I read a lot of stuff in 2012, most of it good, some of it not (I just don’t think I’ll ever have time for Ernest Hemingway). And I discovered some books and authors that were just a better than the rest. The ones that made me go “Oh fuck yes”.
#1: this year’s Everything: Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)
This book made me laugh, laughsob and actually cry in public (quietly, but there were tears). I may also have muttered complaints and whispered anguished declarations of love. In summary: do not read this book unless you want to look like a slightly unhinged lit student.
But really, read this right now if you like unique unreliable narrators who comment on their narration as they’re writing it and digress a lot, stories about destiny and family and what and why we are, magical realism, India/Post-colonial stuff, and really fucking gorgeous prose.
The best, the most beautiful, the most glorious, what I read for.
#2: Junot Díaz (Drown and This is How You Lose Her)
I read Oscar Wao a few years ago and I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it back then, so I can’t say I expected too much when I bought Drown on whim this year (mostly, I wanted something short to read). I was wrong. Díaz really is original, authentic and fresh, and even though those words are used for everyone who doesn’t write third-person limited linear realist stories about middle-class white men, they really mean something here.
So, Drown and This is How You Lose Her are as close to perfect as short story collections get. Read for great narrative voice (I want Yunior to narrate all the things), a deeply flawed yet still deeply sympathetic protagonist, alienation, facelessness, father-son and mother-son and sibling relationships, romantic relationships where “sometimes, a start is all we ever get”, serial cheating, and prose that will make you laugh and then kick you in the soul.
Also, I recommend reading/listening to a lot of interviews with Díaz because he’s extremely smart and says extremely smart things.
#3: Zadie Smith (White Teeth and NW)
Zadie Smith is not your hipster darling. Yes, she uses unconventional methods of writing and organising her writing, things that might become gimmicky in other hands, but she’s not some wacky zany hipster person.
Anyway, White Teeth is an unreasonably charming and joyful (yet still perceptive and making-statements-about-racial-politics-y) book about growing up and finding your identity as a second-generation immigrant. It also has the Chalfens, the most terrifyingly hilarious white middle-class people ever and Irie, who is lovely.
NW is less joyful and more mature, and I think it would benefit from a rereading (though really all books on this list are books I want to read again soon). It’s about socio-economic power, poverty, technology, identity in the modern age (I think the fact that Natalie’s first section is divided into short numbered sections is a great way to express her own doubt about her identity), success and friendship. It also uses the setting of North-West London very effectively, so if you’re into cities and city-life and cities-as-secret-protagonists (I really am into that), this is a book for you.
Seriously, if you want something really good to read, read those people and those books.
(There were some other things obviously, like go read Ada, or Ardor by Nabokov, read it right now if you liked Lolita but thought it could have been more Nabokovian and so on.)