Sunday, January 13, 2013

End of Year Book Survey 2012

As mentioned in my Classics Club Readathon post, I picked up Anthony Trollope. I didn't get far before having to set it aside for work. Currently I'm investigating nineteenth-century sexuality in literature, so I've been reading some...colorful (for lack of a better word) texts as a result. 

Full confession: I'm starting to feel like a pervert!

Yes, it's all in the name of the research, but reading about a man who essentially sexually abuses the girl he's raised as a daughter yet has no qualms about it (as I've been doing this weekend) does tend to leave a bitter taste in one's mouth. 

And don't even get me started on the looks of inquisitive surprise the librarians give me as they hand over these 'colorful' inter-library loans. Time to cleanse my literary palate.

I thought now would be a good time to reminisce about the wonderful literature I read in 2012. While it's a bit woefully late, here are my responses to the questions posed by Jamie for her annual end of year survey.

Best book you read in 2012?

I Capture the Castle! As soon as I read Dodie Smith's memorable opening line, 'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink,' I was hooked. After devouring it in a matter of hours on New Year's Eve 2011, I wondered how any book could top it. Though I experienced some fantastic new stories throughout the year, no book ever did. Top it, that is. The delightfully quirky characters, the prose that creeps under skin, the charm of the castle in ruins: everything about this book enchanted me. This is an instant favourite I look forward to reading again and again...and again

More after the jump...

Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn't?

Her Fearful Symmetry. How can a Neo-Victorian ghost story set primarily in a London cemetery go wrong? Somehow Niffenegger takes a promising premise and strangles it, slowly and oh so painfully, over the course of 500 pages. What a disappointment! (Review here.)

Also, Midnight in Austenland. Shannon Hale's first book in this series was a great specimen of escapism for Austenites everywhere. Its sequel, however, was generically confused and simply not funny. 

Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway. This experience exemplifies why I need to broaden my literary horizons. I saw rave reviews about this from a couple of friends on goodreads. I added it to my TBR shelf -- where it languished forgotten. It's non-fiction. It's not British. I never made the time for it!

Then it was chosen as my book club's read. Despite being warned the exposition dragged, I was immediately sucked in. Conway's descriptions of her unusual upbringing in the Australian outback are absolutely riveting. I was glued to the page whether reading about the intricacies of sheep farming or the idiosyncrasies of a British education in a post-colonial country. Truthfully, this memoir never may have emerged from the jungle that is my TBR list were it not for my book club. Yet I'm so glad it did. This remains one of my favorite 2012 reads!

Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

I Capture the Castle. Not only did I recommend it friends left, right and center, I sneakily gifted copies on multiple occasions as well. Ha!

Georgette Heyer is the author I've recommended most. What's not to love about a good Heyer novel?

Best series you discovered in 2012?

Too easy: The Provincial Lady series. After reading rave reviews (including this one from Simon) about E.M Delafield's domestic fiction, I bought the first installment, The Diary of a Provincial Lady, on a whim. Though it's about nothing, it is about everything. The wry wit and shrewd commentary from the Provincial Lady (we never learn her name) somehow make the social satire as relevant today as when it was written. This is a novel that grows on you with every turning page.

(Note to self: must buy further installments.)

Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Hmmm....I must give a shout out to authors of sensation fiction in general, a genre I was thrilled to finally experience. 

For non-fiction, Bill Bryson and Anne Fadiman were delightful discoveries.

As for the new author that left a searing impression: Sarah Waters.

Despite hearing her named mentioned quite a bit, I really had no idea what to expect from her but was nevertheless quite happy to borrow The Little Stranger from my local library. Not only did I find a ghost story that was masterfully creepy in the vein of The Turn of the Screw, I was kept on my toes throughout. Waters keeps the reader guessing about what's going on at this dilapidated estate until the very last sentence. And I mean The Last Sentence.

I followed this up with Fingersmith. The depiction of the conditions in Victorian insane asylums stayed with me for days. Waters manages to capture the insanity of this complex era in all its glory. She isn't for the faint of heart, but I finish her books unable to stop thinking about them.

Best book that was out of your comfort zone or a new genre for you?

I made a goal to read more non-fiction over the year, which I did: Bill Bryson's Shakespeare, The Road from Coorain, A Jane Austen Education, etc. Yet many of these have literary roots.

Celebrity memoirs, on the other hand, I generally deem unworthy of my attention. (Snob!)

I picked up Nora Ephron's I Remember Nothing for my mother as a bit of a joke, as she's always complaining about the rapid decline of her memory. She didn't find it funny, so I read it instead and was dazzled by Ephron's charm. I didn't expect to enjoy celebrity non-fiction so much, but in hindsight I shouldn't have been surprised. Many of her movies are counted as favourites, and as she discusses in I Remember Nothing, she worked as a journalist long before segueing into the film industry.

Reading more poetry was also a reading resolution of mine, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portguese stunned me. 

Most thrilling, unputdownable book of 2012?

I Capture the Castle.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson. I resolved to read a chapter before lesson planning one evening. Somehow lesson planning was completely abandoned until I finished the book. Regency escapism can be soooo bad, but this one was pure fun.

Book you read in 2012 that you are most likely to re-read next year?

I Capture the Castle.

I'm attempting to vary my answers here, but I Capture the Castle seems to have been the solution to all literary woes. 

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012? 

Mr. Darcy paper doll? Pure awesomeness. Plus, it perfectly fits in with the author's journey of learning life lessons from the genius that is Jane Austen. Haven't we all? 

