The time has come for me to share some of the e-book gems that I stumbled across in 2012. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I’ll also throw in a teaser or two just to spice things up. In no particular order, the Kinetic Beans Best (Random) Books of 2012 are:
Raising Stony Mayhall (Daryl Gregory): This book is about zombies. Oh yes. Had I known this book was about zombies, I might never have picked it up, but I am glad I did. It is an imaginative romp through a post-zombie apocalypse world, with one big difference from your typical zombie story: the zombies are still real people (mostly). I’ll stop there before I give too much away, but let’s just say that after reading this book, I immediately sought out more of Gregory’s writing. It was that good.
Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship (Gail Caldwell): I shed many a tear over this beautiful book about the power of friendship and the equally life-changing power of loss. Intimate, raw, and moving. Caldwell captures the nuances of the grieving process in a gentle yet searing way, and helps us understand why the acts of loving and grieving are inherent to our humanity.
Anathem (Neil Stephenson): This book was one of the exceptions I made to my random book selection in 2012. I have been trying to get back to my roots by reading more science fiction. Several friends highly recommended this book, so I took it up. Stephenson weaves the story of a planet divided and facing a crisis the scope of which is known only to a select few. As the story unfolds, the reader is compelled to look past the surface and dig deeper and deeper into our understanding of time, space, and human consciousness.
The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (Susan Casey): Fascinating and frightening. Casey goes in depth into the world of big wave surfers, following several god-like figures in the sport, while also doing extensive research on the natural phenomena that lead to the existence of giant waves. I can safely say that I will never look at the ocean in the same way. As for the surfers who pursue these waves, a quote from an article on endurance sports comes to mind: “If you are running more than 15 miles a week, you are doing it for reasons other than health.” The same holds for giant wave surfers. If you want to surf 100-foot waves, you’re doing it for reasons other than health, and frankly, it’s unclear to me whether or not personal demons of that nature can be truly exorcised in this life.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (John le Carré): Before I’d ever even picked up this book, I’d heard all kinds of mixed reviews about the movie based on the story. Now having read it, I might have an inkling as to why that is the case. The book opens quickly, and before you even realize it, you are embroiled in a tangled web of fact and fiction that seems to fuse together until even the main character in the book, George Smiley, can’t seem to keep it all straight. Yet even as you sense that you are in over your head, you still feel compelled to keep turning the pages, desperate to find out how it all ends. A mesmerizing mystery, but make sure to read it in as few sittings as possible to avoid losing track of the complex twists and turns of le Carré’s imaginings.
Last Call (Tim Powers): I sympathized with Scott Crane, the main character in Power’s romp through Las Vegas and a magical world of poker and Tarot cards. Not only is poor Crane down on his luck, but more than that: he is doomed. That is, unless he can somehow track down his father, unlock his inner powers, and harness all of the luck that Vegas has to offer. I dove into this book completely without expectations (I don’t even like poker!) and was delighted to find a compelling cast of characters, an interesting twist on the much-explored father-son rivalry, and an imaginative ending. A great vacation or travel read.
The Wave (Walter Mosley): I know what you’re thinking: two books about waves in one year? Don’t worry. We’re talking about all together different kinds of waves here, more specifically, alien waves. Mosley delivers a neatly packaged, page-turning sci-fi read that reaches right into the core of humankind’s fear of the other. Interestingly, most of the book takes place in/around Los Angeles, which will be no surprise to the discerning reader, as we all know that Los Angeles is no stranger to weird happenings (hello, Kardashians).
40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania (Matthew Chapman): If the name alone doesn’t sell you, then let me assure you that story itself is worth the time. Chapman’s book evolves from his fascination with a small Pennsylvania community torn apart by a debate over school curriculum. While the story itself and the implications of the case are serious, Chapman is able to capture the moments of humor as well as reflect the humanity of people on both sides of the verdict.
Blue Nights (Joan Didion): This was my first foray into Didion’s writing. From the opening lines, when she describes her melancholy attraction to the Blue Nights of New York City, she enraptures the reader. The book reads more like a stream of consciousness – words and stories repeat but are spun differently each time, revealing new facets of emotion and memory. Unlike Caldwell, Didion struggles to address her grief directly, using flashes of memory and small stories to capture the essence of loss and fear of aging.
The City and the City (China Miéville): While this was not an easy read for me, I found the book fascinating. Miéville spins the tale of a city divided. The cause of the divide is not immediately clear, and becomes less and less clear as the story moves on. An exploration of boundaries and identity, Miéville’s story, through its enigma, invites the reader to question the given lines of demarcation and accepted truths that control our lives.
Since 2013 is imminent, I’m taking suggestions for next year’s reading. Any books that you would recommend? Send them my way (even if it’s not exactly random)!