things i liked in 2012: the books edition

Didn’t you say that you wanted to hear about my favourite books what I read in 2012? You did, didn’t you! WELL HERE YOU GO!

I don’t often write about books, which is odd considering I’m always reading one or two, and reading is probably one of my greatest joys in life. I wish I could adequately explain how wonderful it is to me without sounding like I think I’m the only person in the world who has ever loved reading, but it would go something like this: to think that inside what is really just a stack of paper hides a whole other world and you can just sit in on it and watch what goes on for a while is endlessly cool, and the ultimate form of escapism in my humble opinion. You may notice that my favourite books from 2012 were not published in 2012 – whatever, that’s how I roll. Four out of the five are quite long, but do not be alarmed; reading ridiculously long books is fun! So much fun.

The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe
I acquired my copy of Tom Wolfe’s 1987 novel from a bookshelf in a relative’s childhood bedroom when I was in desperate need of some reading material during my short stay there. Not particularly important for anyone to know how I came across the book, I just needed to get it off my chest. Sorry, relative, but you may be pleased to know that I enjoyed it very much. In fact it’s one of my favourite books I’ve read this year; a sprawling, modern epic about greed, lust and loss. But mostly greed – these are Wall Street bond traders we’re dealing with here. Wolfe prided himself in the extensive research he undertook for his work, and this is no exception. Though Vanities is a work of fiction, I’m pretty sure this is as close as you can get to seeing how a real 1980s Wall Street bond trader lived. It takes a while to get through, and you’re not going to like most, if any, of the characters, but it’s so good.

Just Kids, Patti Smith
Patti Smith: singer-songwriter, poet, artist, author, and pretty much the coolest woman living, if Just Kids is anything to go by. Smith’s memoir tells the story of her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she met and fell in love with after running away to New York at the age of 21. The year was 1967, and the backdrop to Mapplethorpe and Smith’s love affair is the demise of Andy Warhol’s factory and the emergence of the punk scene in New York. Patti’s life at the time is every creative’s dream – she lived in the Chelsea Hotel (scene of Nancy Spungen’s murder) amongst musicians, artists and performers, met Salvador Dali randomly in the hotel lobby (as you do), and saw her idol Bob Dylan at one of her poetry readings. Reading this book made me insanely sad about the fact that I wasn’t born in the forties and so couldn’t enjoy the sixties and seventies. Obviously then I’d have to have been born in America, as sixties Ireland was NO CRAIC WHATSOEVER. But still.


Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
I can’t really remember at this point, but I gave at least two months of my life to this book. Maybe more. The thing is over 1000 pages long. It has footnotes. It has footnotes for its footnotes. I’m still not entirely sure what it’s about. Suffice to say, the main portion of this ridiculous, excruciating, haunting, baffling novel focuses on the Incandenza family, who are trying to run the family-owned tennis academy without the guiding hand of the late James Incandenza, father to Hal, Mario and Orin and founder of the school. Another portion deals with the trials and tribulations of the patients of the rehab clinic down the road, another with some highly violent wheelchair-bound Quebecois separatists, ANOTHER with a mysterious video that makes people want to watch and watch until they forget to eat/wash/hydrate themselves and eventually die…Look. I don’t know. I do know that I liked it? I must have. I read it all, didn’t I?

East of Eden, John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath may be Steinbeck’s most widely known novel, but the author considered East of Eden his best. To say it is a story of biblical proportions is no understatement – there are parallels between the story of Caleb and Aron and that of Cain and Abel, and the book deals with all sorts of important things, like love and betrayal and realising you were a bollocks and trying to turn your life around (you know the way). An amazing story coupled with Steinbeck’s unique prose means it’s probably the ultimate novel, if you’re into that kind of thing. And as it happens, I am.

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
I was surprised to find that this book was not as heavy content-wise as I thought it was going to be. Any author with a Russian-sounding name immediately makes me nervous (see Dostoyevsky) but now I know not to judge a book by its cover, or indeed by the name of the author. Anna Karenina is marvellous and not scary at all, like an extra-long Pride and Prejudice set in Russia with more (implied) sexy bits. When wealthy married socialite Anna Karenina embarks on an affair with the young Count Vronsky, it is initially viewed as a huge social boost for both of them. However as Anna falls deeper in love with Vronsky and the affair becomes frowned upon by Society, she must decide whether to leave Vronksy and retain her comfortable lifestyle in a loveless marriage, or marry him and be ostracised by her former friends. There are also a ton of subplots, most notably the wonderful lovestory of Kitty and Levin, which was my favourite part of the book. Anna and Vronsky can have each other, in my opinion.
It’s also interesting to see that our views have not particularly changed from that time: when an affair is discovered, the woman is ruined (see KStew, who is not ruined but definitely…soiled?) and the man spends a few days in the dog house and carries on as normal. Veeery interesting.


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