Top 10 Most Recommended Books of 2012

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“Do give books for Christmas. They’re never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.”  ~ Lenore Hershey

So many books, so little time… If you are still floundering about for a good Christmas gift, here is a list that may help.  Recently,  Flavorwire complied a list of the most recommend books from fifteen respected magazines and newspapers and determined how many times works had been recommended to readers.   You can read their full list of dozens of titles here, but here are the top ten of all those titles with the most mentions:

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1. Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Nine recommendations)

The sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne BoleynThough he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle.

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2.  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Seven recommendations)

A finalist for the National Book Award!  Three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare with Iraqi insurgents has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America’s most sought-after heroes. Now they’re on a media-intensive nationwide tour to reinvigorate support for the war. On this rainy Thanksgiving, the Bravos are guests of the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside Destiny’s Child.Among the Bravos is Specialist Billy Lynn. Surrounded by patriots sporting flag pins on their lapels and Support Our Troops bumper stickers, he is thrust into the company of the Cowboys’ owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a born-again Cowboys cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Over the course of this day, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision, and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.

 

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3.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers:  Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (Seven recommendations)

While the distance between rich and poor is growing in the U.S., the gap between the haves and have-nots in India is staggering to behold. This first book by a New Yorker staff writer (and Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the Washington Post) jolts the reader’s consciousness with the opposing realities of poverty and wealth in a searing visit to the Annawaldi settlement, a flimflam slum that has recently sprung up in the western suburbs of the gigantic city of Mumbai, perched tentatively along the modern highway leading to the airport and almost within a stone’s throw of new, luxurious hotels. We first meet Abdul, whose daily grind is to collect trash and sell it; in doing so, he has “lifted his large family above subsistence.” Boo takes us all around the community, introducing us to a slew of disadvantaged individuals who, nevertheless, draw on their inner strength to not only face the dreary day but also ponder a day to come that will, perhaps, be a little brighter. Sympathetic yet objective and eloquently rendered. –Brad Hooper, Booklist

 
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4.   Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed (Seven recommendations)

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.

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  5.  The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (Seven recommendations)

“The war tried to kill us in the spring.” So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.

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6.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn  (Six recommendations)

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick’s wife Amy disappears. There are signs of struggle in the house and Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect. It doesn’t help that Nick hasn’t been completely honest with the police and, as Amy’s case drags out for weeks, more and more vilifying evidence appears against him. Nick, however, maintains his innocence. Told from alternating points of view between Nick and Amy, Gillian Flynn creates an untrustworthy world that changes chapter-to-chapter. Calling Gone Girl a psychological thriller is an understatement. As revelation after revelation unfolds, it becomes clear that the truth does not exist in the middle of Nick and Amy’s points of view; in fact, the truth is far more dark, more twisted, and more creepy than you can imagine. Gone Girl is masterfully plotted from start to finish and the suspense doesn’t waver for one page. It’s one of those books you will feel the need to discuss immediately after finishing because the ending doesn’t just come; it punches you in the gut. Caley Anderson

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7.  Iron Curtain:  The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum (Five Recommendations)

At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In Iron Curtain, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of Iron Curtain.

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8.  This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz  (Five recommendations)

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

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9.   The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro  (Five recommendations)

The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career—1958 to1964.  It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as Senate Majority Leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a Vice President in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the moment it took an assassin’s bullet to reach its mark.By 1958, as Johnson began to maneuver for the presidency, he was known as one of the most brilliant politicians of his time, the greatest Senate Leader in our history. But the 1960 nomination would go to the young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Caro gives us an unparalleled account of the machinations behind both the nomination and Kennedy’s decision to offer Johnson the vice presidency, revealing the extent of Robert Kennedy’s efforts to force Johnson off the ticket.

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10.  Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (Four recommendations)

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges.


Hmmm… Seems to be a Book! Ten Gift Suggestions for Christmas Reading

Among my friends, (who, lets face it, often regard sunlight as the enemy) there can never be a better Christmas present than a coveted book. Most of our friends, family members, and colleagues know we love to read. However, what to get your favorite bibliophile can be daunting:

“Hmmmm… well, Diana sorta likes cats. How about this special, 40 lb tome of Cats Through the Ages?” 

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“Who doesn’t want to learn the ancient art of origami?” (*Me) …Variation: “Who doesn’t like spy novels?”  (*Also me).

So, instead of grabbing a random book, here are ten suggestions from my well-read friends that may help you select a welcomed gift that will actually be read:

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10.  Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 

This Man-Booker prize winning sequel, as well as  Mantel’s first novel Wolf Hall (which also won the Man-Booker!) are both on my personal list.

From Publisher’s Weekly: Henry VIII’s challenge to the church’s power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century.

9.  Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats 

A required volume for lovers of poetry. Both newcomers and those already familiar with the work of Yeats will appreciate this collection which ” includes all of the poems authorized by Yeats for inclusion in his standard canon. Breathtaking in range, it encompasses the entire arc of his career, from luminous reworkings of ancient Irish myths and legends to passionate meditations on the demands and rewards of youth and old age, from exquisite, occasionally whimsical songs of love, nature, and art to somber and angry poems of life in a nation torn by war and uprising.”

8. The Language of Flowers by Vanesa Diffenbach

Consider picking this New York Times best-seller and recent book club favorite:

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

7.  January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Scofield

A good choice for a lover of non-fiction reads, one friend says the memoir is “heartbreaking and engrossing at the same time. I couldn’t put it down and read it mostly in one day.”

At six years old, January Schofield, “Janni,” to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man.  What’s more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults and in January’s case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.

7.  The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy 

Got a political junkie on your list? A friend tells me this is a Can’t-Put-It-Down choice.

