Rebecca's Favorite Books of 2012 by Rebecca Howard

Fiction

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Erdrich is my favorite novelist, so it stands to reason that if she publishes a book during the year, it will be on my favorite list.  In this novel, Fourteen-year-old Joe Coutz comes to understand the complexities of justice and revenge when his mother is brutally attacked and sinks into a debilitating depression.

Happiness is a Chemical in Your Brain by Lucia Maria Perillo 
A breathtaking, emotionally raw collection of short stories told in economic, poetic language. Absolutely stunning!

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Yes, this novel is about climate change, but it’s told from the perspective of those whom climate change will impact the most—those depending upon the land for their livelihood.  Compelling, authentic characters keep this book from turning preachy.  If nothing else, read it for the interaction between the main character, farm wife Dellarobbia Turnbow, and an environmental activist who is urging people to sign his petition to lessen their carbon footprint. This scene had me laughing out loud and mostly at myself.    

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
A tender and moving coming-of-age story told from the perspective of 14-year-old June Elbus. June is an authentic and lovely character whose world comes apart when her beloved uncle and godfather dies of AIDS.  Set in 1987 when misinformation and fear informed the response to AIDS, June must learn to reconcile what she knows and understands from her experience versus what she hears from her parents and community—an uneasy challenge for each of us.   

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw
A haunting and psychologically astute novel that traces the impact of a tragic car accident upon a group of family and friends.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
It’s 1922 and Cora Carlisle is a 36-year-old Kansas woman living a quiet and traditional, but pleasant, life until she takes an assignment to chaperone a not-yet-discovered Louise Brooks on an extended trip to New York City.  A life and love affirming novel that reflects the massive social changes of this historical period. 

Heading Out to Wonderful Robert Goolrick
Here is the message of this novel—Desire will make you burn in hell.  Not a biblical hell, kids.  That would be easy.  It will be a hell of your own messed up making, because you’re a frail and stupid human.  And, don’t go expecting redemption at the end.  I absolutely loved this book, which explores many of the same themes as his previous novel, A Reliable Wife.  Think Greek Tragedy or Old Testament.  Deliciously dark!

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron
A suspenseful and melancholy slip of a novel about the impossibility of fully knowing another person.  Coral Glynn reads like a Gothic classic, but explores the thoroughly modern question of how one lives authentically. 

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
The story of George and Sabine Harwood, who as newlyweds move to Trinidad for George’s career.  While George becomes captivated by the Island, Sabine is ill at ease with the social, racial, and economic unrest in her new home.  While certainly a story of a marriage, classifying it as a “love story” (as NoveList does) is too reductive.  Roffey is exploring very complex themes of race, gender, colonialism and exploitation in subtle, yet powerful, ways.  A gem of a novel that was shortlisted for last year’s Orange Prize.  

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery
A fictionalized biography of Art Deco artist Tamara de Lempicka and the volatile affair she has with her model and muse Rafaela Fano.  Set in Paris in 1927, so what is not to love? 

In One Person by John Irving
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with John Irving novels, but this novel definitely falls into the “love” category.  A sprawling saga that spans 50 years, this is an alternately funny and heartbreaking story of a man who defies sexual conventions.  

Honorable Mentions:
The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger, The World Without You by Johsua Henkin, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, and The Cove by Ron Rash

Nonfiction

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
Boo writes compassionately, but without sentimentality, of the residents living in Annawadi a slum on the outskirts of Mumbai. Completely riveting, I had to constantly remind myself that this was nonfiction. 

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?  By Jeanette Winterson
Memoir by the author of Oranges are Not the Only Fruit that describes her bizarre and tortured childhood, her relationship with her adoptive mother whom she calls Mrs. Winterson, her coming out and running away from home, and her quest to find and understand love.  What I enjoyed most about this memoir was Winterson’s discussion of the public library and her discovery of reading.  My favorite quote: “A tough life needs a tough language—and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place” (40). 

My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese
Although it’s been on my reading list for years, I finally checked this out after having a conversation with a customer who was returning it. Verghese (author of Cutting for Stone) became an infectious disease doctor in the early 1980s, not knowing that this decision would put on the path to becoming the “AIDS doctor” for Johnson County, Tennessee. His description of the early days of the epidemic is harrowing. 

 

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