Top books of 2012
The publishing industry, and bookstores in particular, are still finding their way in the transition between traditional paper and electronic books. Local libraries and some local bookstores are even lending out or selling e-books.
In 2012, more authors than ever before skipped the traditional publisher and printed their own books. Some have even made it to the national best-seller lists.
Amazon continues to be the way many people buy their books, which frustrates many local bookstore owners.
Still, the Capital Region continues to be a good place to buy books. Many of the nation’s best writers find the region a great place to read from their work and meet their readers, thanks to programs put on by local bookstores, libraries, colleges and the New York State Writers Institute.
Many authors chose 2012 as the year of the memoir. We read and enjoyed memoirs of many different people in nonfiction and fictionalized form.
In midfall, owner Janet Hutchison announced her intention to sell the Open Door in Schenectady. We hope for a buyer who appreciates that the Open Door is a bookstore — and a street-level readers’ and writers’ institute in Schenectady.
Here are some of our favorite books of the year, selected because of their link to the Capital Region and because of the quality of their writing.
“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed (Rightmyer) — This was my favorite nonfiction book of the year. It’s a memoir about the author’s quest to hike the Pacific Coast Trail, which stretches for more than a thousand miles, even though she had never hiked in her life. The book was well-written, exciting, funny and sad, and I could not put it down.
“This is How You Lose Her” by Junot Diaz (Rightmyer) This book of linked stories follows Diaz’s alter-ego Yunior as he tries to do the right thing on his progress toward manhood. Mostly he makes mistakes that are quite humorous, but readers can’t help but laugh at him and cheer him on at the same time.
“Arcadia” by Lauren Groff (Rightmyer) — Groff, who grew up in Cooperstown, has created a wonderful character named Bit Stone. Bit was a child who grew up in a 1960s commune named Arcadia in western New York. The commune is filled with colorful characters who want to change the world, and it reminds us how difficult it is to live in a perfect place.
“11/22/63” by Stephen King (Rightmyer) — This was my favorite book of fiction. It’s a time travel story about a Maine high school teacher named Jake Epping who finds a way to travel back in time to prevent the assassination of President John Kennedy. The only problem is that he meets the love of his life. It might be the most enjoyable and heartwarming book King has written.
“Elsewhere” by Richard Russo (Rightmyer/Rowen) — Russo’s memoir about growing up in Gloversville is touching and nostalgic, but it’s really the story of his mother, Jean, who refused to let her little boy ever get too far from her. Russo seems to be incapable of writing a bad book.
“Oreos and Dubonnet: Remembering Governor Nelson Rockefeller” by James Boyd and Charles Holcomb (Rowen) — The authors’ concise and witty writing results in an excellent study of New York state government and a model for other writers who want to bring a historic event or figure to life. With interviews, humorous anecdotes and their own recollections, they bring Rockefeller alive as governor and vice president.
“The Great Northern Express” by Howard Frank Mosher (Rowen) — Mosher offers a well-written mix of travelogue, memoir and mystery. In 250 delightful pages, he relates a book tour in a decrepit car, a search for his uncle’s missing manuscript and insights on writing to keep the stories of his rural Vermont neighbors from being lost forever.
“The Light in the Film” by Jordan Smith (Rowen) — The 71 poems in this collection are easy to read, have recognizable topics and beautiful phrases. Yet each has something elusive, inviting the reader to reflect and reread the poem. Whether it’s family, holidays, stones or music, Smith has a gift for making the commonplace seem fresh.
“The Catskill 67: A Hiker’s Guide to the Catskill 100 Highest Peaks under 3500” by Alan Via (Rowen) — Via introduces readers to lightly visited Catskill peaks just a day trip away. His extensive experience hiking the region, strong writing and vivid artwork make it easy for hikers at any skill levels to choose a memorable expedition.
“The Choke Artist: Confessions of an Underachiever” by David Yoo (Rowen) — In this collection of autobiographical essays, Yoo, a Skidmore alumnus, offers insights about failure, success, standing out and fitting in. This book is full of cringe-worthy, witty and poignant moments about teen-age life, family life and life after college.
“Canada” by Richard Ford (Rightmyer) — Another strong work of fiction by one of America’s best writers. It’s a powerful story told from the point of view of a boy whose parents are convicted of bank robbery.
“The Reading Promise” by Alice Ozma (Rightmyer) — Ozma writes about how she and her dad read every night together for more than 10 years. Any father and any lover of literature is sure to enjoy this book.
“Thank You For My Children” by Rick Pepe (Rightmyer) — A love letter to the profession of teaching told by a retired English teacher from Schalmont High School.
“1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year That Transformed America” by David Pietrusza (Rowen) — Pietrusza offers a vivid account of the 1948 presidential campaign — and a picture of the contemporary world and United States. We know Truman won, yet Pietrusza has a gift for making the victory a surprise at book’s end.
“Pacific Crucible” by Ian Toll (Rowen) — Every historical event has an underlying and immediate cause. Toll, a former Capital Region resident, eloquently explains both in this history of the first months of World War II in the Pacific. The vivid and kinetic writing is like watching newsreels of air and sea combat.