Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ten Best Books I Read In 2012

Reading remains one of my two favorite pastimes, which only writing could compete with. Indulging in this pastime, I had the opportunity to read thirty books between the time I was working on my previous list to the time I completed this one. There would likely have been more if it weren't for the roadblock of everyday life, but that isn't going away any time soon. Well, I'll just make the best of what I have here.

When it came to ranking the books that I did read, I was faced was one of my biggest challenges. Putting together a list of which books were the ten best was probably more challenging than it's ever been. The biggest challenge was naming the tenth, because while the upper part of my list just about came down to fitting them in the appropriate space based off of how much I enjoyed them, the lower part of the list was a matter of what was making the list and what wasn't. That is something that could get quite difficult.

Keep in mind that not all of these books, if fact, none of these books, were written in 2012. I did read books that were written this year, but none of them made my list. In my circumstance, it would be too much of an investment to buy books from this year, which are about $20-$30 a piece. While you do have the library, I like to read at my own pace.

I kept you waiting long enough, let's talk about what really matters. Chances are you already scrolled down to where you saw the bold list begin, because my introduction was becoming quite tedious. We shall begin!

#10- 75 Short Masterpieces by Various Authors, edited by Roger Goodman- Put together around 1960, this collection remains relevant to the new-coming literature connoisseurs like myself, who prefer reading from an area of choice (horror) and want to write in a specific area of choice (also horror), but want to know about the complete horizon of fiction. This book provides you with plenty of opportunities in doing so. These are short-short pieces, as none of these stories reaches ten pages. In fact, I think that if a story reached seven pages, that was a lot. I'm sure that you as the reader will quickly be able to pick out your favorites, but mine include, "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, in which a young kindergartner talks about a classmate named Charles who's always causing trouble in class, "A Wicked Boy" by Anton Chekhov, where a boy who spies on his older sister and her boyfriend gets what he deserves in a simply charming piece, "The Lottery Ticket" by Ventura Garcia Calderon, who in a clever piece tells the story of a minorities reaction to winning a lottery, "The Boy Who Drew Cats" by Lafcadio Hearn, in which all people, even if it's just drawing cats, can be useful to society, and the list keeps going on and on.

#9- It Happened In New Jersey by Fran Capo- I first learned about Fran Capo from her appearances on The Weakest Link and Dog Eat Dog, which promoted her as the world's fastest female speaker. She happens to also be an author who has written works such as the nonfictional piece about fascinating things that happened in the Garden State. When I mean fascinating, I mean things that were right in front of you fascinating, but it took further information to confirm that it was actually connected to New Jersey origins. Written with her signature sense of humor, she provides detailed, factual information about the oldest dinosaur being found in Haddonfield, the red-suited Santa Claus originating on an artist's desk in New Jersey during the Civil War, how Thomas Edison actually chased Hollywood out of New Jersey, a secret about Lucy the Elephant in Margate, and the list keeps going on. You will learn a lot about this state and the intriguing things it has to offer and if you're from or live in New Jersey, you will most definitely be interested.

#8- The Running Man by Stephen King- Stephen King wrote this book as Richard Bachman before Bachman's identity was revealed a few years later. This was a novel that I read back in eighth grade and didn't get as much of an understanding of it, as this was the time I wasn't fascinated with reading as I am today. I decided to give this book another read and I am sure glad I did. Ben Richards, the protagonist in the story, goes on to participate in a wild game show, which the title is named for, in order to provide for his wife and sick daughter. In this game, the object is to stay away from hunters that are looking to track you down and kill you. They even ask for viewers to participate and report the contestants to the hunters, thus the cards are against Ben Richards and other contestants like him. This kind of game show paints an incredible picture as to how the future may look, especially on the outlook of game shows (given that one such show includes people with heart problems and in wheelchairs participating on a treadmill-based show). The story remains a roller coaster ride all the way until the end, so you'll be hooked from start to finish.

