I devour the “best of” book lists that abound this time of year, the critics and the reviewers and the book bloggers all gushing about books that blew them away, lavishing praise instead of cynicism and pleading, “Read this!”
It’s tough to winnow my favorites from the nearly 300 (!) books I read this year, but I did want to share the brightest gems with you. Not all these books were published in 2012, but I read them all (except Best Reread) for the first time in 2012.
Best Crime-Solving Couples: Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, with their brilliant repartee, deductive genius and deep love for one another. And Agatha Christie’s duo Tommy and Tuppence, who are witty and sparkling and also rather good at solving mysteries.
Best Relatively Unknown Historical Novel: The Time in Between by Maria Duenas, with its brave protagonist Sira Quiroga, seamstress and spy in Morocco during the Spanish Civil War and the lead-up to World War II. Plenty of action, lush description, love and heartbreak and political tension. But it hasn’t been as widely hailed as I’d hoped. (Read it!)
Best Reread: The Harry Potter series. It is almost impossible to overstate my love for these books. So I will simply beg you: Read them, if you haven’t already.
Most Delicious Memoir: My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss. A charming, yummy tale of Berlin and New York and Boston, of family and broken hearts and finding your way home again. (And cooking.) Made me want to be her best friend.
Most Haunting Contemporary Novel: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier. I read this book in June, and I am still thinking about Elizabeth and her friend Kate, who inherits Elizabeth’s journals after her death and starts to wonder how well she really knew her friend. Powerful and thought-provoking.
Best Book on Faith: An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. It has left me trying to determine, again and again, what is saving my life right now. (If the answer is “I don’t know,” I know I need to pay more attention.)
Best Poetry Collection: Thirst, by Mary Oliver. As I was reading this, I read most of the poems at least twice. “Messenger” has been resonating in my head for weeks.
Best Catnip for Anglophiles: Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn, a wise, charming and often funny tale of Queen Elizabeth going on a quite unusual journey.
Best Peek Into Someone Else’s Letters: The wise, keenly observant and often self-deprecating letters of E.B. White.
Best Biography of a Strong-Willed Woman: Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. Julia was larger than life, literally and figuratively, and Spitz’s portrait of her is fascinating.
Best Classic I Can’t Believe I Never Read Before: Emma by Jane Austen. I’d seen the film, but it pales in comparison to the wit and brilliance of the novel. I wasn’t sure I would like Emma herself, but I ended up loving her.
Best Book My Husband Stole Before I Even Read It: After Mandela by Douglas Foster. A multi-layered, absorbing, often unsettling look at post-apartheid life in South Africa.
Coziest Fictional Village: Fairacre. (I discovered Miss Read long ago, but I read 16 of her Fairacre books this year. Obsessed? Maybe a little.)
Best Book Written for Teenagers: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, which made me laugh and cry and remember how difficult and wonderful life can be when you’re 14.
Craziest Fictional Family: Undoubtedly the Spellmans, Lisa Lutz’s family of private eyes who spend most of their spare time (and some of their on-the-job time) spying on each other.
Your turn. What are your favorite books from this year?
(I’m signing off for the next week to spend some time with my family. Merry Christmas!)