My Favourite 2012 Reads

I’ve read lots of amazing books this year. I’ve already posted my list of favourite books published in 2012, but what about the older ones?

Here are the back-list titles that impressed me the most:

Native Son (Vintage classics)

Native Son by Richard Wright 

An American classic that deserves more attention. This gripping story is one of the most insightful books about racism I’ve ever read.

People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan's Shadows

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry 

True crime doesn’t get better than this.

Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick 

North Korea is a fascinating country. This book reveals the shocking truth about what life is like for the residents of this oppressed nation.

The First Century After Beatrice 

The First Century After Beatrice by Amin Maalouf 

What would happen if women became rare? This frightening vision of the future deserves to be more widely known.

Astonishing Splashes Of Colour :

Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall 

Morrall has created some of the best dysfunctional characters in literature. This wonderful story is packed with emotion.

The Death of Grass (Penguin Modern Classics)

The Death of Grass by John Christopher 

What would happen if all the grass died? This scary concept comes to life in this modern classic.

The Half Brother

The Half Brother by Lars Saaybye Christensen 

This wonderful Norwegian epic is packed with vivid characters. People who ignore literature in translation are missing out on a fantastic read.


Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks 

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this modern classic. I’m looking forward to trying more Faulks in 2013.


Zeitoun by Dave Eggers 

This shocking story about one man’s ordeal during Hurricane Katrina is gripping. I really hope the police have learnt lessons from these horrific events.

In Defence of Dogs: Why Dogs Need Our Understanding

In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw 

A fascinating insight into the canine mind. Essential reading for all dog owners.

Have you enjoyed any of these books?

Are you tempted to give any a try?

Come back later in the week to see my 2012 book awards!

….including the book with the best ending, the book that surprised me the most, and the worst book of the year!

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  1. Sandy says:

    Because of you, I just downloaded Native Son on my iPod, so I’ll definitely get to that in 2013. I also have The People Who Eat Darkness on my shelves. I have a few books that I have to read because of book club and various commitments but then I’m going to start on my fun pile.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I know you’ll love Native Son (although I hope it works on audio) I look forward to hearing all about your fun pile!

  2. Leela Soma says:

    I have only read ‘Bird Song’ by Faulks on your list.

    My favourite is ‘Please Look After Mother’ by Kyung Sook- Shin, an amazing book by a Korean author. Wonder if you have read it Jackie?

    Look forward to your Book Awards.

    1. Jackie says:

      Leela, I’m afraid I wasn’t a fan of ‘Please Look After Mother’ and abandoned it:
      I think that a second person narrative style just doesn’t work for me :-(

  3. Charlie says:

    I haven’t read any of them, though I read a blogger review of Birdsong the other day and it got me interested where I hadn’t been before. I like the idea of highlighting the book with the best ending, an awesome post for a recommendation.

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, Birdsong never interested me either. I kept hearing wonderful things about it, but was convinced it would be a slow moving love story that would bore me. I was surprised by the amount of emotional power and the clever ending. I think you should give it a try. :-)

  4. David says:

    I loved ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ when I read it a few years ago and it would have probably been one of my ‘best books’ of that year too. As a result of your review I’m definitely going to read ‘Native Son’ and might have a look at Amin Maalouf too. I’ve read more older books (well, pre-2012 anyway) this year than I normally would and they’ll probably make up the majority of my top ten for the year. If I was stronger-willed I wouldn’t buy any new books for a while and get round to discovering some more of the gems that have been patiently waiting for me (for a decade or more in some cases!) on my shelves.

    Your book awards sound interesting – I’ll look forward to those! I don’t know about ‘best ending’ but I could think of a few candidates for ‘worst ending’. The good thing this year is that I’d struggle to pick a worst book of the year. Last year it was all too easy (‘The Testament of Jessie Lamb’) but this year even the ones I’ve not got on with have had something to recommend them.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, Don’t worry – I’m not very strong willed either. Shiny new books always seem more appealing than the stacks of older ones I’ve had sitting here for years. I try to keep up a balance, but some months it swings one way more than the other.

      I’ll be interested to see what you make of ‘Native Son’. It isn’t really a literary novel, but it is a powerful, thought provoking one. The Maalouf has a lot more depth and has beautiful quotes throughout. I think you’d like it.

      ‘The Testament of Jessie Lamb’ would have won my prize for the worst book of 2011, so I think we were aligned last year. Not so sure we will be this year.

  5. JoAnn says:

    I love your lists, Jackie – that’s how I first heard about You Deserve Nothing last year. Birdsong is the only one I’ve read here and Nothing to Envy is on my wish list. Can’t wait to investigate a few of the others.

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, I’m so pleased that you find them helpful. I hope you find another gem or two this year.

  6. Priscilla says:

    Like you, I thought People Who Eat Darkness was completely gripping. I have Nothing to Envy on my ‘to read’ list, but looks like I’ll be adding more books! A neighbor tried to get me to read Birdsong years ago–maybe it’s time to give it a real shot.

    1. Jackie says:

      Priscilla, ‘People Who Eat Darkness’ and ‘Nothing to Envy’ are very similar in lots of ways – if you liked one then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the other. I think you’d like ‘Birdsong’ too – enjoy!

  7. markbooks says:

    Oh, Nothing To Envy is just outstanding. One of the finest works of non-fiction I’ve read in ages. What incredible knowledge and research. I found it completely riveting.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mark, I agree and so sad to think that much of the suffering is still occuring today. ‘People Who Eat Darkness’ is just as impressive in terms of research. I think you’d enjoy it.

