Reading List: Books I Read in 2012

As per tradition, here’s my list of books I read in the year just ended (in this case, 2012), listed alphabetically by author:

  • The Crossroads, by Niccolo Ammaniti *
  • Ed the Happy Clown, by Chester Brown (Graphic novel)
  • World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks *
  • The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers, by Scott Carney *
  • The Awakening, by Kate Chopin *
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow, by Wade Davis
  • A Partisan’s Daughter, by Louis de Bernieres
  • Ablutions, by Patrick deWitt *
  • Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Falada
  • The Confidential Agent, by Graham Greene
  • Plunder and Pillage: Atlantic Canada’s Brutal and Bloodthirsty Pirates and Privateers, by Harold Horwood
  • Eight Worlds of C.M. Kornbluth, by C.M. Kornbluth
  • The Thieves of Manhattan, by Adam Langer
  • Solar, by Ian MacEwan
  • After the Apocalypse, by Maureen McHugh *
  • Incident at Vichy, by Arthur Miller
  • Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley

* e-book.

A few notes:

17 titles, which is an improvement over last year’s abysmal low of nine and nowhere near my 2007 high of 38. However, as with last year, I did read much, much more medium- and long-form journalism than in earlier years, thanks to my iPad and Instapaper.

I put down, unfinished, only one book last year: James Wolcott’s Lucking Out. I had bought it in hardcover, at full price, based on the rattlingly good first chapter. By half way through it had deteriorated into a dull “been there done that” and celebrity roll-call. At least that’s how it felt. I didn’t throw it across the room or anything, I just set it down one night and never picked it up again.

As usual, I read way more men than women. And as usual, I will offer no explanation for this.

Most of the books on the list are not what you’d call “current.” I’m not one to obsess over best-seller lists nor do I feel a need to read “the latest thing.” I buy and read according to what strikes my fancy as I’m browsing, and there’s generally a significant lag between my buying a book and actually reading it. For paper-based books this is, on average, about two years, but it’s not unusual for it to stretch to ten or more. Unusually, most of the books I read in 2012 were actually purchased in 2012.

Six out of the 17 were e-books. This is higher than in previous years because I obtained a Kobo e-reader this past June. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it, and I’m considering going back to the iPad for book reading (or in this case, my new iPad Mini). I might go into detail on the problems of e-readers in a later blog post.

[Previous years’ reading lists.]

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9 thoughts on “Reading List: Books I Read in 2012

  1. I love lists. And this is why I like reading about your reading list from the year. But it only strikes me now, after having read these lists for years, that we probably have the complete opposite taste in books, or rather in the subject matter of the books (or so I can gather from the titles). This is completely fascinating to me.

    OK, re-reading your list I think I’m making huge assumptions. Perhaps they just sound like books I’d be less likely to read. But I bet my assumptions are not far from the truth.

  2. Well, we all have different tastes, and as the old saw goes, “there’s no accounting for peoples’ tastes.”

    I must admit my own tastes surprise me a bit when I review my reading lists. I seem to have a great fascination with urban life in the mid-20th century, in particular from the point of view of men in hats that are somehow mixed up with either a hot war or the cold war. This is strange, given that I’m essentially a pacifist.

    And what’s with the zombies? In general I have a huge fascination with apocalyptic themes, and I’ve had this since long before the current trend. I think the two things might be linked, as the higher-level theme in both cases is that of survival against the odds, or maybe it’s more along the lines of standing apart from the craziness going on around you.

    When it comes to the spy and war stuff, I’m far less interested in the “action” as I am in the effects of that action. In other words, what draws me in is the portrayal of how living under such difficulties can destroy people, or not.

    The same themes grab me even in non-war-themed stories, where the thing that’s oppressing the characters isn’t war and espionage and all that but restrictive social norms and other forms of soul crushing.

    And sometimes I just want a good laff!

