Today at work, I got an e-mail requesting staff send in their picks for favorite books of 2012. (Have I mentioned how much I like working in a library?) We were to submit no more than three each, which as every avid reader knows is a difficult-to-impossible task. However, it’s easier to think of it as “three of your favorite books” rather than “your three favorite books.”
With that caveat in mind, I headed over to my Goodreads page (I <3 Goodreads) and sorted my shelf of books I had read by date read. Mentally, I filtered out books that were published before 2012; this meant I couldn’t include obvious shoo-in Rules of Civility by Amor Towles or The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, both published in 2011.
And yet: so many good books came out this year! The marvelous John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Maria Semple’s fresh and original Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, the much-feted sequel to Wolf Hall…and then there are the nonfiction books, such as Jenny Lawson’s laughter-and-tears-inducing memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, and Ken Jennings’ clever Because I Said So: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.
Yet in the end, here are the three I chose:
GOLD by Chris Cleave
Set before and during the London Olympics, Gold is timely; yet it is timeless in the way that it represents people’s best and worst natures, particularly the struggle between career ambitions and family life. Kate and Zoe are close friends and rival cyclists, competing for one spot on the London Olympic team. Zoe is focused solely on training, while Kate has a family: her husband Jack, another Olympian, and their eight-year-old daughter Sophie, who is battling leukemia. Flashbacks to earlier periods in the characters’ lives reveal crucial backstory in this wrenching novel.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M.L. Stedman
This is a beautiful book with strong characters and a thought-provoking central dilemma. Tom Sherbourne returns from fighting in the Great War and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island of the coast of Australia; he and his wife, Isabel, are deeply in love, but Isabel is inconsolable over her inability to have a child. When a lifeboat washes up on their beach containing a dead man and a live baby, Isabel begs Tom to keep it. The Light Between Oceans is the extraordinary story of that decision, and of how to act in the present when the past cannot be changed.
CASCADE by Maryanne O’Hara
“Life is full of tough choices between less-than-perfect alternatives,” says one character in this Depression-era novel, and that about sums it up for twenty-six-year-old Desdemona Hart. Dez married Asa Spaulding to provide stability for her ailing father, who died a few months later. Asa doesn’t understand Dez’s reluctance to start a family, but traveling artist Jacob does: Dez wants to go to New York City to pursue her career in art. On top of this dilemma, the town of Cascade is itself at risk: men from Boston visit the town as a potential site for a new reservoir. Will Dez fight to save the town and her father’s famous playhouse, or will she flee to follow her dream? The historical setting is vivid, and Dez is a compelling character; the decision she must make is one that many people still face today.