My favourite books of 2012, right in your face. Note, this is a list of books I read in 2012, I care not for release date.
I read 43 books in 2012, which for me is a vast number. Of these, 14 were fiction (three of this 14 being comics. Yes, I’m counting comics as books. Shut up). And, in keeping with my attempt to reduce the pile of unread books, I’d only read two of the 43 before.
Geoff Dyer’s Zona (which I posted about here) was flighty and repetitive, but it’s structure fascinated me, shifting back and forth between detailing events of the film Stalker and Dyer’s thoughts and anecdotes about the film. That this book even exists amazes me. Film writing—at least in my experience—rarely takes on such a personal quality. At some point in 2013 I’ll attempt to follow a similar structure relating to the film Aliens. God help us all.
A Galaxy Not So Far Away (which I mentioned here) is a collection of articles related to the Star Wars films and surrounding culture. There are only two or three good articles in it, but the essays take a variety of viewpoints. And while this range is easier with the pop-culture juggernaut that is Star Wars, the book’s existence proves that film writing can be more than reviews of criticism.
I had low expectations for Central Park: An Anthology. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much. I bought it on my last day in New York, one last purchase as memento. Yet Central Park turned out be a very enjoyable read. Parts memoir, parts travel writing, it discusses a place I thought was beyond comment. As much as I like Central Park, it didn’t seem suitable for writing about. But I was wrong and stupid. No doubt I’ll end up writing about some pile of dirt and expect people to find it interesting. Blame this anthology.
And now, to my two favourite books of 2012.
In second place, and a likely winner in most other years, comes The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, by Alain de Botton.
Pleasures accomplishes a remarkable thing: making mundane shit like accountancy and pylons seem interesting. De Botton strikes me as someone who’d go out for milk and be gone for four hours, then found pondering the possible histories of every ingredient in a Pot Noodle. He finds interest in the things most take for granted: how fruit ends up in our supermarkets, how electricity reaches our TVs. He’s a wonderfully curious soul, and the research he must’ve done for this book leaks out from every page without seeming self-congratulatory. Right now I’ve got a curiosity about things I wouldn’t have cared about months ago. That’s a tribute to this book.
And the winner, raymondthewilliams.com’s best book of 2012 is…
…A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace.
Even writing about Fun Thing (as I’ll now call it) is intimidating, the ghost of DFW hanging over every word I nervously type. I know I’ll never be able to do justice to this wonderful book. All the books I’ve mentioned in this post have been influential, but none moreso than this one.
We didn’t start well, me and Fun Thing. Foster Wallace’s article on TV pained me to read, and I had visions of quitting early on this book as I had with his Oblivion Stories. But, like a trooper, I kept on trooping, and what I found was magnificent.
The two standout articles from this collection are Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All, about going to a state fair; and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, about going on a cruise. Both are lengthy and detailed, to say the least (many have caught a whiff of cocaine use from these pages) as Foster Wallace tries to capture every sensory stimulation of every part of each trip. There’s an incredible momentum to both these pieces, which is very impressive, given the length. You can picture Foster Wallace on the ship, measuring his room by taking tiny steps across the floor, before fighting off the urge to be a recluse, and instead heading out and engaging with his fellow passengers. DFW is hard to pigeonhole—socially uncomfortable but chatty, geeky but athletic, at times seemingly unaware of his own geekiness. These essays stand against the argument that no good travel writing can come from addressing every part of your trip. Most travel writing reduces a journey to one or a few moments that fit into the same thematic envelope. But DFW shows that great writing can come from addressing the trip in its entirety. If, of course, you have the talent that he has. That’s me fucked then. That’s all of us fucked.