Books of the year

My favourite books of 2012

Books-of-the-yearAs the year draws to a close, it’s time to choose my favourite reads of 2012.

Until I sat down to do this task, I would have described the past 12 months as a fairly average reading year.  I read a lot of books I awarded four stars and several that I thought worthy of five stars, but there were few that really stood out in the memory. And yet, when I went back through my archives, I recalled so many fabulous books that I began to find it hard to narrow it down to just 10 titles.

Without further ado, here’s what made the cut. The books have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname. Hyperlinks take you to my original review.


The Pilgrimage by John Broderick (1961)

I loved this book for its insights into human nature, its political and social commentary, its spotlight on hypocrisy in the Church and people’s spiritual obsessions — all told in such a simple, crisp prose style and at a surprisingly gripping pace.


Plainsong by Kent Haruf (2001)

Plainsong is a beautiful, sincere story about real people with complicated, messy lives — and I loved every single carefully chosen word of it.


Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (2011)

I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun reading a novel. It transports you into a strange world of art, deception, troubled families, disturbed children, grumpy housemaids and caged greenfinches, and then takes you on a rollicking good ride that you don’t want to end.


The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy (2012)

The Devil I Know, came out in the summer and I greedily gulped it down in a matter of days. It is an extraordinarily funny satire about the recent collapse of the Irish economy — and certainly the best Irish book I read all year.


The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon (2012)

The Colour of Milk is a truly compelling book because Mary’s voice is so urgent and authentic. And the ending, which is shocking, unexpected and heart-breaking, is the kind that makes you gasp out loud — and then you want to have a big sob.


Fly Away Peter by David Malouf (1999)

This is a truly beautiful and devastating story set before and during the Great War. I read it in two sittings and felt stunned by the sheer power and emotion that Malouf wrings from just 144 pages of eloquently written prose.


The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (2012)

I loved that from such a tiny package — the book is less than 200 pages and can be comfortably read in a handful of sittings — Moore has crafted a delightful, tightly crafted and incredibly suspenseful story.


Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad (2012)

It is so filled with home truths — about relationships, friends, family and society — that if you don’t recognise yourself within these pages you will see someone else you know, perhaps a friend, a sibling or work colleague.


The Imposter Bride
by Nancy Richler (2012)

I loved the detailed world that Richler creates here — her characters are wonderfully alive, flawed and judgemental, but also hard-working, determined and independent. Her prose style is clean and elegant, and she has a terrific ear for dialogue so it feels like you are eavesdropping on real-life conversations.


Heaven and Hell by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (2011)

Heaven and Hell is a powerful story about friendship, redemption, despair and the ocean. It was an unexpected delight to read it and certainly the most enchanting book I have read this year. It deserves a wide audience.

Have you read any from this list? Or has it encouraged you to try one or two? Care to share your own top 10?

45 thoughts on “My favourite books of 2012”

  1. I’ve read five of those, Kim – three of them this year (Malouf, Leyshon and Moore), and I liked all of them very much even if they wouldn’t make my own top ten. ‘Fly Away Peter’ would perhaps come closest – I think only the fact that I’ve preferred some of his other books prevented me from giving it five stars.
    Thrilled to see ‘Plainsong’ on your list, which I think Lauren B. Davis recommended, didn’t she? It has long been one of my all-time favourite novels and I’d urge you to read Haruf’s other three novels, all of which are set in Holt, Colorado and all of which are equally brilliant. And he has a new one on the way next year – I can’t wait!
    You and Kevin both picked ‘The Imposter Bride’ so I’m definitely going to have to read that, even if it didn’t appeal to me when it came out at the start of the year. I think the US edition is due soon which should be cheaper to get hold of. ‘The Pilgrimage’ and ‘Heaven & Hell’ both have piqued my interest so I’ll keep an eye out for those.
    I posted my provisional top ten over on Kevin’s blog, which I think you saw, but I may have to swap one of them as I am just reading the last 50-odd pages of ‘The Shiralee’ which you recommended and – assuming it doesn’t all fall apart at the end – it is easily one of my favourite reads of the year (if not THE read of the year). D’Arcy Niland writes like an Australian Steinbeck – ‘The Shiralee’ could happily sit alongside ‘Sweet Thursday’, ‘Cannery Row’ or ‘Tortilla Flat’. In a word: wow.


  2. So thrilled you love The Shiralee. Isnt it brilliant? On the strength of that one novel I tracked down the rest of Nilands books–all out of print–but alas havent read any of them yet. Maybe thats a project for 2013?


