Submitted by our resident book reviewer @TripStarkey, currently an undergrad at T.C.U. I asked Trip to write up a few thoughts about his favorite books of the year, and he responded with the titles that appear below. Great to see so much Southern literature in here:
The year was long and the book list was longer. For me, 2012 was a year of discovery in literature. I got to know the Southern greats, the brilliant American poets, those whose writing is spiritual and truthful, and those whose influence will be forever felt in literature. All in all, this was an unbelievable year of reading that will continue on into 2013. Without further ado, here is my top 10 books I read in 2012.
10. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: There isn’t much more to say about Whitman’s poetry that it can’t say for itself. This book impacted my own writing and reading of American poetry simply because he is THE American poet. His views on life, the beauty of nature, the vastness of the kosmos, and the need for man and nature to become one crashed on my head as I sat in my dorm room last semester. His influence will be forever felt in the American canon, and the brilliance of his words will continue to be relevant in American society.
“Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams, / Now I wash the gum from your eyes, / You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light / and of every moment of your life.”
9. Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver: After becoming such a fan of his Short Cuts, Raymond Carver became another literary kindred spirit. His ability to pack so much depth into such concise prose is something that has awed me since I first read “Cathedral” in February. In the collection, Where I’m Calling From, Carver continues to give his readers a glimpse into the true American lifestyle, one with pain, suffering, love, and light. His own problems seep onto the page, and give a wonderfully pure outlook on the world through his own eyes.
“This is awful. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me or to anyone else in the world.”
8. Dream Work by Mary Oliver: My list would not be complete without some poetry. Mary Oliver, in Dream Work, writes brilliantly, expressing the true desire of humans to live fully, and her poems seem to jump off the page at each turn. I have become a true fan of hers in 2012, and think that any poetry lover should read her work. “Dogfish” is one of the best poems I read this year, and one that will stick with me for a long while.
“I wanted / the past to go away, I wanted / to leave it, like another country; I wanted / my life to close, and open / like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song / where it falls / down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery; / I wanted / to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know, /whoever I was, I was / alive / for a little while.”
7. Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolaño: A man who has taken much prominence in the literary community lately, Roberto Bolaño delivers a masterful tale of violence and love, one left unresolved. Set in rainy Paris, a favorite for lit heads, Bolaño gives the tale of a dying man, and an intense suffering by each character throughout the novel. The paranoid writing allows for the story to really take off, grasp the reader by the shirt collar, and deliver them into the world of unanswerable mysteries. Bolaño is nothing short of brilliant in this work.
“I don’t know how much time we spent together, or how many places we went to. I remember a woman’s face, a redhead, she was crying in a dance hall, an old guy in a dinner suit with a smile full of new teeth, the roof of a bar made of wooden laths, cats and trash cans, the shadow of a child or a monkey, fragments of sentences about fascism and the war, a hand-written sign…”
6. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton: The great Trappist monk from Kentucky, Thomas Merton, sets out on a great spiritual quest – to discern the way of Contemplation, and to help spur each individual on toward it. Combining the great truths of Eastern religions with a stark Christianity, Merton gives a beautiful treatment of humanity’s relationship with God, and how we must go about refining that in order to live a truly happy and contemplative life. Merton’s genuine and humble tone ring true throughout this book, and you will leave a better person having read it. He really deserves more praise than he gets, by both religious and nonreligious people.
“Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves.”
5. Wildlife by Richard Ford: I read this book based on a recommendation of Rock Springs by one of my creative writing professors. After reading the collection of short stories, I knew I needed more of what Richard Ford had written. I found Wildlife on the shelf, and knew it would be a book of my tastes. The story evolves from the perspective of a young man whose parents seem to be falling out of love. The young man’s father leaves his family to go fight a wildfire that has been raging for months in the woods of Montana, and his mother flees to the arms of a wealthy older gentleman. As the story runs on, as well as the fire, we are faced with some difficult questions, and Richard Ford provides a beautiful ending as an attempt to answer them.
“And what there is to learn from almost any human experience is that your own interests usually do not come first where other people are concerned–even the people who love you–and that is all right. It can be lived with.”
4. A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter: I went into this book not knowing what to expect. I heard it was relatively heavy on sexuality and love, and knowing my reading tastes, I didn’t know how I would receive it. What I found after reading, though, was one of the most brilliant pieces of literature I have ever read on dealing with true love and the sexual nature of man. Salter delivers a powerful story that balances between the mechanical love our society pushes – one that focuses on personal satisfaction, and not the satisfaction of the whole – and the organic love – one that combines natural sexual attraction and a real romantic relationship. Salter’s prose drips with poetic truth, and he gives his readers one of the most finely written novels in the American canon.
“But I don’t care if you never belong to me, I only want to belong to you, just be hard with me, strict, but don’t leave, just do like if you were with another girl— Please. I will die otherwise. I understand now that we can die of love.”
3. Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner: This book squeaked into the third spot primarily because of Faulkner’s ability to weave seven seemingly disconnected stories into one great novel. In the stories “Delta Autumn” and “The Bear” (one of Faulkner’s famous short novels), Faulkner does an unbelievably brilliant treatment of man’s destructive nature, and shows how if we do not respect the great beauty and force of the woods, we will cause our own destruction. Throughout the entire novel, Faulkner again shows the deeply disturbed nature of people in the South, and how the most important function of humanity is to love one another no matter skin, heritage, or personality. Love is the key to humanity’s growth and sustainability.
“…the same solitude, the same loneliness through which frail and timorous man had merely passed without altering it, leaving no mark nor scar, which looked exactly as it must have looked when the first ancestor of Sam fathers’ Chickasaw predecessors crept into it…”
2. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor: This book was my quintessential summer read from 2012. The queen of the southern gothic, who comes second only to King Faulkner, carves a masterful tale of the search for truth and discovery of the deeply disturbed personalities each person carries with them. O’Connor provides some humor, a young Haze Motes preaching for the church without Christ, and counters it with a deeply twisted tale of each character trying to find the ultimate meaning of life. This was genuinely one of the most influential and fun reads I had all year.
“It’s easier to bleed than sweat, Mr. Motes.”
1. Light in August by William Faulkner: I was introduced to the king of Southern novels this past semester by way of a class I took solely on his work. I went into the course expecting to enjoy Faulkner based on what I had heard of him, but what I gained was (what I will only assume to be) a life-long love affair with his work. The reason Light in August sits atop my list of books for 2012 is solely because it was my first exposure to Faulkner, and the book that started my infatuation. From the first page, the novel unfolds into a tale of identity crisis, existential wandering, and a proper treatment of the warped history of people in the South. Faulkner does not shy away from criticism of all types of people, and ultimately pushes for a more refined humanity.
“Perhaps they were right in putting love into books,’ he thought quietly. ‘Perhaps it could not live anywhere else.”
For S. Tremaine Nelson’s Top Ten books (more Latin American stuff, more booze / chaos), click here.