The Books of 2012: The classics.

Often I am reading two, three, sometimes even four books at a time, and so I try from time to time to sneak in a classic that I feel I should have read, but somehow have never gotten around to. I don’t think I did nearly as good a job this year in making that happen as I did last year, but here’s what I did manage to read by way of the classics:

1. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. (Jan 2012) Why didn’t you guys tell me that some of those boring-sounding classics were actually terrifically creepy (if a trifle sad) novels that I’d want to read?! No, I haven’t seen Cold Mountain (though I’ve read it), but I couldn’t help picturing Nicole Kidman as Zeera and Renee Zelwegger as Mattie. And if you know the book and how I feel about those two actresses, you knew why I was chuckling at the end. Heh. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

2. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut. (Jan 2012) War stories fascinate me. Travellin’ stories (like when a character is unstuck in time) fascinate me. But being kidnapped by aliens? Unless it’s because you’ve gone a little looney-toons…sorry, no – that’s going to turn me away. I did enjoy the war flashbacks (flash-forwards? sideways?) and the fact that it was semi-autobiographical added interest, but overall I wanted to like this book far more than I did. 2 of 5 stars.

3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. (Jan 2012) Can you believe I hadn’t read this book before this year? Me either, after I finished it. It was delightful! Action-packed police chases, agonizing soul-searching over The Right Thing To Do, and lots and lots of talk about books. But, really? REALLY? The one book you’re going to memorize is THAT ONE?! (Shhh – I’m not spoiling the ending. Go read it for yo’self.) 3 of 5 stars.

4. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. (Feb 2012) Mehhhh. Completely underwhelming, although much more readable than many classics have a reputation for being. 2 of 5 stars.

5. Native Son, by Richard Wright. (Feb 2012) I remember reading this in high school so long ago. This is a classic that still has just as much punch no matter how many times you read it. Who can sit unmoved after reading the tale of Bigger Thomas? Who doesn’t want to do more, to make a change, to fix what is so obviously broken? STILL broken. 4 of 5 stars.

6. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. (Mar 2012). This was a re-read, and still not my favorite of Morrison’s novels. I was interested to see if my feelings had changed towards it like they did with some of her other works. But not so. 2 of 5 stars.

7. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. (Mar 2012) This was a re-read with BookRiot as we counted down to the release of Home. (What’s funny is that I read a lot of her backlist and still haven’t gotten to her new release! Doh!) I have friends who treat Song as a bible of daily wisdom. I enjoy the tale, I enjoy working for everything – and there’s a lot – that’s in it. But for me it never rose above Beloved or even Sula. For all that, though, I’d still say this is a novel every American should read. And like every great novel, Song gets better with each re-read. 4 of 5 stars.

8. Sula, by Toni Morrison. (Mar 2012) I re-read (nearly) all of Morrison’s backlist leading up to the release of Home…and then didn’t read Home for many months. Sula used to be my favorite Morrison. Then it had to share the honors as Beloved endeared itself to my heart after spending so much time analyzing and writing about it. With this year’s reread, poor Sula fell another spot behind Song of Solomon – a book I enjoy more each time I read it. Which isn’t to say Sula isn’t in Morrison’s top echelon – it is! It’s just that the great has so many best books from which to choose. 4 of 5 stars.

9. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. (Mar 2012) Dude, this novel is twisted. It is family drama exploded all over a tiny little house and the pobrecito stuck in the middle of it all. Not my cuppa, but I can see what all most of the fuss is about. 1 of 5 stars.

10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison. (Apr 2012) I have read this book too many times to count, and each time I find out something new, find new points to argue over with fellow readers, and am always, always, always rendered in awe of Ms. Morrison’s genius. Why this isn’t mentioned more often as the Greatest American Novel is beyond me. 5 of 5 stars. Always.

11. Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler. (Apr 2012) I went from finishing the feel-good buzz from Princess Diaries straight into a classic I had avoided: Darkness at Noon. So it’s not surprising that I found it brilliant, but also soul suckingingly doom-filling. 3 of 5 stars.

12. Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally. (Apr 2012) Did you know this unforgettable movie started its life as a book? Me either until recently. While the nonfic piece wasn’t nearly as tightly executed as its film twinner, it’s still worth checking out. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

13. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Jun 2012) I remembered how blown away I was by the story, the characters, the sweeping grandness of…well, everything. What I had forgotten since the last time I read Gatsby was how perfect each of Fitzgerald’s sentences were. I spent the entire first part of the book gaping slack-jawed at each sentence I read. Several times I resolved never to write again because how could I ever write one sentence in such a manner? 5 of 5 stars.

14. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. (Jul 2012) This was such a slow, slow read for me, but I think that was because I was really thinking about the words, their meaning, and really unpacking the glorious story as it unfolded. I honestly don’t know why more high schools don’t assign this, unless the length and time needed to really invest is a bit of a turn off? Still. I’ve read Irving before and knew he was good, but this is the novel that made me understand why he is a master. The fact that Owen Meany is probably one of the most clearly author-constructed characters and yet still one of the greatest characters I’ve read is evidence of why. Usually when you see the author pulling the strings, it bugs to no end. This time I was all, “How?! How do you DO that so well? And how can I?” Pure magic, folks. 4 of 5 stars.

10. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron. (Oct 2012) Yes, it made me cry. No, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked. I found the prose as prodding, though I liked the story behind it. I just couldn’t ever lose myself to the scene in front of me. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

11. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. (Oct 2012) True story: I was finishing up Handmaid’s Tale just as Romney made his binders full of women comment. Coincidences are lovely, at times. I know I’m drawn to dystopias, but this was really vividly constructed, with clear a moral that stopped just short of shoving itself down my throat. I had it in my mind, for some reason, that this was set in medieval times, but was able to adjust quickly to the new (to me) setting and enjoy it for what it was. It’s a great bridge book for your teenaged girls looking for something like Hunger Games or Divergent, but a little more grown-up. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

12. Home, by Toni Morrison. (Oct 2012) I know I will go back in about a year and reread to see if I still feel the same. Maybe it’s because I just read (again) Sula, Beloved, and Song of Solomon, but I just didn’t feel it measured up. I didn’t think the story was as cutting, the language as precise as some of her other work. Then again, I tend to build up my expectations for an event such as this until they couldn’t possibly be met, so maybe the reread will reveal all of the literary magic was I was hoping to find the first time around. 2 of 5 stars.

13. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. (Oct 2012) Hill House scared the everliving daylights out of me. In daylight. It’s been eons since a book scared me so completely, especially one that I purposely read during daytime hours. When you read a book at lunch, and you still need to leave a light on when you go to bed? That’s a winner. 5 of 5 stars.

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