Rather than provide the usual list of best books published in 2012, we thought we’d take an alternative approach to this at Dontreadtoofast.com – below are the best books we’ve read in 2012. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did. See you all again in 2013. The Editors.
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
The first and only book I have read that made me feel more alive when reading than when not. I thought I had run the full gamut of human emotions through literature but never have I felt the urgency of mortality more forcefully than when reading Hemingway’s masterpiece. If you did not read this book in 2012 or before, make sure you read it in 2013. The Editors
A Dance to the Music of Time – Anthony Powell
It is not one book, and I did not read all of it this year. However, the 12 component parts of Anthony Powell’s epic form a coherent whole, and I did get through the majority of it in 2012, some of it in far flung bits of West African bush. It takes a while to warm up (about five volumes indeed), and I would not be the first to say that reaches its peak with the three war time instalments (The Valley of Bones, The Soldier’s Art and The Military Philosophers). But fundamentally the Dance repays the time one must invest to master it. Simon Akam
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
I am somewhat reluctant to push this book into the 2012 limelight; it is by no means a seminal work. However, for those fed up with a wet and cold London, slip through the cracks into Gaiman’s fantasy world “London Below” – a subterrenean labyrinth of disused tube stations, sewers and canals. Magical characters like Old Bailey and the Angel of Islington will lead you through this shadowy world where walking down Night’s Bridge (Knightsbridge) might be the last thing you do. It’s magical escapism at it’s best, you’ll never forget to “Mind the Gap” commuting into work again. Anna Stewart
War Music – Christopher Logue
I have two best books read in 2012, but the first, Infinite Jest, is one of those novels with which you feel that it isn’t passing through your life, but you through its, so I make my genuflection and move on to Christopher Logue’s War Music. It’s a translation and adaption of the central part of the Iliad – from Achilles’ decision not to fight for the Greeks after Agamemnon’s confiscation of Briseis through to his re-entry into the war after the death of Patroclus. The language has all the hard-edged clarity, the sweep and ferocity we associate with the Greeks. Never have I read the Trojan War so vicious, Achilles so startling, Hector so noble, the gods so cruel and indifferent. Alex Starritt
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
It is a very brave author that sits down to write a novel so plainly about ‘good and evil’. To do this without preaching or patronising is almost impossible and the cynic in me began this novel with not a little scepticism, but I was left in awe. Steinbeck uses the story of Cain and Abel to examine the relationships between brothers, and also of their individual relationships with their fathers through three generations of the same family. I fell in love with some characters, grew to hate others and learned a lot along the way. I suggest you buy a copy because you can’t have mine – Merry Christmas DRTF and friends. Al Kent-Lemon
The Letters of Sylvia Beach – Edited by Keri Walsh
A charming collection of the correspondence of this most significant and quiet woman who, among many other things: fostered a generation of writers in Paris through her bookshop-cum-library including Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Ezra Pound, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce; she published Ulysses when no one else would take it; and perhaps most importantly of all, she gave this website it’s name. The Editors
2666 – Roberto Bolaño. This book was long, difficult and bewitching. I fell in love with it long before it was finished.
Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer. In his stunning debut, JFR enters the territory of A Clockwork Orange mixed with The White Tiger, in a delightful violation of the English language – he make it is his own.
Becoming Dickens – Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. An excellent counter-historical account of Charles Dickens’ life, his almost accidental rise to fame and the bison-like determination that pushed him on to achievement.
The Consolation of Philosophy – Boethius. I read this book at least once a year and it is always in the list of the best books I have read that year.
Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life – Adam Phillips. This combines literary criticism with psychoanalysis in a way that spans an incredibly broad, if incomplete, number of subjects.
Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature – Alastair Fowler. Semantic clues in literary naming. A marvel.
Noriko Smiling – Adam Mars-Jones. A wonderful study of post-war Japanese cinema.
The Deadman’s Pedal – Alan Warner. He writes with the kind of dark Scottish humour that Irvine Welch should aspire to, with characters so amazingly eccentric I am never sure if I would run away screaming or take them home for cheese on toast were I to encounter them in a dark alley.
The Big Music– Kirsty Gunn. Inspired by bagpipes. Essential.
NW– Zadie Smith. Some say not as strong as White Teeth, this is accomplished and entertaining regardless.
Boxer Beetle and The Teleportation Accident – Ned Beauman. Hilarious, wonderfully plotted and hugely accomplished, both.
Bring up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel. No way this can be left out.
The Twelve – Justin Cronin. This is hard to admit to. This is a post-apocalypse novel with vampires in it. For adults. It is the second part of the Passage trilogy, it is over 590 pages long and I read it in three days. Utterly compelling.
Angelmaker– Nick Harkaway. Harkaway’s is a funny, tautly written example of how a thriller (or mystery, for the classic definition) novel should be written.
Ancient Light – John Banville. Unpromising subject beautifully written.
Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes – Mary and Bryan Talbot. This illustrates how fraught growing up in James Joyce’s household was for a child of this cantankerous, frustrated man. The entrance of a young Samuel Beckett does nothing to simplify things. Moving and brilliant.
Complete Works of Alison Bechdel. Everything you never need to know about being a young illustrator/artist/writer and/or a lesbian. Self-deprecating to the last, amazingly honest and funny.
81 Austerities – Sam Rivere. He’s young, he writes about the distortion of things, he’s ace.
Collected Poems– Don Patterson. Whether he writes about the death of a dog, the birth of a child or spending too much time with his mates in the pub, Patterson is capable of bringing you up short with his apt mastery of the correct word in ever situation, always with humour.