Starting with the surprisingly effective relationship of Harry S. Truman and Herbert Hoover, and following through “Obama and His Club,” TIME Magazine‘s Executive Editor Nancy Gibbs and Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy trace the surprising, complicated story of “the world’s most exclusive fraternity.” Sitting presidents and their predecessors have at times proved remarkably simpatico, at others impossible thorns in each other’s sides. The authors’ extensive research demonstrates that ex-Presidents have a penchant for morphing from consummate team players into irascible rogues, sometimes within weeks, as they strive both to remain relevant and to shape their own legacies.

6.  The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor

Under that frayed sports coat lies the heart of a beast! Your English professor or quiet librarian may well be hiding a little secret… tattoos that express their love of literature. This beautiful text is “a collection of more than 150 full-color photographs of human epidermis indelibly adorned with quotations and illustrations from Dickinson to Pynchon, from Shakespeare to Plath. With beloved lines of verse, literary portraits, and illustrations—and statements from the bearers on their tattoos’ history and the personal significance of the chosen literary work—The Word Made Flesh is part collection of photographs and part literary anthology written on skin.”

5.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Perfect for both the  book lover, bookstore lover, and mystery fan, Sloan’s novel is “a gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.”

4.  Fairy Tales from the Brother’s Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman

Most people know that the versions of the Grimm Brothers’ tales many of us grew up with were “sanitized” verisons of the original stories. In this new edition, author Philip Pullman “retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.”

3.  Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Laura Leto 

This is another entry from my personal Wish List. Do you know how some people snoop through bathroom medicine cabinets or desk drawers? Personally, I eye their bookshelves. Most book lovers do. We want to know what we have in common or who we need to stay away from, often making instant friendships or enemies based on libraries alone. In her study, Leto provides a “hilarious send-up of—and inspired homage to—the passionate and peculiar world of book culture.”

2. Cezanne: A Life by Alex Danchev

Okay, I confess. This is also on my list (get yer own blog!).  Cezanne’s life has long fascinated me, and after hearing an interview with Danchev, I am eager to learn more.  Here’s an overview:

With brisk intellect, rich documentation, and eighty-eight color and fifty-two black-and-white illustrations, Danchev tells the story of an artist who was originally considered a madman, a barbarian, and a sociopath. Beginning with the unsettled teenager in Aix, Danchev takes us through the trials of a painter who believed that art must be an expression of temperament but was tormented by self-doubt, who was rejected by the Salon for forty years, who sold nothing outside his immediate circle until his thirties, who had a family that he kept secret from his father until his forties, who had his first exhibition at the age of fifty-six—but who fiercely maintained his revolutionary beliefs.

1.  Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kerns Goodwin

Steven Spielberg’s wonderful new film Lincoln was largely based on the research of famed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Anyone interested in politics or history will certainly enjoy this compelling re-examination of the drama surrounding the eventual adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.


Top Ten Gifts for Readers and Writers: Cyber-Monday is Here!

Got a reader and/or writer on your Christmas list? Take advantage of Cyber-Monday with these unique offerings for your favorite nerd. And I mean that in the most loving way possible, of course.

10. Favorite Writer’s Coasters

Even first-class swillers like the infamous… indulgers… Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski didn’t want nasty water rings left on their bedside table. Honor their memories and wishes with these snazzy coasters from Retrowhale and take advantage of 15% off your order, today only.  Use order code Retro77.

9.  Big Books Tote Bag

Make Sir Mix-a-lot proud and your children cringe with this bag from Pamela Fugate Designs. Free shipping!

8.  Tolkein Ring

As your favorite Tolkein geek will explain to you, the wizard Gandalf says this in The Fellowship of the Ring

7.  Bamboo Bath Caddy

A book, a bubble bath, and wine? I’ll be out around the end of February. Maybe. 10% off with the code “Cyber” at Macy’s.

6.  Massage Bed Rest from Brookstone

Ooohhh… Okay. It does remind me a bit of the flying chairs in the movie “Wall-E” but I’ll take one. I bet any other reader you know would love it as well. Massage, place for a drink, pockets, a reading light? Yes, please. 5% off Cyber-Monday with the code Pinit5.

5.  Hemingway Gift Box from Royal Palm Arts

Set includes a 6 oz stainless steel flask, a pair of shot glasses, a leather notebook, a wooden cigar caddy/pencil holder, and two pencils. Fill up the flask and throw in a couple of Cubans and you’ve got yourself a right manly Christmas there, my friend.

4. Demeter Fragrances: Paperback

Forget pheromones! I hope this comes in a male version. Books and manliness? Gimme.  Description promises, “A trip to your favorite library or used bookstore. Sweet and lovely with just a touch of the musty smell of aged paper, Demeter’s Paperback harnesses that scent with a sprinkling of violets and a dash of tasteful potpourri.”

3.  Scrabble: Book Lover’s Edition

Gather ’round kids, where I introduce you to this concept that came, yes, BEFORE “Words With Friends.” In this Scrabble edition, you get extra points for playing names of novels and authors. I’m not entirely sure why you couldn’t do that on a regular Scrabble board, but hey, this one looks all library-y and stuff. Cyber-Monday deals at Amazon. 

2.  Literary iPhone Covers

I love these. Love them! Perhaps I’ll even be persuaded to dump my 3G in order to get one. Or several. Hurry, limited editions and sadly, TKAM is already gone.  At Uncommon Goods.

1. Gift Certificate for Uninterrupted Reading and/or Writing Time

While all the previous ideas are fabulous, what most readers and writers want more than anything is some unfettered time…time free of needy kids, inquiring significant others, ringing phones, knocks at the door, email… Better yet, pair this with one or more of the other gifts listed here and make your favorite bibliophile/author very happy indeed.


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