Gaskella’s Books of 2012

Today is one of those dates that can only happen once every hundred years – 12-12-12, so it’s an ideal time to review my reading year. Yes, in common with many other bloggers, critics and reviewers I’ve picked out the best bits, so here are my personal top ten books that I’ve read in 2012, plus a few close-run titles and ones that disappointed.  The links go to my original reviews.  As always, I’ve devised categories for fun so that my list has variety:

Best Fairy Tale: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. One of the first books I read this year, and one of the very best. This story of a longed-for child appearing in the wilds of Alaska is truly magical.

Best Noir: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Dark thoughts run deep in this 1950s novel of a Police Officer with a bad mind.

Best of Beryl: The Bottle Factory Outing by the late, great Beryl Bainbridge. Reading this vicious comedy from 1974 back in March, gave me the idea for running the “Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week” in June. I’ve still got half of her books to read, so may well do it again next year …

Best Re-Read: Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr. Re-reading my favourite book from childhood was a brilliant experience. I could really understand why it affected and scared me so then, but could appreciate its depth and sublety too. Timeless!

Best Three Hankie Book: My Policeman by Bethan Roberts. This novel of a love triangle in 1950s Brighton made me cry. None of the three involved ultimately were happy and I found that profoundly sad.

Best Contemporary Crime Novel: City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris. Set in Saudi Arabia, I, and our Book Group, found this mystery totally absorbing – such a different way of life.

Best Crossover Title: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I thought this novel about a young boy dealing with his mother’s illness was exceptional. Our book group didn’t quite agree – but à chacun son goût, as they say en France.

Best Future Cult Classic: Lightning Rods by Helen De Witt. Not for those who shock easily, this clever satire can almost make you believe anything could happen.

Best for Chucklesome Comfort Reading: The Darling Buds of May by HE Bates. Kentish ‘Larkin’ about – Perfick entertainment.

Best Arty Biography: Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes. I shouldn’t really include another Beryl Bainbridge related title, but this recent biography is just so fascinating, I couldn’t resist.

That’s my top ten. If pushed, I’d possibly opt for The Snow Child as my absolute favourite, although Lightning Rods comes very close.

A few that didn’t quite make the top ten were John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk, The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon, and Winter Journal by Paul Auster.
Other highlights have been discovering Edna O’Brien and Dorothy Dunnett, both of whom will feature in my reading to come, I know.

By way of contrast, there were a few titles that I found disappointing – Laurent Binet’s critical success HHhH just irritated me, although I do recognise its originality; The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus was very experimental and interesting, but didn’t work out, and lastly that overhyped first grown-up novel by JK Rowling that was OK, but underwhelmed.

There you have it.  Of course, with a few weeks of the year left, I may yet add to these lists. As usual too, I will be looking at the stats of my reading towards the end of the year – Yes, I do that for fun!

Do share your thoughts on my choices above, and feel free to tell me what I should read next year that you loved this year too.


30 thoughts on “Gaskella’s Books of 2012

  1. Karen (at Curate's egg) says:

    I’m so glad to see The Snow Child on your list. It really is a lovely book. I haven’t compiled my list yet, just in case there’s a late contender, but I think Ivey’s book is likely to top mine too.

    • gaskella says:

      It was one of the first books I read this year, and it has stayed with me, so was delighted to pick it. Glad you enjoyed it too.

  2. farmlanebooks says:

    I loved The Snow Child and was irritated by The Flame Alphabet, but HHhH is my book of the year. So we agree about some things, but not others 🙂

    Lightning Rods sounds like my sort of book. I’ll have to try to read it next year.

  3. Juna says:

    You have inspired me to compile a complete list of my own. But in the meantime, as a Best Re-Read, I’d nominate Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose. I first read this study of five Victorian marriages about 25 years ago and find it just as interesting today as I did then. Rose explores the complex unions of “big names” of the time, including Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle, Effie Gray and John Ruskin, and Catherine Hogarth and Charles Dickens. Her witing is consistently engaging and she eschews the convention of presenting imagined conversaton between her subjects (something I find particularly annoying in work that purports to be biography, rather than historical fiction!)

  4. Gavin says:

    Great list! I’ve read The Snow Child and A Monster Calls, loved them both. You’ve inspired me to get back to reading Bainbridge, and it seems like people either love or hate HHhH. I may have to try that one, just to see what all the fuss is about!

    • gaskella says:

      You must read some Bainbridge Gavin, she’s brilliant – but I would say that. Although it irritated me, I’d say do try HHhH …

  5. sakura says:

    The Snow Child doesn’t really grab me but it looks like it’s a favourite for many bloggers (and it’s your no.1) so I may have to give it a twirl to see what all the fuss is about!

  6. Helen says:

    I loved The Snow Child – it’s such a beautiful, magical story. Discovering Dorothy Dunnett has been one of my highlights of the year too. I think when I compile my own Best of 2012 list I’ll have to include all six of the Lymond books!

    • gaskella says:

      I hope I grow to have your passion for Dunnett – it’s a fledgling thing at the mo but I’m nurturing it.

  7. Alex in Leeds says:

    Thank you for introducing me to Bainbridge this year! I definitely agree about Lightning Rods but I really have to start thinking about my own list of bests for this year…

  8. LizF says:

    My list would definitely have John Saturnall’s Feast and The Colour of Milk and I think that it would also include The Snow Child too although I have only just started reading it.
    I enjoyed My Policeman but didn’t love it because I couldn’t warm to any of the characters – it is the third of Bethan Roberts’ books that I have read and I felt the same disconnect with all of them: they were well written and intriguing but somehow not involving.
    I agree with you about City of Veils, which I read a year or so ago and I think that you would enjoy Zoe Ferraris’ new book Kingdom of Strangers which also features Katya and was one of my favourite reads.
    The most surprising read for me has been Middlemarch: it has been so long since I read a classic novel (I’m not counting my epic fail on War and Peace) that I half thought they weren’t for me, but I have been surprised at how much I am enjoying it and it has encouraged me to line up some more for when I finish the readalong in March – or maybe sooner if I feel brave enough!
    Now for Lymond …

    • gaskella says:

      One day I will read Middlemarch … I am currently reading another classic – Jude the Obscure – and am enjoying it very much, but Hardy is easier than Eliot. I’m with you on always being surprised how much I enjoy the classics when I dare to read one. Hope you get on with Lymond!

  9. Tom Cunliffe says:

    I love reading these end of year lists. Your’s is interesting as you’ve classified it by category. I wonder who The Darling Buds has fared after all these years – perhaps I should drag it down from the shelf and have a go. I regret to say I’ve read no others on your list other than the Bottle Factory.

  10. Alex says:

    Haven’t read any of the books in your list, although I have The Snow Child in the wish-list. I’ve been seeing Lightning Rods in some other best of 2012 lists – hurrah for independent publishers!

  11. Simon T says:

    Oh gosh, you remind me that I was about a third of the way through The Snow Child as 2012 began – and I haven’t read any more of it yet, oh the horrors! Don’t know why. I must finish it in 2013.

  12. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    A great list and no surprise at all to see The Snow Child leading it, it was by far the outstanding read of 2012 for me as well. A wonderful and varied list of favourites, you’ve had a great reading year. Working on my summary now 🙂

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