#7- The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury- To honor the late and great Ray Bradbury, a genius in the science fiction field (and plenty of other fields to go along with this), I had to read something from his library. Since I have read Fahrenheit 451 (which I may consider reading again), Dandelion Wine, and Farewell Summer, I felt it was time to give this classic a read. In this brilliant novel, Bradbury explores different stories that are connected in the way that all concentrate on the Earthling's interest in discovering life on Mars. On top of that, it explores how it's quite likely that we will only screw things up on Mars as oppose to make things better when we get there. My favorite chapter in this book is "The Taxpayer," which tells the story of a man that believes he should have the right to participate in an early mission to Mars because he paid the taxes to fund it. As expected, he's left out. This segment explores how we are expected to pay taxes to plans we are prohibited from taking any part in. Bradbury will definitely be missed for his clever exploration into the unknown.

#6- Dracula by Bram Stoker- The suave, handsome-looking vampire who is known for sleeping in a coffin and longing to "suck your blood" originated in the 1890s tale by Stoker. Ironically, the most accurate version of this Dracula happens to be the one featured in Nosferatu, the 1922 German film in which Max Schreck portrayed an ugly, bald, frail looking creature, plus the story is most identical. In the novel, Jonathan Harker is assigned to sell a home to Dracula, who happens to be a blood hungry vampire. What's great about this novel is the "on your toes" tension and the clear point of view. Since this novel was written in diary submissions from different characters, you could easily tell who was contributing to the story. As for its horror element, it is one of the original, top of the line franchises. I just so happened to read it this year and I encourage any reader, horror fiction fan or literature enthusiast, to do the same.

#5- The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson- One of the greatest writers of the psychological horror fiction writers has to be Richard Matheson, whom to those of the current age would be familiar with one of his notable works, I Am Legend (the film, not necessarily the book). However, one of his scarier, adventurous works has to be The Shrinking Man, which anyone with a fear of drastically shrinking would draw fear into their minds. In this particular piece, Scott Carey is exposed to a radioactive spray while on a trip with his brother. This causes him to slowly shrink, becoming smaller than his wife, then his daughter, then the cat, and eventually so small that a sponge is his bed and he's trying to escape a spider. Matheson is known for writing in the notion that's featured in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, which Matheson himself has contributed to, in the way that it ends in a twist. I will not point out the twist, but I will point out that this is something to check out. Not only does this novel provide an element of horror and science fiction, but it also provides the mental destruction of a man who is facing an incredible crisis and how as he shrinks physically, so is his impression in society. This is quite a tragic element to the story and a reason that you have to think outside the box with regard to the concept of a man shrinking due to exposure from a chemical-based fume. This is an under-looked gem in several genres.

#4- Maus by Art Spiegelman- So I included a graphic novel on my list. Well... I didn't count anything out and what I read is what I read. The only rule I make is that I completed it thoroughly enough to provide a good quality review. Maus is more than a good quality piece, it's brilliant! Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, Art's father, and his struggles as a Jew living in Poland and coming across the Holocaust. To make things clearer and more clever, Spiegelman uses animals to represent each group of countries. Most importantly, the Jews are mice and the Germans are cats, which plays on the "cat and mouse" term. The story behind what Vladek Spiegelman had to go through was incredibly raw and he held back absolutely no punches as to what really happened to the Jews in Europe during the most tragic times in their history. Better yet, Spiegelman was able to appropriately add humor in ways such as the true interactions that he had with his father. He made no effort to hide the extra details that went along with his father telling the story. If you would rather read a graphic novel over one that is filled with words, then I urge you to check out Maus.

#3- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- I am speaking of the first in the series and ONLY the first in the series. It's so incredible how a writer for shows on Nick Jr. like Little Bear can go on to create one of the darkest, most gruesome franchises in literature. The concept to The Hunger Games is that of a future North America that is separated into twelve (used to be thirteen) districts known as Panem. After a rebellion against the authorities, it was instated that one male and female teenager from each district would compete in a competition where they would have to kill their competitors and avoid being killed by their competitors. The last person standing would be deemed the champion, their prize being appropriate supplies of food and support, for themselves AND their district. Katniss Everdeen, an adventurous caretaker of her home, is forced into competing in the place of her sister. Here, she builds relationships and avoids not coming out of the game. The concept to this story is just incredible. The fact that society is holding a sadistic stance tells you the fascination that people have with reality-based events and getting involved in such. This is especially seen in how the competitors receive celebrity treatment and are expected to satisfy their viewers, only facing a little more than a 4% chance of coming out of this event alive. This is only young adult fiction, because it features young adults. This is a dark, gruesome, and ruthless book, and has no fear in killing characters off as they wish. I, for one, believe that this is one of young adult fiction's finest.

