Each year I post a list of my favorite books I’ve read recently, and each year more people care than I ever thought would (5-10 people; Hi, Aunt Jan!). I’m usually about twenty years behind everyone else, but since I started working in a bookstore I’ve tackled one or two from this year! Shocking, I know. Here is my list of favorite books I read in 2012:
Chris Gethard’s A Bad Idea I’m About To Do
Gethard, One of my favorite storytellers/improvisers/actors/awkward humans, had a show at UCB where he let friends and relatives sit onstage while he told funny stories. The guests were allowed to embellish or contradict Chris’s stories at any time. Usually it was a roommate or another comic. One time it was P Diddy (for real!). In this book he tells those stories and in many cases, asks his mom to retroactively give him advice. The results are dirty and cringe-worthy. I loved it. Check it out.
Charles Duhigg, Power of Habit
I lost fifteen pounds after reading this book (don’t worry, I put it back on)! A little mix of science and self-help, this is one of those rare nonfiction books that forces you to think of your whole life through its prism for a month. NOT LIKE THE SECRET or anything. You won’t sound dumb. It’s about habit loops and the way people get stuck in them, for better or worse. It covers smoking, toothpaste, that guy the movie Memento is based on. It’s a lot of fun and you should read it.
Richard Lloyd Parry, People Who Eat Darkness
A true crime that’s sometimes sad, infuriating (when you find out about the Japanese police department), and constantly intriguing/freaky in a “why am I still looking at this?” sort of way that is only comparable to recent South Korean horror films. This is about a British Airways flight attendant who moves to Japan to be a hostess (pseudo-prostitute, hard to explain) where a man abducts her. You won’t be able to put it down!
Cheryl Strayed, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things
OH GOD, where do I start??? Oprah restarted her book club just to make more people read Wild. Did that do it for you? No? OK. Cheryl Strayed used to answer anonymous questions for the Rumpus (see: Tiny Beautiful Things for the “best of”) where she revealed everything about herself in her answers: she had been molested, she used heroin, she left her husband to hike the Pacific Crest Trail after her mother died from lung cancer when Strayed was in her 20s (Wild follows this last part). I read both of these jointly and I loved every second of it. It was like a week-long no-bullshit therapy session. You should read them both.
John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead
This book of essays was on many Best of 2011 lists, and I got around to it at the beginning of this year. Read the first essay in the book (40 pages about attending a Christian Rock concert) and I bet you’ll want to tear through the whole thing. I’ve been selling it to people as a “more compassionate Klosterman,” though I feel that’s unfair to Klosterman. John Jeremiah Sullivan covers very similar subjects that Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs does except just at the moment when Klosterman would say something hip and funny, Sullivan opens up about what in his personal life is coloring his judgement of the subjects he’s studying. It’s great!
Alison Espach, The Adults
I read a few first-time novelists’ books this year, but this one takes the cake. It begins like a darker female version of The Graduate (a high school girl begins a decade long affair with a teacher while she’s still in school) then takes a stab at what it means to really become an adult from age fifteen to thirty.
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl:
A “he said, she said” about a wife’s disappearance. Each chapter alternates between the spouses’ accounts of what actually happened. It’s exciting. It’s clever. Both characters (though having huge blind spots when it comes to smart decision-making) appear extremely intelligent. Whatever Hitchcock was trying to say about marriage in “Dial M for Murder” is somewhere in this book. It’s murky and you never know whether or not your partner is plotting your death. True story: my brother is getting married soon, and my Mom sent him this book as an engagement gift. What a family!
Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing:
Possibly my favorite book of essays I read this year, though I find myself talking about Pulphead a lot because more of my friends have read it. Kreider is a cartoonist whose essay “The ‘Busy’ Trap” you might have read in the NY Times or you may have heard him talking about his friend, the compulsive liar, on NPR. Maybe it’s because he writes about drinking in New York City so well. Maybe it’s because he’s older than I am but is still grappling with the same anxieties. Maybe it’s that every one of his essays are simply honest observations about friendship (less Sesame Street, more a shrug of the shoulders at the end of each one). I love this book. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You’ll take a step back and say “it’s all bullshit.”
As always, I read some stuff this year that I enjoyed (and are well worth your time!) but I don’t find myself drunkenly yelling at people in bars about these books. That said, they’re all great: Donald Ray Pollack’s The Devil All The Time, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, Emma Straub’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, Josh Bazell’s Beat The Reaper and Jeff Ryan’s Super Mario. I’m currently in the middle of A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven and it’s great!
What should I read next year that I missed??
Re-reading, and what NOT to read:
The best decision I made this year was to start (then stop) reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. My goal was to read fifty pages a week until I finished and write about my experience. This was fun until I was at a party and my friend Kate said that I made Ulysses sound fun, and I yelled “DON’T YOU DARE READ THAT BOOK!!” There’s nothing fun about reading Ulysses. Well. Some of it is fun. I don’t know. I quit. Maybe you’ll be able to convince me that it’s a good read. If you’d like to see how far I made it, here are the posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Paul Murray, Skippy Dies:
I’m sorry- have we talked for more than five minutes this year without me bringing up this book? If so, I apologize. It’s the best. I’ve sold 100 copies of it at Community Bookstore hoping that Paul Murray soon becomes a household name in the US (or just Park Slope). I went home in October and found it sitting in my parents’ living room and started to page through it. I put it down after about forty pages, then in the middle of the night, instead of sneaking off to raid the fridge to cure my insomnia, I found myself in my parents’ living room from 2 AM until the sun came up reading my favorite passages from the book. Libidinous teenage boys experimenting with drugs and time travel in a Catholic all-boys school??? What’s not to love. Read it.
WOW! What a book! We share the same name but I don’t know this dude at all. Wish I were related so I could spend Christmas picking his brain. Speaking of Christmas, the holidays are upon us! What a great gift this book would make for anyone. Buy ten copies.
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