2012 in Retrospect: My 10 Must-Reads of the Year

It’s that time of year again. That’s right, time for my year-end retrospects. First up, my choices for must-reads of 2012. Some of these were published this year; some were books I just happened to read in 2012. They’re in the order that I read them.

I wrote about several of these back in July and for those books am just (lazily) quoting that blog post.

Fathermucker, by Greg Olear. I started this book at the end of 2011 and finished it in 2012 so it just makes this list. Here’s what I wrote in July: “Greg Olear’s Fathermucker was the first book I read this year, and I was blown away. On the surface it seems like a simple plot: a day in the life of a stay-at-home dad. But like Ulysses it’s far more complex (yet not incomprehensible), as well as moving and funny. It was one of those books I felt like kissing after I was done.”

Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, by Kris D’Agostino. Again, quoting myself: “Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D’Agostino is a little like The Corrections, but with much more heart. I didn’t so much love The Corrections as admire it. But with Sleepy Hollow, it was pure love. I read the book months ago but I still have clear images of most of the characters: the hapless narrator, the autistic kid he helps at the school where he works, the ill father, the troubled younger sister.”

The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of ‘Proper’ English, from Shakespeare to South Park, by Jack Lynch. MB picked out this book, thinking I’d like it since I’m an amateur lexicographer now, and he was right. Over the summer I wrote that this book “is a delight for any word nerd.” It “gives a comprehensive overview of the history of the English language, from a time where there was no consistency in spelling or grammar, to the Latinizing of English, to modern-day neologisms.”

The Cove, by Ron Rash. My original write-up: “The Cove was another surprise. It starts off quiet: an Appalachian town during World War I, a lonely outcast girl, a stranger with a flute. But Ron Rash subtly and skillfully brings all the elements together, and what happens is at once inevitable, surprising, and heart-breaking.”

Moby-Duck, by Donovan Hohn.Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them not only has the longest subtitle I’ve seen in a long time but also reminded me David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction: fascinating, informative, entertaining, and very funny. It’s an example of the very best nonfiction. There’s what it’s about – seeking out these rubber ducks and other bath toys – and what’s it’s really about: the author’s external and internal journeys.”

I was pretty obsessed with this book, to the point that I made a list of the words in the book that I found interesting.

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. “How good is The Magicians? The moment I finished it, I bought the sequel in e-book format although I prefer print. I won’t even say anything more about it. You must experience it for yourself. Just remember my snarky six word review: Harry Potter, grown-up, fucked up.

The Bellwether Revivals, by Benjamin Wood. Set in modern-day Cambridge, a young man who works as a caregiver in a nursing home befriends a wealthy brother and sister and their eclectic circle. At first the group seems merely eccentric, but soon the young man finds much weirdness among them. Reminiscent of The Secret History (one of my all-time favorite novels), The Bellwether Revivals kept me reading and guessing what was going to happen next.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. To tell the truth, I didn’t think I was going to love this book. The 1960s, a mysterious movie star, Italy, Hollywood. Maybe I’m crazy but I thought I wouldn’t be into it. Well, yes, I’m definitely crazy because Beautiful Ruins absolutely lovely.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison. This was another book I flew through, and it was so freaking good. Like Fathermucker good. Divorced and depressed Ben Benjamin gets a job caring for a young man with cerebral palsy, and along the way we find out little by little about Benjamin’s tragic past. While the book is incredibly sad in some ways, it’s often hilarious at the same time. I loved the relationship between Benjamin and his charge, Trevor. I believe the movie rights were recently sold for the book (congrats Jonathan!) which I could totally envision.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Okay, I lied. I put this book last because it was my favorite of the year. Set in Seattle and told in a series of letters and emails, we get to know precocious teen Bee, some annoying busybodies, and the eccentric and vivacious Bernadette. It’s a total romp – funny and fun but with serious undertones.

In case you’re wondering how I heard about these books, most of them I received through The Nervous Breakdown’s book club. If you’re into quality books arriving on your doorstep every month, you should totally join. Plus it’s just $9.99 a month. I did some research on other book clubs, and it’s definitely one of the more cost-effective ones out there.

As for the ones I didn’t get through the book club, like I said, MB sort of randomly picked up The Lexicographer’s Dilemma; my boss had mentioned The Magicians and when I saw it featured at my local bookstore, I snatched it up; and Moby-Duck I had heard of before. The author, Donovan Hohn, was actually a classmate of mine in grad school.

What were some of your favorite books this year?


  1. How is it possible that we’ve only ONE book in common?!? You’d think, as much as we both read, there’d have been more.