#2- The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson- Last year, I named The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as my second favorite novel. This year, I'm naming this book as my second favorite novel, only the first of the series was great and this one was fantastic. What I liked more about this novel was that it excelled on the building blocks the original novel had to offer. In Dragon Tattoo, we are introduced to the characters and what they could do. In Played With Fire, we see them take their actions a step further and learn about the inspiration behind these actions. What is most special about this novel is that we learn about Lisbeth Salander's back story and what made her the person she was. We also come across a key antagonist of hers from the first book, Nils Bjurman, who used his position as guardian to squeeze out some sexual favors from Lisbeth. To say the very least, this is a roller coaster ride like no other. We learn about Lisbeth's sister and her father, who is going to play a key role throughout the remainder of the series. Her father is important in the way that his relationship with his daughter is what ignites much of her fury. With that connection, we learn about her institutional experience and how her therapist contributed to her struggles, plus a female that she exchanged in sexual relations with. If you enjoyed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, you'll enjoy The Girl Who Played With Fire ten times more. Don't expect The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest to pop up on next year's list, because I read it this year and didn't find it as fascinating. It was more about preparing for the main event. However, since Swedish author Stieg Larsson intended to make this series ten novels instead of three before eventually dying prematurely, this is the way things work.

#1- Aesop's Fables translated by V.S. Vernon Jones as part of the Barnes & Noble Collection- While this is one of those selections you may be puzzled that I picked, the fact of the matter is, Aesop's fables are absolutely brilliant and they are a landmark with regard to literature and storytelling. While Aesop may be more than one person or simply a title used to categorize these fables, these fables use animals, people, gods and goddesses, among other things to create stories that carry a moral. This is where you find tales such as "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," the latter being known as "The Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf," where morals such as "slow and steady wins the race" and "a liar cannot be believed even when telling the truth" are expressed. I, for one, prefer some of the lesser known pieces, such as "The Wolf and the Crane," "The Fox and the Crow," "The Ass and the Lapdog," among other incredibly clever tales. These fables were intended to be comedic in that they were meant to make people laugh. Some of these are so true that they even make me let out a laugh and some chuckles. Whether it was Aesop or not, these fables were incredibly well put together and very hard to top when it comes to good storytelling. Whether you want to use a cliche, such as "good things come in small packages" or that it was "short, sweet, and to the point," this novel is the equivalent to a top of the line cheese platter of the literary world. If you've missed out on Aesop's fables, regardless who the editor was, you've missed out of a large percentage of what literature has to offer. As for this collection, it was very well organized and indeed an encouraging element to what made this subject excellent.

2012 seemed to be the year that I began to explore the many gifts that literature has to offer. I've dug deeper into my interest in the subject after making the decision to trek in the direction of wanting to write fiction. I created a literature club and exchanged literary brain food with those who are part of the club. Whether it be their suggestions or the things I got out of the new experience into literary exploration, that's what the year had to offer. Much of this, combined with my already present reading habits, is the direction I went with regard to reading.

Next year should be quite interesting as well. While my time may be limited with a busy schedule, I definitely intend to use open time to read. I already plan to read some horror fiction, bestseller fiction, and much of what the field has to offer, but I also intend to explore what foreign literature has to offer (of course, written in the English language). I have always held interest in exploring a world of no boundaries, which is a key trait of literature.

As for this list, these are gems I have come across and encourage that you take the time to explore. It's a wide variety, so I'm putting my wagers on the fact that at least one (if not, more, most, or all) will be something you thoroughly enjoy. Hopefully, this list will encourage you to shut down the laptop or computer and head on over to the bookstore, but at the very least, I hope this list has simply created sparks on your "to-read" list.

Hope you all have a happy, healthy, and safe 2013!

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