Most memorable character in 2012? 

Pretty much every member of the Mortmain family as featured in I Capture the Castle. Cassandra is an irresistible heroine and narrator. 

Honorable mentions: Matilda Wormwood via Roald Dahl; The Provincial Lady via EM Delafield; Frederica, Felix and Lord Alverstoke via Georgette Heyer; and the entire island of Guernsey via Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

Cranford. My only re-read this year, Elizabeth Gaskell's vignettes of (primarily) elderly women in a rural Victorian town was able, once again, to make me giggle uncontrollably while breaking my heart.

Also, I Capture the Castle

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

Ahem, I Capture the Castle. (Quel surprise.)

Seriously though, Dodie Smith rocked my world with this one. You know those books where you have distinct memories of reading them? Not just the book itself but what you were doing when you read it? This is one of those books. 

Although over a year has passed since I read it, and some of the narrative details are now a bit fuzzy, I recall with clarity opening it up one late evening on the family sofa. Why not read a chapter or two before bed? I recall being struck by the opening line, the opening paragraph, etc. One chapter became two. Then three. Then four. Thoughts of sleep were abandoned, hunger pains ignored, tears wiped away. I needed to be at the castle. I wanted to swim in the moat at night, then warm myself by the kitchen fire. I'd take the cold, the wet, the damp if only I could be at the castle. Ah, to be at the castle!

In short, Cassandra captured my heart.

Buy this novel and read it straightaway!

Book you can't believe you waited until 2012 to finally read?

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. What took me so long? This is fabulous. Now I just need to make time for East Lynne and the multiple Wilkie Collins novels waiting patiently on my shelves.

Favourite quote/passage from a book you read in 2012?

From 'Sonnet II' via Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

Men could not part us with their worldly jars,
Nor the seas change us, nor the tempests bend;
Our hands would touch for all the mountain-bars:
And, heaven being rolled between us at the end,
We should but vow the faster for the stars.

Shortest and longest book you read in 2012?

Longest: the textbook from which I teach, From Inquiry to Academic Writing. Scintillating.

Shortest: Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it?

The final three pages of Charlotte Bronte's The Professor contained a WTF? moment for me. I discussed it at length with a few friends and even spoiled it for my sister. I just had to talk about it.

Favorite relationship from a book you read in 2012?

Tales of friendship struck a chord with me the most this year. I love seeing how communities rally around one another in times of need, how friends make unbelievable sacrifices for friends. This is evident in both Cranford and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Favorite book you read in 2012 from an author you read previously?

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I'd read multiple Holmes novels before, but reading a chunk of the short stories was immensely enjoyable. Looking forward to more Arthur Conan Doyle!

Best book you read based solely on a recommendation from somebody else?

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Customers requested this on a regular basis when I worked at the bookstore, but it wasn't until my dear friend raved about it that I felt compelled to read it. Also, it was on the Kindle she gave me. She just gave me her Kindle. How awesome is she?!

Whenever I hear about media concerning the Holocaust I'm a bit wary: representations of this horrific event are often grim or cliche. While this broke my heart, it also left me with a feeling of hopefulness and a reaffirmation that the strength of human relationships are truly remarkable. I laughed more than I cried. As each letter unfolded, I became increasingly enamored with the members of this Guernsey community. Each worms his/her way into your heart, and I loved reading about how literature solaced them in troubled times. 

This novel reminded me that as long as I have a few true friends and books on my shelves, I don't want for anything. 

Looking ahead...

One book you didn't get to in 2012 that will be your number one priority in 2013?

The Mating Season by P.G Wodehouse (I still haven't read any Jeeves novels, it's quite shameful) and multiple titles by Anthony Trollope.

Book you are most anticipating for 2013?

Though I loved Evelina, I haven't read anything else by Fanny Burney since my undergrad days. I own Cecilia, which I've been reassured is excellent, but I've never quite found the time for this chunker. I must set aside some free time this summer.  

One thing you hope to accomplish in your reading/blogging in 2013?

Well, I hope to blog more regularly than I did in 2012. That's a no brainer.

I also want to continue to read more drama and poetry this year. I made a start in 2012 and indulged in some drama/poetry purchases this fall -- which means I have plenty of exciting options before me as I head into 2013. 

Phew! That was lengthy and certainly took my mind off those dirty Victorians. Have you read any of the books mentioned here? What did you think?


Ashley said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this! Now I feel ashamed that I didn't get to I Capture the Castle. Hmmm ... I'd say the best of friends, like you, inspire their friends, like me, to read more. Right, off to it!

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I love I Capture the Castle too, you've made me want to read it again :)

Diana said...

Ash: quite so! You inspire in so many ways.

P.S. Perhaps I Capture the Castle will find itself in your library once your birthday rolls around? I'm just saying. ;)

Diana said...

Sam: Isn't it fabulous?! Somehow I made myself want to read it again too. :)

Whitney said...

The way you felt about I Capture the Castle I felt for Stephen King's 11/22/63 it was on every list I did. I've had I Capture the Castle on my bookshelf for about two years I may be blowing the dust off in 2013.

Diana said...

You know, I've never read Stephen King. As someone who scares quite easily, I've always worried I wouldn't be able to handle it. I think I'm slowly building up the courage, but it hasn't happened quite yet. Soon, hopefully!

I hope you enjoy I Capture the Castle when you do get to it. It's perfection!

Caro said...

What a fabulous reading year! Also: alright, I'm convinced. I'll add I Capture the Castle to my TBR list.

Diana said...

Do it, Caro! You won't regret it.