  8. Bellezza says:

    I’m glad to see Birdsong on your list, as I just received Sebastian Faulk’s latest to review. You have so many titles which are new to me, and all the more alluring!

    1. Jackie says:

      Bellezza, I’m going to try some more Faulks in 2013. Hopefully it will be as good as Birdsong. I hope you enjoy your first Faulks!

  9. Caroline says:

    I’ve only read Birdsong and liked it very much as well. Not as much as The Regeneration Trilogy but still a lot.
    I’ve got native Son and need to read it but you have a few other interesting ones on the list. Astonishing Splashes of Colour for example.

    1. Jackie says:

      Caroline, I still haven’t read The Regeneration Trilogy. I’ll try to finally get around to it in 2013. I think I’ll love it. Fingers crossed :-)

  10. sakura says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Nothing to Envy for a long time and even got a copy for my dad. Hopefully I’ll get to it next year. The Death of Grass also sounds intriguing.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sakura, I think you’ll love ‘Nothing to Envy’ . I thought I knew what went on in North Korea, but there was still a lot to shock me. Eye opening stuff.

  11. Jenners says:

    I’m almost halfway through People Who Eat Darkness (listening on audio) and it is really is amazingly well done. A complex story told just right. I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I’m really pleased that it is working on audio. I hope you continue to enjoy it.

  12. JoV says:

    I have started about 20 pages of “People Who Eat Darkness”, I have a feeling I will like it. Thanks for bringing into attention. I thorough love “Nothing to Envy” too and was one of those books that really moved me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I’m really pleased you’re enjoying ‘People Who Eat Darkness’. I hope that you continue to do so.

  13. I’d not come across The First Century After Beatrice before but it sounds fascinating, I do so love it when reviewers and readers highlight their new-to-them/older-published favourites as well as the new titles! I read Birdsong in hospital in 2003 and remember it making such a huge impact on me in the middle of a night when I couldn’t sleep, it probably wouldn’t have been a book I’d have picked up except for the BBC’s Big Read but I’m glad I did. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I really hope you decide to try ‘The First Century After Beatrice’. It is a fantastic book and I’d love to spread the word about it.

      I can see that reading Birdsong in hospital could make it have an even bigger impact. It really deserves its place on that BBC Big Read list.

  14. I have only read 3 of the books on your list, but I am going to agree whole heartedly with Nothing to Envy, it was SO interesting!

    1. Jackie says:

      Helen, It is such an interesting read, isn’t it? It has been ages since I read it, but I still think about it. Glad you enjoyed it too.

  15. Alison P says:

    Jackie, I have read 5 on your list but particularly loved Zeitoun and Nothing to Envy – they are both such important books. Native Son and People who Eat Darkness are on my wish list and The Half Brother is on my TBR shelf following your recommendation. Thank you so much for another year of wonderful recommendations.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alison, I’m really pleased that you appreciate my recommendations. I hope that you enjoy The Half Brother and manage to get hold of copies of Native Son and People Who Eat Darkness. I hope I can provide more recommendations for you next year. :-)

  16. Jacqui (@jacquiwine) says:

    I loved Astonishing Splashes of Colour when I read it (around the time it was up for the Booker). I hadn’t heard of the First Century After Beatrice, but it sounds intriguing. I’m going to try to read a few more back-list books next year (and I need to make a dent in the ever-increasing pile on the bookshelf!). A couple of my favourite reads this year were Disgrace by Coetzee and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jacqui, Disgrace and Middlesex would both have appeared in this list in the year I read them – they are fantastic books! I hope you decide to read ‘The First Century After Beatrice’ – it is an outstanding book.

  17. Jennifer says:

    I just read Birdsong for the first time and I fell head over heels in LOVE with it. Sigh :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jennifer, Why did we leave it so long?! At least we’ve discovered it now :-)

  18. Wow, I haven’t heard of most of these but almost all of them jumped out at me and now I want to pick them up. Lots of great books on your list and I’m glad you enjoyed them and shared with your readers! :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jae, I’m really pleased that I’ve made them sound appealing. I hope that you enjoy them if you decide to give them a try.

  19. I’ve only read The Death of Grass off your list – and I loved it too. Can’t believe I still haven’t read Birdsong though. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, There are so many modern classics I haven’t read yet too. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to a few more next year.

  20. Athira says:

    Zeitoun is on my list to read in 2013 and I’ve heard plenty about that book. I’m glad that it is one of your favorite reads!

    1. Jackie says:

      Athira, Zeitoun deserves all the praise it gets. Hope you fall under its spell too.

  21. Lucybird says:

    I love Birdsong, it’s one of my favourite books.

    I’ve had Astonishing Splashes of Colour of my shelf for years. It’s actually my sister’s, and is written by a local author, I’ve just somehow never gotten around to reading it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lucybird, Splashes of Colour is such a great book. Hopefully the local connection will mean you enjoy it even more.

  22. Mrs.B says:

    The People Who Eat Darkness made my list too. I couldn’t get into HhHh for some reason. Made it to 30% and hope to pick it up again one day. The style just bothered me. I’m intrigued by many on your list though especially The First Century after Beatrice.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mrs B, Great to hear you loved People who Eat Darkness too. I look forward to checking out the rest of your list soon. Hope you decide to try Beatrice one day – it is a fantastic book that deserves more attention.

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