Here’s the thing: I’m a slow reader. Not only that, but I’m even slow to start the process of reading. Every week I read the New York Times Book Review and draw red stars next to the books I’m interested in. Then, the Book Review gets recycled, and I carry on with my life, playing Candy Crush and reading articles on Slate.
In the coming weeks, we are all going to be inundated with “best of 2013” lists; this makes me nervous, because I’m still working on 2012. Which is why I present to you my top five books from 2012 that I finally got around to reading in 2013. You will probably recognize these books from last December’s lists, but don’t worry—I’m giving you an extra chance to read them. It’s not too late!
- Tenth of December, by George Saunders. Disclaimer: George Saunders is my role model / fantasy best friend. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that he embodies every single quality and virtue I value in humans. This collection of short stories, which includes short shorts and not-so-short shorts, is Saunders’ best yet. You will laugh. You will cry. You will understand humanity better. And you will want to be Saunders’ best friend. Smart, funny, sharp, tragic, and cautiously hopeful, Tenth of December is a triumph of American story telling.
- Poems 1962-2012, Louise Glück. This book, an anthology of Louise Glück’s poetry from the year 1962 to 2012, is really heavy (in all the senses), and is about as thick as a late Harry Potter book. You won’t be carrying it around places, but that’s ok, because you won’t want to leave your comfy armchair once you start reading it. Glück’s voice, ever changing over the five decades covered, is piercing and plain; she will get stuck in your head. Over the course of some 600 pages, she elegantly weaves together the intimate, mundane moments of family life, snapshots of nature, and raw emotion.
- NW, by Zadie Smith. So yeah, Zadie Smith is a literary goddess. Sometimes my stomach hurts thinking about how incredible she is and how there’s no hope for any of us to ever be nearly as good (or as beautiful. Her face is so beautiful.) The playful, and at times heart wrenching, novel follows the lives of four Northwest Londoners as they become adults and contend with their complicated, intertwined pasts. Now, I can’t help but revert to the mode in which 5th graders attempt to assess a book’s merits… I really felt like I was in Northwest London, the whole time—which is honestly huge for me, as someone who rarely feels transported by books.
- Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story, by Jim Holt. I consider myself a science expert, having taken “Physics of Dance” and “An Issues Approach to Biology” to fulfill my science requirement at Yale. Yet in Holt’s humorous and thoughtful inquiry into why anything exists at all, you don’t need to be an expert in science, or philosophy, or even theology to appreciate his depictions of the most interesting efforts made by humans to understand the universe’s origins. Guys, this book is absolutely nuts, in the best way. The fundamental question being posed—how is something created out of nothing?—is crazy, and keeps you hooked until the very end, when the secret of the universe is unleashed! Kind of.
- My Brilliant Friend (L’amica geniale), by Elena Ferrante. Ok, so this book was actually published in Italy in 2011, but the English translation reached America in 2012, so I’m counting it. I read this novel, which is based in a poor neighborhood near Naples in the 1950’s, while I was living in Italy this summer. Ferrante chronicles the powerful, regularly tumultuous friendship of two girls, Elena and Lila, who grow up together in a rapidly changing city and country. Ferrante, who is from Naples, totally captures the essence of the Neopolitan streets: the rivalries, the fights, the food, the fireworks, the traditions, and alllll of the drama. (Also, this is brilliant translating work by Ann Goldstein).