I was not going to write a “best of 2012″ list. Mostly because I did not read nearly enough in 2012. So even if I loosened the criteria of “best of 2012″ to simply mean books I happened to read in 2012, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to put on there.
But. BUT. Then I read WHY WE BROKE UP.
I started read it on Christmas Eve Day, at my good friend’s family’s house in Virginia. In front of a fire. With a cup of peanut soup (yes you read that right! Peanut soup!) in hand.
I’m not going to say the fire and the peanut soup and the Christmas spirit and the quiet away from the city didn’t influence this read. I’m sure they did, as every experience of reading a book depends partly on circumstance and timing and mindset.
But I believe regardless of the fire and soup and intense calm of the not-city, I would have fallen in love with this book anyway.
Because I did. I fell in love with the book. HARD.
I fell in love with this book so hard I had to slow down my reading of it to five days instead of two, just to make it last longer.
I fell in love with this book so hard my own writing magically stopped sucking and started being fun again.
I fell in love with this book so hard it has officially (or, unofficially since I am not one for spreadsheets or remembering anything or lists) made my Top Ten Books of ALL TIME list.
Daniel Handler’s WHY WE BROKE UP is a series of letters (or, more accurately I think, vignettes) written from teenaged Min to her (now-ex) boyfriend. She plans on delivering this packet of lovely stories detailing their relationship to him along with a box of objects from their time together.
It is simple and complicated. We know how it ends, but we also totally have no idea why it ends. Every moment Min details has a shade of anger over it, but the romance and love are all there too. It’s a masterpiece.
Plus there are gorgeous illustrations, a great cover, and heavy, thick, glossy, unusual pages.
It’s not a book, it’s an experience.
I needed an experience.
I loved this book so much it reminded me that I loved some other books this year:
LOVE AND LEFTOVERS by Sarah Tregay. A novel in verse. Another to-die-for voice of a smart teenager. The kind of book that makes you stop every few pages so that you can admire the loveliness of the writing.
GONE, GONE, GONE by Hannah Moskowitz: A haunting, raw story of two teen boys who are trying to love each other despite how screwed up the world around them might be.
HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr: Maybe my favorite of Zarr’s books so far, this accomplishes the impossible: two narrators who are both flawed, brilliant, lovable, and different. I was blown away by the story, the writing, and the voices.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green: I mean, yeah. I don’t have to tell you what a triumph this book is. Also, it gives me a special thrill to see a contemporary YA captivate the whole world and be taken so seriously.
WONDER by R.J. Palacio: I blogged about this book already, I believe. But it is one of my favorite middle-grade novels of all time, and again, a book that inspired me to do better in my writing, to take more risks, to remember why it is we spend time writing.
USED TO BE by Eileen Cook: This is actually two books packaged as one, and they got me through a 24 hour layover in the Mexico City airport. I probably don’t have to say much more than that, but these two novels are crazy fun without losing their depth, power, and emotional sparkle. I’d call them page turners, even though they don’t have killers or zombies or any traditional cliff-hanger tropes. Cook is an expert storyteller, and I couldn’t have survived Mexico without these charming, moving, exciting, beautiful books.
I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR BAND by Julie Klausner: This is a great collection of personal essays (non-YA!) by a great comedian and podcaster who details her dating life in NYC with humor, honesty, and the kind of quirky, specific details that for me make a good book or essay or memoir great. This is a great memoir. And so much fun.
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Cheryl Strayed: This is a collection from Strayed’s advice column (I shudder to call it that, since it is a literary triumph and an ocean of therapeutic knowledge) which was featured on The Rumpus, a great literary website. Strayed is such an excellent writer she will make your jaw drop, and these columns/essays/moment of pure genius got me through a dark spot in 2012. I have since gifted the book to three different girlfriends, who have all gifted it to their girlfriends. It’s unmissable.
So, I guess I did have a lot to say about the books of 2012. I cared most about great writing this year. Page-stopping, arresting, startling, inspiring, challenging, unforgettable, soaring writing.
I needed to be inspired this year. I needed to be carried through some tough times. And I needed to really, truly love a book in order to read it.
Book cover image courtesy of Little, Brown