I am not going to do a best books of the year post for the very simple reason that most of the best books I have read this year (and other years) were not published this year. Indeed, most were not published in this century. As you can see from my chronological list, I have read fourteen books published this year, an unusually high number for me and the best thee are all by women – Bring Up the Bodies, NW and In the Shadow of the Banyan. Several of the books were quite disappointing though I did quite enjoy Carlos Fuentes’ last novel (see cover at left), which won’t appear in English till next year. As for other people’s best of lists, I always turn to Large-Hearted Boy’s list. I have waded my way through several of the lists he links to, where I have found several intriguing lists, some odd choices and some books that I wonder why are included. As he limits himself to English, I was going to do a post of a few non-English lists but, inevitably, Michael Orthofer at the Literary Saloon beat me to it. Nevertheless, I will try and supplement his lists.
But let’s start with Bill Gates. Yes, that Bill Gates. Bill has published his list of ten books that made me think. I must confess that I have not read any of them nor am I likely to do, though my significant other read the Pinker and very much enjoyed it. There are, sadly, no novels in his list but Bill also kindly gives us a list of his reading for the year. This is also a fascinating list of worthy works. It also includes four novels and here, I am afraid, Bill somewhat lets us down. The four are: The Hunger Games, Michael Ondaatje‘s The Cat’s Cradle, which I have not read yet but probably will, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, a book I read many years ago, and which was first published in 1959 and A Catcher in the Rye, first published four years before Bill was born. Didn’t he read it in high school? Well, he read many worthy non-fiction books so he can perhaps be forgiven for not putting much effort into his novel reading.
Moving on to the foreign book lists… As Michael Orthofer points out in the post linked to above, best of lists tends to be an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. In the English-speaking world these lists all too often appear early in December when there is still time for some worthy books to appear but other nationalities do some of their lists later. So here are some other lists I have found:
- The respected French literary magazine Lire does not have a list on its site of the best books of the year, though it does have a list of the ten books you should read before the end of the world (this post being written three days before the world ends on 21 December). However, Nicole Volle publishes the list that appeared in Lire magazine in her blog. It is divided up into categories and there is only one book per category so there are not many novels. I do have a copy of the foreign book (Antonio Muñoz Molina‘s La noche de los tiempos, which I hope to get round to.
- Tribune libre offers a sort of a list, with selections by Internet readers as well as by critics. Kathryn Stockett’s Help is the best foreign book
- L’Express also likes the Muñoz Molina but likes Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time even more
Not much else. Various bloggers have their lists though a few seem to like 50 nuances de Grey
- Buchmarkt offers the best books from independent publishers
- Lebe Lieber Literarisch offers a top ten, consisting of New Zealander Anthony McCarten’s The English Harem, John Boyne’s The Absolutist and Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me the Waltz.
- Panorama offers a ten best Italian novels list and a ten best foreign novels list, which starts with Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending and includes three US writers, two English, one Chinese, one French, one Indian, one Japanese and one Uruguayan (and one error – the John R Lansdale mentioned is actually Joe R Lansdale).
- Mondlista offers five Italian novels
Not much on offer here.
- Livros Abertos (Brazil) offers a selection including IQ84, Sweet Tooth and A Visit from the Good Squad, amongst others.
- Valor (Brazil) also liked IQ84 and Sweet Tooth, amongst others.
- El Confidencial chooses its ten best novels of 2012 but offers old and new ones, including Carson McCullers‘ Clock Without Hands
- La Vanguardia gives choices for Spanish-language, Catalan and foreign novels, with Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time and Sense of an Ending doing as well as they did in French
- El Universal, the Mexican newspaper, has some of its critics making selections and asks for readers’ selections. The critics liked John Banville‘s Ancient Light and Jonathan Franzen’s Farther Away
- El Club de las Escritoras [The Club of Women Writers] liked Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy and Don DeLillo‘s The Angel Esmeralda
- Ñ (Argentinian) has a separate Argentinian list and foreign list. They liked David Markson‘s Reader’s Block
- Semana from Colombia had two English-language books – the poet Mary Jo Bang’s collection Elegy and James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks.
- ABC offers its best of list. They also like John Banville‘s Ancient Light and David Markson‘s Reader’s Block as well as liking Paul Auster‘s Collected Poems, David Rieff’s Against Remembrance and Marilynne Robinson’s Home.
No, not a very exciting list but I do hope Bill Gates will read more novels next year. There are a lot of good US ones, Bill.