Sunday, December 30, 2012

My favorite books of 2012

I love this time of the blogging year, when the "favorite books" lists start appearing.  For blogs that I've only recently discovered, it's a chance to see what I've missed in earlier postings, as well as get a better sense of the reader behind the blog.  For those I've been following all year, it's a great review and reminder of books I meant to add to my own lists (and quickly, before the TBR Double Dog Dare kicks in January 1st).  I also enjoy looking back over my own year of reading.  It's such fun mulling over the list, dithering over which books to include, wondering how many I can get away with listing.  As I mentioned last year, I've never had a place to do this before, or frankly anyone who was interested!  I'm still enjoying the novelty of that.

So here are my favorites of 2012, in the order in which I read them:

The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge.  I'd already read Yonge's The Daisy Chain, but The Heir made me see why she was one of the most popular authors of her day (and why Jo March was crying over the book in her attic)

Love, by Elizabeth von Arnim.  I wasn't sure what to expect in this account of a May-December romance.  It turned out to be a touching and sympathetic if unsentimental story of love in many forms.

Up the Country, by Emily Eden.  Eden's letters chronicle a fantastic journey in the suite of her brother, the Governor General of India, on an official two-year tour of India, beginning in 1837.

Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin.  A harrowing story of a family dealing with the disappearance of their wife and mother, it is also the first book I've read set in South Korea, which for me added to the story's interest.

The Oaken Heart, by Margery Allingham.  This account of her small Essex village in the early years of World War II was written at her U.S. publisher's request, to tell American readers "exactly what life has been like down here for us ordinary country people during the war."

The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki.  I loved this saga of four sisters in 1930s Osaka, struggling to uphold their family's place in society and to find suitable husbands for two of them.  It reminded me of both Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope.

The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain.  His account of the first organized American tour of Europe and the Holy Land in 1867 is by turns satirical, cynical, sentimental, and xenophobic, but always entertaining.  I enjoyed it so much that I've added some of his other travel writings to the TBR stacks.

No More Than Human, by Maura Laverty.  This story of a naive but good-hearted Irish girl who travels to Spain in the 1920s as a "miss," a combined governess and chaperone, is (to borrow a phrase from Teresa's list over at Shelf Love) one of the books I most wanted to hand out on street corners, or at least buy for all the readers I know. If I had to pick a single favorite, it would probably be this one.

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  This extraordinary story of how a family in the 1920s copes when the father is injured and the mother goes to work is the second of my "street corner" books (and only the second Persephone I've added to my shelves).  I also loved Fisher's Understood Betsy, and I know I'll be reading more of her work in 2013.

Jane Austen and Marriage, by Hazel Jones.  I so enjoy books like this, which explore a particular aspect of life in Austen's time through her writings, including her letters and the Juvenalia, as well as incorporating her own experiences (see also Jane Austen and Crime, by Susannah Fullerton).

Isabel and the Sea, by George Millar.  An account of a voyage by boat through the canals of France and along the Mediterranean coast to Greece just after the end of World War II, and an eye-witness account of the devastation and slow recovery.

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray.  Why did I wait so long to make the acquaintance of Becky Sharp and William Dobbin?  Probably because I don't know anyone outside the blogging world who has read this, so I had no one to tell me, "You need to read this."

Slowly Down the Ganges, by Eric Newby.  This was the year I discovered Newby's entertaining and idiosyncratic travel writings, and of course I immediately started collecting them (a couple of which are still on the TBR stacks).  I feel like I should mention Love and War in the Apennines, his account of life as a prisoner of war in World War II, but then I also have to include his wife Wanda Newby's parallel account, Peace and War.

Red Pottage, by Mary Cholmondeley.  A Victorian pot-boiler, with wonderfully-drawn characters and  a lovely friendship at its heart.  Simon so aptly described it as "sensation fiction which is also very moving and also funny."

Seward, by Walter Stahr.  A brilliant biography of a master politician, who lost the 1860 presidential nomination to Abraham Lincoln but accepted a place in his Cabinet, and became arguably America's greatest Secretary of State.

I've read so many great books this year, and I've thoroughly enjoyed sharing them here and on your blogs.  Thank you again for reading along.  I hope that 2013 brings us all just as many wonderful books, and friends to share them with.


  1. I think thr thing I like best about your list is that I haven't read any of the books on it -- but I think I'd like all of them. Gee, thanks, my TBR list needed to be longer. :)

    So nice getting to know you and your reading this year!

  2. Oh I love this list, Lisa! I have only read one of these books (Vanity Fair) but so many of the others have made their way onto my TBR list, thanks to your reviews. Somehow, I'd completely missed The Oaken Heart first time around so I am glad to caught it now.

