Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Books of 2012

An article captured my attention this morning about the best books of 2012 and the most underrated books of 2012 from a site that I can honestly say I have never heard of. Now those of you who have heard of it, please do not berate me for I know not of what I have never seen.
This site is called slate.com.
I was intrigued by the articles found on its site, because I love to hear people talk about books that have affected them in some way. I love to hear people talk with passion about those books which they have read and, ultimately care about.
Here is a small example of the two articles which caught my attention.

2012 Books: Slate Staff Picks:

The Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan
Recommended by Tracey Coronado, director of human resources

A different vantage point of Nazi Europe in the 1940s—seen through the eyes of a group of African-American jazz musicians who find their rhythm just as the world is trying to snuff out their musical genius. Not only did the narrator, Sid, capture me with his internal struggles and unique voice, but it made me think about how the war impacted music and all races in ways that I don't always associate with the Third Reich. I felt pulled into the story by their passion for music despite the threats they faced daily. But what ultimately makes this story so memorable is Sid dealing with his demons long after his musical heyday has passed.
The Man Without a Face, by Masha Gessen
Recommended by Andy Bowers, executive producer Slate podcasts

This portrait of the inscrutable Vladimir Putin, is fascinating, illuminating, and above all brave—as you read about the price countless Russians have paid for crossing Putin, you can’t help but marvel at the courage it takes to tell his story so critically. Gessen (an occasional Slate contributor) chronicles Putin’s journey from KGB agent to St. Petersburg political operative to Boris Yeltsin’s surprise choice as acting president, and on to 13 years (and counting) as Russia’s undisputed top dog, regardless of the title he holds at any given moment. What emerges is a man whose greatest political strength is his willingness to be seen primarily not as a statesman, but as a world class thug.
Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Tim Weiner
Recommended by Fred Kaplan, “War Stories” columnist

This is an astonishing book, jammed with revelations (at least one per page), gleaned from tens of thousands of pages of newly declassified files. The focus is on the FBI as a secret foreign-intelligence service (which apparently it was designed to be from the outset) and J. Edgar Hoover as an “American Machiavelli.” Weiner tells the epic tale with captivating elegance. It’s even better, I think, than Legacy of Ashes, his previous, award-winning book about the CIA.
Escape From Camp 14, by Blaine Harden
Recommended by Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist

In January 2005, a malnourished 23-year-old named Shin Dong-hyuk escaped from the North Korean prison camp where he'd been born. Escape From Camp 14 is his story—a parade of unimaginable cruelties that Shin and the hundreds of thousands of other prisoners held in North Korea's vast gulags face every day. The account, by the former Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden, is a brutal, terrifying read, with every page offering graphic details of monstrous physical, psychological and emotional torture. It's complicated by Shin's own apparent conflicts about his own behavior in camp. And it is also an unforgettable adventure story, a coming-of-age memoir of the worst childhood imaginable. Read it to feel better about any problem you've ever encountered.

The Overlooked Books of 2012:

Noah Berlatsky recommends Prison Pit, Volume 4 by Johnny Ryan
If you've read earlier volumes of cartoonist Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit, you know what to expect from Volume 4. If not—well, one of the first sequences here involves the disgusting slug that serves as our hero's prosthetic limb detaching itself, swallowing his head, and shitting out a glob of excrement that fertilizes said hero's severed arm and grows into a giant cancerous monster mass that keeps repeating the sole word "fugg" over and over. For those who find filthy, blotchy tactile ink clots, ├╝berviolence, or body horror even remotely appealing, you need to buy this and its predecessors immediately.
Jonathan Farmer recommends Bewilderment by David Ferry
Is it possible for a National Book Award winner to be overlooked? In poetry, yes. I didn't see a single review of David Ferry's Bewilderment, and I managed to overlook it myself, too. The first time I tried to read the book, I lost interest after a few poems. It wasn't until Alan Shapiro (a fellow National Book Award finalist) told me to take another look that I spent enough time to attune myself. But it's astonishing—a haunted book where ghosts prove that the haunted are still alive and allow for the continuing company of literature. Ferry interleaves translations, an excerpt from a 30-year-old poem of his own, and poems written by a dead friend, each one paired with Ferry’s response, to compose a book that reminds how real the past was, including its poems, and how urgent (and, yes, bewildering) it remains if remembered well.
There are plenty more books where these few came from, so please go to slate.com to read these articles and to hopefully find other articles that you might like.
Happy Reading!

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