The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - my favorite read of 2012
The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

What was that whooshing sound, and why is my hair all ruffled? Ah yes, that must be 2012 flying by at the speed of light. How can it be almost 2013 already? It seems just yesterday we were nervously joking about the Mayan calendar, and now here we (still) are. Can it truly be that one short year ago, I had never heard the words Fifty Shades of Grey (I know it was actually first published in 2011, but it didn’t emerge from the depths and reach me until March, 2012.) ?

I admit this was not my most plentiful year for reading. I didn’t read as many books as I wanted. I know exactly why, too, and can narrow it down to a two-word culprit: smart phone.  Yes it’s true, up until early this year, I had an archaic talk-and-text, with perhaps an occasional game of Tetris thrown in for good measure. This year I succumbed to the hype, discovered Angry Birds, and as a result, read much less than usual. Fortunately, the novelty is wearing off, I feel suitably chastened, and 2013 is a new year “with no mistakes in it yet” (points if you know the quotation).

Despite my possibly ill-advised foray into new technology, I read some excellent books this year – easily enough to comfortably put together a list of recommendations. For those new to the format, this is not the standard list of best books that came out this year, but rather just the best books that I happened to read this year. Think of it as a sort of virtual “staff picks” shelf from me. There are a couple of graphic novels in there, some new books, and some new-to-me books.

Some of what was new to me is a little bit embarrassing – for instance, I read (and loved!) The End of the Affair this year. But that was my first ever Graham Greene novel. How can that be?! And so, while I will use this space to talk about what I read last year and give you some recommendations, I hope you’ll forgive me if I also self-indulgently make some New Year’s resolutions for myself, too, starting with Graham Greene – I want to read The Power and the Glory, The Quiet American and The Comedians#1.  I resolve to have read at least one of those novels by the end of 2013.

The Comedians by Graham Greene


Another new-to-me author I discovered this year was Geraldine Brooks. I read and loved two of hers – Caleb’s Crossing is told from the perspective of a young English puritan girl growing up in 17th-century Martha's Vineyard, and her intense, secret friendship with a Native American boy.  Even more gripping was Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, set in a small English village, also in the 17th century. That one explores the terror and suspicion prevalent among neighbours – not only around plague spread, but also around witchcraft. I’m a sucker for anything about the plague or witch trials, so it was right up my alley. Loved them both, and will seek out more Geraldine Brooks – so there is my second reading resolution for 2013: #2. I resolve to read another Geraldine Brooks book.

Resolutions three and four come to me in the form of regret. I am highly ashamed to admit I have never read any Alice Munro (I know, I know), and didn’t manage to fit her in this year, despite wanting to. I did, however, manage to read 50 Shades of Grey. Only the first one of the trilogy, mind you, and it was for book club, but given how often I bemoan never getting around to reading some books I am dying to, I certainly feel my priorities could use a good squinting-at. No judgment about the book – I think any reading is good reading and would never begrudge anyone their own definition of a good book. But I knew it was not going to be my cup of tea. So for resolutions three and four: #3. I will read one book of Alice Munro stories this year, and #4. If I am a third of the way through a book and still hate it, I will cast it aside rather than finish it out of obligation. Life is too short!

In terms of what didn’t make the list, there are a few still worth mentioning – Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison and Burmese Lessons by Karen Connelly were both fairly well-written, decently paced and engaging enough to finish. They were cut from my list simply because they weren’t to my taste. Both are the kind of book you’d be into if you were a fan of Eat, Pray, Love – each about a woman’s emotional journey during physical travel (to Bali and Burma, respectively). Both are part love story, part something else. They’re dissimilar in many ways, as well – Burmese Lessons is strongly political, where Yoga Bitch skirts politics almost entirely – but the basic premise, of the somewhat spiritually lost human trying to find his or herself is simply not what moves me. The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin was a pass for me, as well. It wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t a good one, either, in my estimation. It’s primarily set in a fishing resort in Maine, and explores the impact that a regular guest has on the lives of several characters. I read it, enjoyed it well enough, but found the plot and characters immediately forgettable. Funny, since Cronin’s The Passage is a book I was unable to put down, and I am excited to read its sequel, The Twelve. Perhaps I just like Cronin’s writing when he sticks to terrifying instead of feel-good.

When hard-pressed to choose a favourite, I think the book read this year that I loved best must be The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. What a happy, delightful surprise. I was leery, because much of the hype I’d read about the book made it sound pretty hokey and like something I might roll my arguably-too-cynical eyes at. Also, I’ve never been a fan of circuses, and even as a kid I found them overwhelming. Here’s my fifth and final reading resolution for 2013: #5. I will put preconceived notions aside, and give everything a fair chance.

All of my misgivings about a circus book were in vain, so let me put that to rest for others who might have preconceived notions and be wrinkling their noses. This is not the chaotic, obnoxious rainbow circus we remember from childhood, punctuated by the brash honking of bicycle horns and the cringing guilt around wild animals doing tricks in captivity. Nobody will squirt water from a lapel flower or race around crammed into a tiny car with six of his friends. There are no folding metal chairs or sticky puddles of candyfloss crushed beneath your feet.

The Night Circus is an experience unlike any you can imagine. It is magical and awe-inspiring, and a dreamscape so beautiful and impossible that you’ll never want to leave. The book, like the astonishing world it describes, reveals itself slowly, a bit at a time, always offering something new to explore around every corner. Morgenstern has offered us a tour of her entire imagination (and it’s an impressive one) – we can smell our dreams and favourite places, all contained in beautiful glass bottles and jars, snuff boxes and music boxes, lockets and keepsake tins. Some smell of salt air, suntan lotion and creosote, and sound like the ocean and the cry of gulls. Some surround you in baking apples and cinnamon, the sound of a crackling fire, the feel of pine needles underfoot. All our memories, all our dreams, all the fantastic wonders real and imagined, possible and impossible – they’re all here, inside this book. It was a treat to read.

With that, and without further ado, here are my 25 other favourite reads for 2012. As always, please leave your own reading recommendations in the comments – help keep a girl in good reads!

 

Beth's Favourite Reads of 2012

The Tiger by John Vaillant
The Tiger
by John Vaillant
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Little Bee
by Chris Cleave
Habibi by Craig Thompson
Habibi
by Craig Thompson
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Caleb's Crossing
by Geraldine Brooks
We the Animals by Justin Torres
We the Animals
by Justin Torres
Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers
Bride of New France
by Suzanne Desrochers
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain
The Host by Stephenie Meyer
The Host
by Stephenie Meyer
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Brooklyn
by Colm Toibin
The Green River Killer by Jeff Jensen
The Green River Killer
by Jeff Jensen
What is the What by Dave Eggers
What is the What
by Dave Eggers
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore
Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
Something Fierce
by Carmen Aguirre
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Swamplandia!
by Karen Russell
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Winter's Bone
by Daniel Woodrell
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
Tender at the Bone
by Ruth Reichl
Y by Marjorie Celona
Y
by Marjorie Celona
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Year of Wonders
by Geraldine Brooks
The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
The Uninvited Guests
by Sadie Jones
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
The Tiger's Wife
by Tea Obreht
One Day by David Nicholls
One Day
by David Nicholls
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Housekeeping
by Marilynne Robinson

What was the best book you read in 2012?


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