The Sunday Salon: 2012 in Review

It’s the last Sunday of the year, so you know what that means. Either I’m getting stingier or this year hasn’t been the best reading year for me—while last year’s year in review post was agonizing to curate, I did this year’s in a few hours. Hopefully, 2013 will ring in a higher batting average for my reading. But it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed my reading this year; I definitely have, especially my nonfiction reading—I mean, I discovered Tom Wolfe this year, so that is a definite plus. As ever, this list is culled from what I read in 2012, not what was released in 2012 (although I read more recent titles this year than in past years).

Top Audiobook of 2012

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

read by Jeremy Irons

Drippingly gorgeous, human, and nostalgic, Brideshead Revisited is one of my favorite novels—there is perhaps no greater twist than realizing Charles Rider is not an reliable narrator. Having Jeremy Irons, who played Charles in the BBC miniseries adaptation, narrate the audiobook is a stroke of genius, and his calm, slightly rumpled voice is a perfect companion for Waugh’s most well-known novel.

Top Film Adaptation of 2012

Breakfast on Pluto (2005)

based on the novel by Patrick McCabe

I want to be as strong as Kitty Braden. While the novel is enjoyable, it’s the film adaptation (McCabe was one of the screenwriters) that lets Kitty take charge of her life with her storytelling skills, crafting a happy ending out of her abandonment, her ostracism, and her relentless determination to be upbeat and choose joy amid her oppressive circumstances. At one point in the film, Kitty is charged with the bombing of a night club because she’s Irish and male-bodied; beaten and asked for a confession, Kitty spins a story about herself as an The Avengers-styled spy, which the film gamely shows us. It’s my favorite film adaptation that I saw this year, but it’s also one of my favorite films full stop.

Top Ten Books of 2012

  1. 10. Evelina by Frances Burney

Let me be real with you—I would love to see an Evelina film adaptation that focused on it not as a period romance, but as a period comedy. (I can’t imagine who would play the titular Evelina other than a fresh-faced unknown, unless we can go back in time to when Zooey Deschanel played legitimately weird girls instead of quirky girls.) Evelina’s awkwardness during her debut is refreshing and endearing, as are the various women Evelina comes across, from her battle-ax of a French grandmother and Mrs. Selwyn. She’s always determined, the text is witty, and Burney was pretty cool herself.

9. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll edited by Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke with Holly George-Warren

Being raised by French wolves, my pop culture education is, shall we say, neglible? My mother actually turned on me in shock the other day when I said I hadn’t seen The Sound of Music. Anyway, a lot of my reading is an effort to learn, hence this volume. After seeing Rock of Ages (I was about to say if that movie and The Three Musketeers had a baby, it’d be my favorite movie, but that baby is clearly A Knight’s Tale, which I adore), I wanted to learn more about rock music, and the first step was this. I had a blast reading it (there was a lot of musical accompaniment), and it’s a very clear, concise, but in-depth introduction to the material.

8. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel

The venerable comic—or three-fourths of all the strips Bechdel’s ever produced for it, anyway. What started out as a celebration of the wonderful, radical queer community Bechdel saw as a young woman evolves into a meditation on life and, of course, politics, as time goes on. Despite my love for a singular story that comes out of nowhere and punches you in the gut, I’m also extremely fond of sprawling, familial sagas, due to my childhood adoration for webcomics. Dykes to Watch Out For is a forerunner of the webcomics I loved, and surpasses them with its warmth, diversity, and wit.

7. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

I have a hard time getting a grip on the world before the eighties, and the sixties present a particular problem for me—I had no idea the Beatles were considered revolutionary until my late teens, and Woodstock was the bird from Peanuts. But for every ignorance, there is a book to combat it, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was my weapon of choice. And it blew my mind—by rendering the life of Ken Kesey, leader of the Merry Pranksters, as an experience rather than a straight-forward biography, Wolfe brings the counterculture to you in a way that even I, the Millennial queen of the quadrilaterals, can get with it. Wolfe’s voice was in my head for weeks after finishing this.

6. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

I didn’t like Holden Caulfield, because I have been him. The Catcher in the Rye captures adolescence so vividly and so seminally because it captures the worst of it, the stuff we often don’t like to admit we’ve been. And as someone with a remarkably fraught relationship with her child and adolescent self, it was almost a relief to finally see that at least one other adolescent was like her; so bitter and so spiteful because we were so afraid. An incredibly sharp, crisp, and fresh novel, even sixty years later.

5. A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

A deconstruction of the trope of spirit animals turns into a brilliant examination of being female or female-coded, as the young Isolfr bonds with a female alpha wolf and deals with the fallout of being linked with female power in a culture that glorifies masculinity. The worldbuilding is thoughtful and leans toward the novel’s main theme, managing to make Norse influence in fantasy feel fresh by having be stronger than usual. I was not at all expecting such a thoughtful meditation on being female out of a novel about hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-loving warrior men, so I was pleasantly surprised.

4. Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

With the unique viewpoint afforded to her by virtue of being trans and being a biologist, Julia Serano takes aim at the concept of femininity as inherently inferior and artificial at root of a great deal of sexism and homophobia and lays utter waste to it. Her writing style is accessible, sarcastic, and searing, and the structure—it’s a collection of essays—makes it a perfect introduction to this topic. I read widely to challenge myself, but when I read a book that I agree with and illuminates me, I end up rocking back and forth as I read, which happened here. Brilliant.

3. Farthing by Jo Walton

Walton, who bops between genres like a Time Lord on speed, picks up a cozy English mystery and uses it to examine fascism and how good people can do terrible things. The alternate history angle is quite accessible, due to World War II’s prominence as a setting in pop culture, and Walton exploits to the hilt the compromises people make to live their comfortable lives while horrifying things are happening a channel away. Lucy, the first of the novel’s two protagonists, has a brilliant voice, sweet, a little ditzy, but, when push comes to shove, utterly determined, and Carmichael… oh, Carmichael. If I go any further, I’ll spoil it. Go read it.

2. The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes returns from the dead in style—in that he makes Watson faint and in my head, it’s a full swoon. While my beloved Mary is sadly missing in action (death by neglectful author, poor woman), the crimes are darker and, frankly, more interesting; less emphasis is placed on how innovative Holmes’ deductions are and more on characterization. “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” might be the best Holmes story, and that’s a story where they don’t solve the case and we get one of Doyle’s elegant and violent women, which I love. And then Doyle tries to retire Holmes again. Will he ever learn?

1. Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins, Jr.

2012 was the year of my senior thesis, which basically took fanfiction and academia and tried to knock their heads together until they played nice, by proposing that fanfiction is the natural and ultimate progression of reader-response theory. Naturally, Textual Poachers was quoted a lot, so thank God I spent two and a half hours typing up the commonplace entry for this bad boy after I read it. For non-fans, it’s an introduction to fandom practice, albeit a little dated, given its 1996 publication date (slash is no longer only an avenue for straight women to hash out issues, with the rising visibility of queer fans, myself included). But for fans? It’s a joyous exploration of fandom from one of our own, and that’s what made it my favorite book of the year.

Christmas went swimmingly for Clan McBride, despite some scheduling errors (we were up until two in the morning on Christmas Eve), so Wolfboy’s first Christmas went off without a hitch. Well, other than that right now he thinks Christmas is waking up at midnight and opening presents, which is not a bad tradition to start at all. My roast goose turned out well and my almond cake was very good; I halved the recipe, so I have enough to make almond cake cupcakes, which I might do today. As for books, I got The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, as per request, and Star Trek Lives!, Mogworld, and My Year of Flops are currently winging their way towards me, courtesy of an Amazon gift card. As for current reading, I’m enjoying the living daylights out of I Want My MTV, a biography of, well, MTV. I’m learning so much!

What were your best reads of the year? Feel free to link to your own year-end wrap-up if you’ve got one.

2 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: 2012 in Review

  1. The best things about these lists is that I always find great-sounding books that I’d missed, or that I’d forgotten about since reading the review. All this to say: I need A Companion to Wolves! Also, I started the Serano but got distracted by life stuff after a couple of chapters. I so need to go back to it next year.

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