    Your blog is one of my very favourites so thank you for another wonderful year of posts and best wishes for an equally excellent 2013!

  3. What a wonderful list. I'm in the middle of Vanity Fair, I must catch up with Maura Laverty. You are very bad for my wishlist in the very best way!

  4. Hurray for The Makioka Sisters and The Home-Maker! Vanity Fair is on my shelf (will 2013 be the year I finally read it?) and I'm adding several others to my wish list. Great list, Lisa.

  5. This is a fantastic list, and I will be searching for everything on it that I haven't read yet!

  6. What a great list! From it, I've only read Vanity Fair and The Home-Maker, but several others are on my list already, perhaps from when you reviewed them. And I missed your review of the Allingham memoir. Since I've been reading so many of her novels, I should check that out.

  7. Thank you all for your wonderfully generous comments! An early happy New Year to all of you!

    Audrey, I think I've added more books to my TBR list & stacks from your reviews than vice versa (and I think that's true of all of you, really :)

    Claire, I know 2013 is bringing changes for you - but I hope it also brings more books to share. I can't wait to see what you read next (I'm in awe of how many books you read this year).

    Jane, I remember that you loved Never No More too. I haven't read any of Maura Laverty's other novels, though I did check for her cookbooks.

    JoAnn, I'm so grateful that you read The Makioka Sisters this year :) I remember you said you'd had Vanity Fair on the TBR shelves for quite a while - this could be the year!

    elizabeth, thank you - I've so enjoyed discovering your blog & our very similar reading tastes!

    Teresa, there is a recent edition of The Oaken Heart that has wonderful appendices and extras, including letters, maps, photos, & illustrations by Allingham's husband. It's a treasure trove that gives her account even more life.

  8. Such a wonderful group of books! I fondly remember your thoughts on them and it was nice to be reminded of a few that I've been meaning to read (like the Yonge and The Home-maker). Happy New Year and good luck on the TBR Double Dog Dare!

  9. Only read a few from your list, but I love all of those - and currently reading Vanity Fair myself. So much more fun than I was expecting!

  10. Anbolyn, your list just popped up in my blog reader, so I'm off to see what you chose. We'll cheer each other on with the Dare (I'm afraid to add up the final TBR numbers).

    Simon, I saw somewhere (a tweet?) that you are reading Vanity Fair. The book wasn't at all what I expected, and I enjoyed it so much. Maybe I'll tackle Pendennis in 2013.

  11. Happy New Year, Lisa! I haven't read any of the books on your list, but most of them have already been added to my TBR at the time when you posted your reviews. Vanity Fair, The Heir of Redclyffe and The Home-Maker are books I definitely want to find time for in 2013.

  12. The Makioka Sisters is one that has been sitting here unread for too long. I must get around to it this year. Innocents Abroad is marvelous, isn't it?

    If you are interested in signing up for the 2013 TBR challenge, today is the deadline for selecting your books and linking to the post on the host site.

  13. I love your list - most of which I added to my TBR as I read the reviews. Not easy books to find!

    Happy New Year, Lisa :-)

  14. Helen, Happy New Year! I've seen The Home-Maker on several people's lists this year - I still can't understand how I missed it all these years. You're in for a treat with all three, to my mind (and I saw your comment over on Elizabeth's post about The Heir).

    Fay, I think I like Mark Twain's travel writings better than his fiction (Huck Finn being an exception). I've been meaning to get his book about working as a pilot on the Mississippi - I remember really liking that one as well.

    Cat, Happy New Year to you as well. That's one downside of blogging, reading about books that turn out to be difficult to find. I have that problem with a lot of recent books from the UK - and I can't afford to order all I'd like.

  15. Happy New Year, Lisa. I'm a great one for these lists as well although I have to admit to never having produced one myself. Perhaps I am too ashamed of all the lightweight books I read while others seem to be enjoying so much worthier tomes. I shall have to steel myself to do some more 'interesting' reading this coming year.

  16. Happy New Year to you as well, Alex - I'm so glad that I was introduced to your blog through Shelf Love last year. I do know how you feel! I would like to diversify my reading more, but I'm also a big believer in reading what I want to - which often means mysteries and Victorian novels.

  17. (I'm catching up). Happy New Year! I have just bought The Home-Maker as it is on the best-of lists of everyone I trust. And I'm going to read The Heir of R, ASAP!

  18. Vicki, happy New Year & welcome back! Bloggers have introduced me to so many good books over the past couple of years - including five on this year's list. I hope you enjoy both the books - very different but equally compelling, to my mind.

  19. A wonderful list of books! Thanks.

  20. Thank you, Peggy! It's alway such fun to compile the list, and then see what others have chosen.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!