First of all, a look at the statistics:
2012 showed a drop in the number of titles read. There are two reasons for that. First, this year my husband and I bought a large screen for our bedroom and have been watching movies and (mostly) BBC TV shows and documentaries, and that's definitely cut into my reading time. Having said for years how much I hate TV (and this isn't a TV, but still!) I've enjoyed what we've been watching tremendously. A lot of it is pretty damned literary, too, plus it's made me think a lot about screenplays, and the art of writing and adapting for the screen, as well as the incredible talent of certain actors and directors. (But I defensively digress!)
Reason two is that many of the books I read this year were mammoth ones. There are only so many pages that anyone can get through in a year!
Of these 30 titles, 14 were by women, 16 by men. Eight of them are by people I consider to be friends. Slightly less than half were in digital form: 9 were e-books and 2 audio books. I don't have a dedicated e-reader - I use my Android smartphone, and while the screen is small, I really like the portability -- as well as the ability to download free copies of many classics. I can't quite believe I read Ulysses on my phone, but I did!
Finally, I've been more active on Goodreads, and have posted some reviews over there that haven't appeared here. All the links shown in the list below go to my reviews.
The year was definitely dominated by those "big books:" Ulysses, David Copperfield, Emily Carr's journals, the Icelandic sagas. I've written about them both here and at Goodreads, so follow the links for more details.
Particular standouts written by friends included Marly Youmans' evocative and poignant novel of an orphan boy-turned-hobo in the depression-era South, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage; Dorothee Lang and Smitha Murthy's Worlds Apart, a book of letters between two women, one in China, and one in Germany, who've never met but begin a correspondence about travel that deepens into true friendship; and Khadija Anderson's first full-length poem collection, History of Butoh, which taught me about this astonishing artform and gave me more of Khadija's strong, uncompromising, and beautiful writing that I had first come to appreciate on qarrtsiluni.
The novel that I may have simply enjoyed the most, as a page-turner, was Tèa Obreht's The Tiger's Wife: highly recommended, extremely enjoyable.
I was disappointed with Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke, underwhelmed by Cees Nooteboom's Roads to Santiago, and with many of the essays in Derek Wolcott's What the Twilight Says, though I did like his essays about certain poets. That latter volume was completely eclipsed, for me, by the studies of writers, known and less-known, in Virginia Woolf's The Common Reader, First Series, which I found captivating and brilliantly written. Ghosh's second volume in his ambitious, long trilogy contains page after page of descriptive prose that simply failed to capture me.
When I turned to Charles Dickens I immediately saw why: Dickens loved his characters, and makes us love them too, not through techniques or exotic locations or extensive research, but by observing the small human details that make each of us unique. His books may be long, but in many ways they are simple, moving and memorable. Like A.S. Byatt, I feel that Ghosh tends to over-write, and that the books end up being more about the author than about the creation of a world that the reader inhabits, populated by literary friends that will remain for a lifetime. I don't know about either of the other authors I just mentioned, but I do know that Dickens himself was humble, and it comes through in the books.
If finishing Ulysses, on my third attempt, was my biggest reading accomplishment of 2012, my biggest surprise was rediscovering Charles Dickens, 45 years after being forced to read Great Expectations and hating every minute of it.
For art reading, I learned a lot from the essays in the excellent, exensive catalog for the Van Gogh Up Close exhibition in Ottawa.
I always read a few spiritual books, and this year was no exception. However, the books I read by Thich Naht Hahn and Adyashanti didn't affect or inspire me nearly as much as The Journals of Emily Carr, the Canadian artist, who might be appalled to hear her writing described as "spiritual," since that was certainly not her expressed intent even though she often wrote about her sense of the holy as she found it in nature. Her journals, which an astute friend gave to me early in the year, are mainly about the creative process, and moved me deeply. They were a companion as I myself wrote, throughout the year, about Iceland and Montreal, and my own re-emerging sense of myself as a visual artist through the drawings I was doing, and I think her largely solitary journey, so plainly and directly described, gave me a great deal of encouragement and support. What more can we possibly ask of a book than to have it become a friend and companion on our own journey?
So, without further ado, here's the list. Previous years' book lists can be found here (scroll down.) Happy New Year, and happy reading in 2013. I've already got my first few months lined up!
2012 READING LIST (links go to my reviews or commentaries)
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (in progress)
Bleak House, Charles Dickens (in progress)*
Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen (in progress, audiobook)
Richard II, William Shakespeare (reread)David Copperfield, Charles Dickens*
Chorister at the Abbey, Lis Howell (audiobook)
Aim High, Achieve More: How to Transform Urban Schools through Fearless Leadership, Yvette Jackson and Veronica McDermott
Van Gogh Up Close, Cornelia Homburg, editor
History of Butoh, Khadija Anderson (full-length poetry collection)
Worlds Apart, Dorothee Lang and Smith Murthy
I Stand Here Shredding Documents, Kristin Berkey Abbott (poetry chapbook)
Balance, Robbi Nestor (poetry chapbook)
Saga of the People of Laxardal (from Sagas of Icelanders)
A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Marly Youmans *
Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Naht Hahn
Emptiness Dancing, Adyashanti *
Sacre Blues: An Unsentimental journey Through Quebec, Taras Grescoe
The Most Beautiful Thing, Fiona Robyn *
The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obreht *
Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal, Rob Rieman
That Woman, Tom Montag (poetry chapbook)
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Tamim Ansary