Tuesday, December 04, 2012

I Wonder What I Missed

I was hoping to read and review about 130 books this year, a modest increase of just three over last year's total, and it appears that I will probably come in just slightly higher than that number.  Considering everything that's been going on in my 2012 world, I am a bit surprised that I will reach my original goal at all, much less exceed it.  But, as I look back over my 2012 choices, I'm already wondering what I missed.

But here are a few that I do hope to get to in early 2013:

I "discovered" Sebastian Faulks in the late nineties while living in London, and I have enjoyed everything the man has written since.  I'm fairly certain that I've only missed A Fool's Alphabet and The Fatal Englishman, two of his earlier books, so the odds are good that I will get my hands on this one, too.  I'm told that A Possible Life is actually a series of five loosely connected novellas that include stories about a British schoolteacher who becomes a prisoner in World War II Poland, a seven-year-old boy sent to the workhouse in 1859 England, a French peasant girl in 1822, and one about a folk singer in 1970s New York City.  The connector-story in the book, third one to come up, is the story of an Italian scientist in 2029.  A Possible Life sounds quite different from what I've come to expect from Mr. Faulks, and I'm looking forward to it.

Esi Edugyan is a new author to me but I am so intrigued by the plot of Half-Blood Blues that I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.  This one is set in 1939 Berlin and features Hieronymus Falk, a young American jazz musician who manages to escape Berlin after Hitler forbids jazz bands to play live there - only to be arrested later in Paris, and never heard from again.  Flash forward to 1992, by which time Falk has become a jazz band legend, and a documentary about his life is being premiered in Berlin.  Two of his original bandmates are in Berlin for the premier and it looks as if they will finally break their five-decade silence about what really happened to Falk.  Half-Blood Blues was originally published in London in 2011 but did not make it to North America until this year.

Mark Binelli (Detroit native, novelist, and Rolling Stone contributing editor) writes about his city, a city that has taken what is probably the biggest economic fall in American history, a city that has little left to lose and is willing to try just about anything to get back on its feet.  That kind of desperation is a magnet for dreamers of all kinds and, as the book jacket puts it, Detroit has become "a laboratory for the future," one that is attracting "urban planners, land speculators, neopastoral agriculturalists, and utopian environmentalists."  With so little still to lose, anything is worth trying at this point, so some good may still come from all the pain suffered by the city's citizens.  I have not been to Detroit since it crashed, but the pictures I've seen of the deserted streets and factories is mind-numbingly hard to believe.  Binelli's message is, believe it or not, a hopeful one.

My love of Joyce Carol Oates books is obvious to anyone who has visited Book Chase even fairly regularly.  This year alone I've read and reviewed five of her novels or short story collections, so it is probably a good thing that The Accursed will not be published until March 2013.  Another good thing (for me) is that I already have my hands on an Uncorrected Proof copy of this massive, 667-page genre-bending book.  It sounds like a fine piece of historical fiction (set in early twentieth century Princeton, New Jersey) with supernatural undertones, not something I have experienced in a JCO novel before.  The cast of characters includes three American presidents, including Princeton resident Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson, the President-elect who was also a president of Princeton University.  Throw in a "cunningly disguised demon," and this one has all the makings of a fun read.

And, finally, there is this new Abraham Lincoln study by Stephen Mansfield.  Lincoln's Battle with God detail's the assassinated president's struggle to find a "life-changing" faith despite all the personal sorrows he endured.  Think about it: his mother died when he was still nine years old, his abusive father was seldom around, he lost one son at three and another at eleven, and his political and military decisions sent thousands of young men to early deaths during America's Civil War.  It is little wonder that his depression had him considering suicide on several occasions or that he would look to religion for comfort.  Whether he ever became a true believer was debated even while he was alive, and the author presents a case here that, when he died so tragically, Lincoln was neither atheist nor passionate Christian.  His search was still a work-in-progress.


  1. Since I prepared my 2012 reading list last year (designed to meet my Reading Challenges) I, too, missed most of this year's books.

    I did read Half-Blood Blues since it was published late last year. It was good although perhaps not completely up to the hype (It won Canada's Giller Prize last year.)

    I already have Mark Binelli's book on my list since I grew up in southwestern Ontario and Detroit loomed large there in the 1960s.

    I've just added the A Possible Life at your suggestion. Sounds interesting!

    I hope you have a great reading year in 2013. :-)

  2. I also want to read Lincoln's Battle With God. I find the relationship between America's early presidents and their religion fascinating, especially in lieu of where it has gone.

  3. Debbie, please do let me know what you think of the Detroit book and A Possible Life. I'm hoping that I take to Half-Blood Blues since I'm not at all a fan of jazz. I do enjoy fiction set in occupied Europe during WWII, so I'm hoping for the best.

  4. Ryan, I'm fascinated by the Lincoln book because Lincoln's whole image is so tied to his supposedly deep Christian faith. To read about his struggle to come to grips with the question of religion makes him seem so human to me that I'm looking forward to this one.