I'm too lazy to try to put together a coherent "best books of 2012" list on Literary Kicks, though I'm happy to point you to some other good lists. "A Year in Reading" at the Millions overflows with contributions from smart folks like Kate Zambreno, Scott Esposito, Alexander Chee and Ellen Ullman. Elsewhere, Michele Filgate gathers literary reveries over at the Salon What To Read Awards, and here are Ed Champion's faves and Largehearted Boy's monumental list of lists. Finally, plodding earnestly along behind its paywall, here's the New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Books of 2012, which includes 5 novels and 5 works of non-fiction.
Me, I read more non-fiction -- philosophy, history, politics -- than fiction this year, and I can only think of a few novels that impressed me in 2012. Kino by Jurgen Fauth was a refreshing, tantalizing comedy about art cinema obsessions. The World Without You by Joshua Henkin brought a real family to life. Laurent Binet's HHhH seemed to be an acrobatic work of self-exploratory fiction about World War II, wrapped like a KFC Double Down inside another acrobatic work of self-exploratory fiction about itself. (I'm not sure if I just made that sound good, but I really liked the book).
I bet there was a lot more amazing fiction published in 2012, and I didn't even get to most of the must-read novels of the year (sorry Zadie, Hilary, Jess, Dave -- I'll get there!). For some reason, I became possessed in 2012 by weird impulses to consume military histories, memoirs, cultural studies, classic philosophy and economics texts, and unusual biographies. Looking back on the non-fiction titles I blogged about in 2012, I see a scattered, kaleidoscopic mix that I don't even understand myself: Fug by Ed Sanders, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson,Letter to Kurt by Eric Erlandson, Nothing and Everything by Ellen Pearlman, The Passage of Power by Robert Caro, Red Sorghum by Mo Yan.
I also hate to even admit how many rock star memoirs I read in 2012; this is a format I apparently simply cannot resist, and I'll be reading Rod Stewart's memoir shortly. Neil Young's book was the 2012 book I opened with the greatest anticipation, but surprisingly another rock star autobiography came from behind and impressed me more: My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman. Stupidly, I never got around to blogging about this book, perhaps because I was in subconscious denial about the fact that it was
ghostwritten co-authored by Alan Light, a music writer I've never liked (he wrote about the Beastie Boys all wrong). However, I have to admit that Alan Light coaxed a hell of an honest, warm, searing book out of Gregg Allman.
I was also very moved by (but never blogged about) Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by Lesley Ann-Jones, a happy, affectionate book with a suddenly sad ending. I'm not sure what music biographies or autobiographies I'll read in 2013, but here are a few I wish would write memoirs: Roger Waters, Sinead O'Connor, Bob Weir, Lou Reed, Prince.
Another fascinating and vivid book I totally failed to blog about this year was Catherine the Great by Robert Massie. I am always a fool for Russian history, but until I read this book I had no idea how completely twisted and wonderfully histrionic the court of the Romanov royal family could be. The Empress Catherine emerges from her biography as a true and unlikely hero, and certainly a role model worthy of wider acclaim. The book's best discovery is its comic foil, Catherine's hilariously inept but arrogant husband, who briefly reigned (before he got murked) as Tsar Peter III. His combination of odd intelligence and infuriating emotional immaturity makes this book as psychologically fascinating as a Jonathan Franzen or John Updike novel. Perhaps I failed to write about this riveting history book on Litkicks because I just wasn't sure I could do it justice.
So: that was my year in reading. Beyond all this, 2012 felt to me like a hopeful year, but a year of scattered gifts. I will always remember this as the year that Barack Obama kicked Mitt Romney's sorry corporate-banker ass, and there are a few moments from this epic presidential contest that have already become cherished memories and will bring me smiles, I suspect, until my dying day. 2012 was an exciting election year, without a doubt.
2012 is the year that Brooklyn got a professional sports team, the Brooklyn Nets. For many old-time New Yorkers like me, this stirs up big feelings, because Brooklyn hasn't had a pro sports team since the Dodgers went to Los Angeles in 1957. I still can't believe it whenever I see the Brooklyn Nets logo -- it feels like something ghostly, apocalyptic (but in the good way). Anyway, I know many Brooklynites were against the stadium building project, but I'm kinda psyched to see a beautiful new stadium just south of the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, in the core of downtown Brooklyn. Not a bad look at all.
2012 is the year I bought an iPad, and began to appreciate (after initially resisting the hype) the innovations this format brings. I've begun experimenting with the Apple iOS software development kit. I'm not sure what I have in mind (though I'd like to do something mobile with Action Poetry), but I've built a few little test applications in XCode, and I may be putting out some new things in 2013. I also enjoy fooling around with apps like Paper, which I used to scribble the Jackson Pollock knockoff at the top of the page. (By the way, I learned that imitating Jackson Pollock is not as easy as it looks; this was my fifth try.)
2012 will soon be history. As we all look forward to the next year, I'd like to thank all my Litkicks readers and commenters and poets and friends. I wish you all great scattered joy and good fortune in 2013.