernan's book The Curiosity, isn't the most literary book I read this year, but it certainly had me thinking about the ethics of cryogenics. Scientists bring a man who has been frozen in an iceberg back to life.
4. Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer was one of the most unusual books I've ever read. The main character, Sunny is the bald-headed wife of an astronaut who builds space robots, the mother of an autistic son, and the daughter of a woman who is dying of cancer. I read this book in two days; it's quirky and compelling.
3. In Someone Alice McDermott follows the life of Marie, a young Irish-American living in Brooklyn. In typical McDermott style, the settings are as rich as the characters. The book was long-listed for the National Book Award.
2. Runner-up is an oldie but one I had never read, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I loved every chapter of this book that tells the coming of age story of Esperanza Cordero, a Latina girl growing up in Chicago. As soon as I turned the last page, I wanted to start again.
1. My number one pick of the year and the best short story collection I've read in a long time is Rebecca Lee's Bobcat and Other Stories. Like the Cisneros novel, I wanted to start these beautiful, haunting stories over immediately after finishing. Lee is one of our own, a professor at UNC-W, and someone to keep an eye on.
I didn't mention any non-fiction because I don't read that much of it, but I have given George Packer's award-winning book, The Unwinding, for gifts and everyone has loved it. I'm also hearing great things about Doris Kerns Goodwins new book on Theodore Roosevelt.
Many of our local writers, including Allan Gurganus, Nancy Peacock, Lee Smith, Elaine Orr, Peggy Payne, Jill McCorkle, and Wilton Barnhardt have books that came out this year. You can't go wrong with the local folks.
What's on my list for the coming months?
The Color Master by Aimee Bender (stories)
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
We Are Water by Wally Lamb
Dirty Love by Andre Dubus
Curing Time by Tim Swink (a Greensboro writer)
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
and anything else Nancy Olson tells me to read!
Now go to your independent bookstore and buy some gifts!