  3. Fascinating, as usual, Ed! (And how cheery to see that your list includes “Ed the Happy Clown!”) There are a whole bunch here that I’d like to read: the Kate Chopin, Wade Davis, that particular one by Louis de Bernieres, have never read Confidential Agent, maybe the Ian McEwan, though I’m not a huge fan. I’m curious about both the first and last titles – don’t know either of these…? What were your favorites?

  4. Thanks Beth. Regarding Blork’s Literary Litsnips, I don’t really advertise it. It was never intended to be in the spotlight; more of a personal thing that I’m happy to quietly share.

    Regarding last year’s list, I don’t know if I can really single out a couple of favorites. I liked them all, but for such different reasons. “Ed the Happy Clown” is probably the weirdest thing that’s ever crossed my eyeballs. “World War Z” was really captivating too, although it’s certainly not for everyone. (It’s a fictional collection of “oral histories” from survivors of a zombie apocalypse.)

    “The Crossroads” was recommended to me by my friend Frank. It’s a translation from the original Italian, and it tells the story of a handful of hapless n’er do wells who live in a small Italian town in the 1990s. They plan a bit of a heist and everything goes wrong. But what it’s really about is what it’s like to be a crude, uneducated lug in the Italian countryside where everyone is supposed look like they stepped out of a travel brochure. And it’s also about the power of love and family within that context. (For example, one of the main characters has a big Nazi flag on the wall in his living room. That side of his character is never directly explored; it’s enough to know that it’s there and it’s up to us to try to understand why this bitter, cynical, but oddly lovable rogue is a Nazi, or at least a fascist, or — as I conclude — just an angry contrarian.)

    “Devil in a Blue Dress” is a sort of detective story. The main character, “Easy Rawlins,” is a kinda-sorta private eye (not licensed; he just sort of fell into it). There’s a whole series of Easy Rawlins novels, and they can quite easily be seen as just genre fiction books, but there’s more to them. The setting is the late 1940s in Los Angeles, and “Easy” is a young war veteran who’s having a bit of trouble getting back to regular life. The fact that he’s black doesn’t help him, but boy does it give us a look into a world we don’t often see in literature. It’s got all the stuff you’d expect from that environment (pimps, tarty ladies, thugs, etc.) but it’s presented in a pretty realistic and sympathetic way. As in, it’s not played for cheap thrills.

    I’d read another book by Walter Mosley a few years back — not an Easy Rawlins one — and that got me interested in checking this out. “Devil in a Blue Dress” is probably the most well known of the series, as it was made into a movie with Denzel Washington in 1995. (

    I’m a big Ian MacEwan fan, but I wasn’t sure I’d like “Solar,” as many of the reviews were lukewarm. But in the end I really liked it because I totally “got” the satire. (See my snippits in Blork’s Literary Snippits.) I think maybe some folks didn’t realize it was satire, or simply weren’t used to that kind of thing coming from Ian MacEwan.

  5. I too love, LOVE Instapaper! And with the discovery of @Longreads, @the_rumpus and @aldaily (twitter accounts mentionned here, but I prefer to roam their websites) it has become an invaluable partner in my reading habits, but it might have altered my book consumption a bit…

    This is a great list, with more than a few titles I’d like to get to eventually. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I just compiled my own list for ze blog (planned for January 21… what can I say…). I always love reading yours. How geeky. Your remark last year (the year before?) made me realize I want to read more women authors. I only managed 8 books by women out of 43. But I bet my list of children’s books read will reverse the trend! :-)

    You don’t read in French?

  7. Yes, I guess there’s going to be a fundamental shift in your reading for a while. You’re “reading for two” so to speak. :-)

    No, I don’t read in French, at least not things of any length. I’m so slow at it, and I quickly lose patience with myself. #fail

  8. Understandable. I felt the same when I started reading in English. Guess I owe Ms Racette from secondaire II a big thank you for Fahrenheit 452, which made me want to stick with it even though I was incredibly slow.

    Reading for two indeed. Because I do re-read my books. But not, say, every single effing night for 5 months straight. *Sigh* Sometimes I switch languages on her for those books. I know them by heart so it’s easy to translate as I go but she doesn’t like it.

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