  3. Oh Lisa, its not a competition 🙂 I suspect out of all the books you have read this year I bet I have only read two or three. Thats whats so great about blogging – you can get other bloggers (who have similar taste to you) to do some filtering for you. I love it when others unearth gems even if it means my wish list and TBR goes wildly out if control!


  4. You might not be surprised to discover that I’ve read none of these 😉 but The Lighthouse definitely appeals. Like you, I thought my reading year wasn’t great, until I went through the list and found lots of great books.


  5. I just cleared a bunch of books from my wishlist yesterday, and now it looks like I have a handful of new ones to add! I am so, so happy that you loved Plainsong. That is one of my favorite novels, and I am so excited about his new book (Benediction) in the spring that I pre-ordered it! Happy New Year to you!


  6. The good thing about this Malouf, Tony, is that it is very short — though its brevity shouldn’t be mistaken for shallowness. This is quite a devastating read. And yes, you must read Heaven and Hell — it will be right down your Icelandic alley, so to speak 😉


  7. Thanks for your comment, Pam. Glad you discovered the blog… I’ve been here for quite some time (10 years and counting), so won’t be going any time soon. I should probably point out that two of these books — the Onstad and the Richler — are Canadian and haven’t been published outside of that country yet. I was fortunate enough to receive them as gifts, so I could read them for the Shadow Giller Prize.


  8. Hi Simon, well you do tend to read a lot more older books than me, so I’m not surprised. Even the oldest one here — 1961 — is probably too contemporary for your usual read, no?
    And yes, the benefit of having a blog is being able to look back at all the stuff you’ve read. In fact, it was one of the reasons I started a blog all those years ago… I needed an aide memoir (is that the term?)


  9. Oops, sorry about that priscilla! 🙂
    Plainsong was a definite highlight of my reading year. Such a lovely book! I have borrowed Eventide from the library, so will read it in the next fortnight. And I’m lucky enough to have a proof copy of his new book lying in wait.


  10. I am absolutely desperate to read Heaven and Hell now. I think it has to go on my must read list for 2013. I just can’t get enough of dark, cold northern settings at the moment. Plainsong is on my TBR as well – I should push it up to the top!


  11. The John Broderick book looks fascinating, and like something I should have read. Somehow he’s never really impinged on my consciousness but I’ll track this one down next year.
    To The Lighthouse is also pushing its way up my TBR list – he recommendations are coming fairly regularly.
    Nice list. Good luck in 2013.


  12. Ever since you first published your review of Everybody Has Everything I have been checking for the availability of Katrina Onstad’s books in Australia to no avail. I am particularly interested in finding a copy of her debut How To Be Happy – might have to resort to secondhand stores online soon…
    The Devil I Know has gone on my wish list too. Have a wonderful New Year Kim.


  13. I’ve read two of these – the Malouf (of course … it’s one of my favourite books and one I often give away or recommend as a great Australian novel). I’ve also read Plainsong and have kept your post in my reader/in box to comment on ever since I saw it come through. It’s not a book I would have called great literature when I read it many years ago and yet it’s one of those books that stays with you. Simple, plain even, but real. Many of your other books look intriguing and I imagine I’d like most of them but …


  14. I read the Malouf this past year, too, and was very impressed by him (wavered on putting it on my own list as well). I read the Haruf years ago–so many actually that it has faded from memory, but one that is worth revisiting. And I have both the Harris and Richler on my reading piles–am looking forward to getting to them next year. It’s funny as I had the same sort of experience in making my own list this year–in looking back it has been a much better reading year than I thought. Best wishes to you in 2013. Have a Happy New Year and hope you read lots of really great books in the coming months!


  15. Whew…I paid close enough attention during the year that this list means I will only have to add one or two to my already groaning, over-loaded Kimbofo shelf. Maybe, with discipline, I can make more of a dent in it in 2013 — I certainly love your recommended books when I do get to them.
    On a personal note, thank you for again serving as a Shadow Giller juror. It was a bit of a weak year for the Giller, so I am glad to see that two of the longlist were good enough to make your top 10.


  16. If you’re looking for cold, dark northern settings, then Heaven and Hell will fit the bill perfectly! Plainsong is from the other extreme — it’s very rural American.


  17. Not sure if Everybody Has Everything will get an Australian release, though I see it is now being published in the UK in June…
    Gillespie and I was wonderful. I’ve recently finished The Observations and thought it just as good.


