Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Christmas List: Favorite Reads of 2012

Goodreads has been urging me to vote on the best books of 2012, and I tried. I did. But I quickly ran into an obstacle: I'd only read one of the nominated books. ONE. One piddly book, and that was counting all categories I checked: fiction, nonfiction, and food. I do recommend that solitary book, however: French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, and here's the UrbanFarmJunkie post where I reviewed it and another where I referenced it again.

Which is not to say I didn't do a lot of reading, January through November of 2012, my lack of Janet Evanovich and Kristen Hannah notwithstanding. In fact, Goodreads has me at 101 books. They just mostly weren't published in 2012. I gave lots of them 4 of 5 stars, mostly because I rarely finish a 2-star read and don't write many 3-star reviews (lest I tick off some author), but I'm forcing myself to pick just one winner in each category. Well--one winner and one runner-up. Make that as many runners-up as I like, if I really couldn't choose.

So if any your loved ones enjoy these categories, give these ones a try! (Mini-plug: do please note that, yes, Amazon has the cheapest books, but will they gift-wrap and ship for free in the U.S., like University Book Store? You heard me: GIFT-WRAP.)

Winner, New or Newish Fiction:

 Tortured folk on a Mississippi Delta farm, post WWII. I loved it, my book club loved it. It came out in 2008, but I'm surprised by how many people never heard of it.

Runners-Up for New/Newish Fiction:

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings. An enthralling train wreck. Even better than the very good movie.
The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. Fleshing out of the Lindbergh courtship and marriage, from Anne's perspective.
The Mirrored World by Debra Dean. The life of a St. Petersburg saint. If you love period movies, you'll enjoy this book.

Winner, History:
Wow. Mann covers just about everything under the sun, all around the world. How the discovery of the New World changed the entire world, from the movements of peoples to the rise of African slavery, to population booms and busts and environmental degradation. Amazing. Even better than his excellent book 1491.

Runner-Up, History:
The Bounty by Caroline Alexander. I'm a sucker for British Naval history. Throw in some mutiny and Tahiti and sympathy for the long-maligned Lt Bligh, and I'm sold. I gave both these books 5 of 5 stars.

Winner, Popular Science:
Fascinating and worrisome book of how people have responded with fear and suspicion to vaccines, including the latest version: the fear that early-childhood vaccines have been linked to autism. Mnookin builds a thorough, researched case and investigates how money, motives, and celebrity each play a role in the public's perception.

Runners-Up, Popular Science:
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. Yeah, so he may have resigned his journalism job for making up a Bob Dylan quote in his most recent book, but this one is so much fun! How and why do we make the choices we do?
Maphead by Ken Jennings. A history of maps and the people who love them, all told with Jennings' characteristic good humor.

Winner, Young Adult:

This one's been out a little while, so check with the middle-grader/teen you're considering. The protagonist has a port-wine birthmark but discovers her own beauty. Amazing portrayal of a controlling, verbally abusive father.

Runners-Up, Young Adult:
The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman. Dystopian fiction that isn't a series! Imagine that.
Chalice by Robin McKinley. I love fantasy writer McKinley's early stuff (Beauty and The Blue Sword, especially), and this one reminded me of those more than her other, later works.

Winner, Memoir:
What better way to view a portion of someone's life than through the lens of Laura Ingalls Wilder books? I'd been dying to put together a driving trip to see the Wilder sites (with some Maud Hart Lovelace thrown in), and now McClure has done a lot of the legwork for me. Fun, funny, and fascinating. There might also be a fourth F for proFanity--meaning, McClure loves LIW, but she is a woman of today, with its attendant attitudes.

Runners-Up, Memoir:
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (but everyone's probably already read it or formed preconceptions about it)
Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball. More of a family story than a personal memoir. Ball traces the history of slaves owned by his family, their descendants, and their buyers and sellers.

Winner, Adventure/Survival:
Yep. It was also my runner-up in History. Really loved this book.

Runners-Up, Adventure/Survival:
Left for Dead by Pete Nelson. A more recent shipwreck story (WWII). Good stuff.
Hot Time in the Old Town by Edward P. Kohn. A killer heat wave in New York City. Teddy Roosevelt. Corrupt politicians. Lots of death and selfishness.

Winner, Biography:
Page-turning account of the young man who robbed and ran, over and over, in the islands around Seattle. If he'd had access to a school like Eastside Academy, his life would have been very different, and we would not have had this book!

Runner-Up, Biography:
The Women Jefferson Loved by Virginia Scharff. If you're a Jefferson nut, which I'm (as Foghorn Leghorn would say), you'll enjoy this biography told from the angle of his relationships with women, including his mother, Sally Hemings, and daughter Patsy.

Winner, Food-Related:
Exactly what the cover says, and then some. Slavery in Florida, for starters. Quite the eye-opener and motivation to grow your own.

Runner-Up, Food-Related:
French Kids Eat Everything by Karen LeBillon.

Honorable Mentions, Classics. Why? Because they're free on your e-reader, and I enjoyed them every bit as much as the more recently published books.
A penniless couple tries to make a go of marriage in society.

I'm always a sucker for Thomas Hardy. This one falls in his less-depressing category.

There you have it. Hope you found something for someone or a new read for yourself! I've got lots of good books on my shelf for December, so next year I'll probably have to consider those honorary 2013 books.

If you had some big favorites this year, share them with us in the blog comments! And if you want to swap book reviews as they're coming out, friend me on Goodreads.

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