  18. Thanks, Seamus. Happy New Year to you.
    Broderick is worth tracking down… don’t think he’s very well known outside of his native Athlone. He’s got loads of novels to his name but they all seem to be out of print, except for this one and ‘The Waking of Willie Ryan’ which have both been republished by good old Lilliput Press.


  19. Hi Jo… Sadly, I’m not sure Onstad will be released in Oz. However, Everyone Has Everything is due to be published in the UK in June, so you should be able to order it from the Book Depository (no shipping charges) at that time.


  20. Cheers, Danielle — happy new year to you as well. Knowing your reading tastes, I think you will adore the Harris. And the Richler is probably right down your street too.


  21. Thanks, Kevin. Funny that two of these books were from my Giller reading… they obviously made an impression in that they are stories, particularly the Richler, that have stayed with me.


  22. Great selection of books there Kim and you did so much better than me at whittling them down… I had to do a top twenty, with mentions haha.
    Thrilled to see Gillespie and I in the mix, one of my favourite books, and The Lighthouse too.
    Also lovely to have lots of books I have yet to read that I am now adding to my wishlist.
    Hope you have a wonderful New Year!


  23. Some of my favorite books I read 2012:
    – William King: Leaving Ardglass
    – James Kaplan: Two guys from Verona (re-read)
    – Iain Banks: Crow Road
    – Joyce Carol Oates: What I lived for (re-read)
    – Kant Haruf: Plainsong
    – Paul Kelly: How to make gravy (music/biography)
    – Stephen King: 11/22/63
    Currently reading Haruf’s sequel “Eventide”, excellent stuff.


  24. Thanks for your list Kim. It really helps guide my reading decisions for the year ahead – and miminizes the risk of dud books. I have you to thank for one of my ‘best reads’ of 2012. You recommended ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun ‘ to KevinfromCanada and his recommendation persuaded me. What a marvellous book!
    Persistence will be required to find some of your Top 10 list – Onstad and Stefansson in particular – but I’m up for it. Hope the year ahead brings many literary delights.


  25. I did consider the idea of doing 2 lists — top 10 books published in 2012 and a top 10 for backlist books. Alas, I was just too lazy and simply listed all the books I awarded a five-star rating to.


  26. So pleased to hear you liked Leaving Ardglass, which was on my list for 2011. Not read the Kaplan or JCOates, so may have to investigate further. Read Crow Road about 20 years ago when I used to read everything by Iain Banks. I have the King on my Wishlist. Interesting to hear you read Kelly’s biography — saw him in concert plenty of times when I lived in Melbourne.
    Oh, and I have Eventide on loan from the library…


  27. Thanks for your lovely comment, Robin. Glad you find this list useful. And I’m delighted you loved ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’ — it’s such a beautiful book, isn’t it? Definitely one of my all-time faves.
    Not sure where you live in the world, but the Onstad seems to be only available in Canada at the present time, and the Stefansson looks to be UK only.


  28. as one would expect a wide list I ve only read one heaven and hell which I ll be reviewing at the end of this month ,some noted down to get if I see them about second hand ,all the best stu


  29. What an interesting list – I’ve neither read nor even heard of a single book on your list! I am very interested in Everybody has Everything – ice added it to my TBR – thanks


  30. Thanks to you and this blog, I read Gillespie and I and Fly Away Peter this year. I thought they were terrific. I’d never read anything by either author, or even heard of them! I’m not sure how that happened, but thanks for remedying. I read Plainsong long ago and loved it, too.
    I picked up some Staff Recommends books from various independent bookshops around the country this year. There’s a bookshop in New Hampshire by Lake Winnepesaukee called the Innisfree Book Store or something like that. The best one by far was by a (possibly Canadian?) author named Gil Adamson called The Outlander. I found myself cheering on a murderess.


  31. Thanks for such a lovely comment, Frondly. I love hearing from new people…. and so pleased that you’ve found some of my recommendations useful.
    I love the sound of the Adamson book — must look into it.


  32. I had a hard time getting into the Gillespie and I audiobook. I just wanted something to happen… but then that final part! At the time I only gave it 3/5, but months afterwards I’m still exchanging emails with friends about it. A book that manages to create such discussion surely deserves more than 3/5!


  33. Sometimes books that don’t leave much of an impression when you finish them can grow in your mind later on. I always think that if the characters or storyline stays with you — even if they/it pops into your head months down the line — that’s a sign of a good book.


  34. Your reviews have caused me to get a copy of Plainsong, put myself 0n the waiting list for Gillespie and I at the library and ask for The Imposter Bride as a present from my Dad (yet to arrive). Thanks for reading and reviewing these…they would have been off my radar otherwise.


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