2012 books: Memorable trumps Enjoyable fiction and non-fiction

Once again I'm choosing Christmas books (the printed sort) to give my family.  

Winnowing the wheat from the chaff, my first criterion is as crude as bog mud.

When I pick up a book six months after reading it, do I experience an immediate cinematic rush of images and characters and flavour? Or do I struggle to remember anything about this book at all? That happens far too often nowadays: the fault doubtless lies in my own synaptic inertia.

The following 10 books are not all favourites, by any means—I've enjoyed certain other books in 2012 just as much or more. These books do not all pass the Enjoyability Test, but they do all pass the Unforgettability Test.

  1. The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler. "The strangest thing about my wife's return from the dead was how other people reacted." The first sentence kickstarts the plot, shines a light on the main character, and sets the tone: cheerful, naive, and nonchalantly weird. Chatto & Windus.
  2. Merivel, A Man of his Time, by Rose Tremain. Very funny antique picaresque romp from the mysterious package on page one (1683) to the death of Sir Robert upon a heap of dirty Laundry. Chatto & Windus.
  3. A Wanted Man by Lee Child. Classic Jack Reacher: no reason for fans not to love this one too. Give Lee Child a handful of characters and a few square miles, and bingo! a riveting puzzle and a brutal but intelligent solution. Bantam Press.
  4. A Good Harvest. Recipes from the gardens of Rural Women New Zealand. Practical and nostalgic recipes making use of seasonal garden products. A handsome book—with tips for growing fruits, veges and herbs in your garden. Random House.
  5. The Owl That Fell From the Sky: Stories of a museum curator by Brian Gill. Fifteen small stories about objects in the Auckland Museum: journeys, discoveries, taxidermy, theories, dioramas. Captain Cook's tortoise. The mystery of the banjo frogs. A gentle, leisurely little book with much charm. Awa Press.
  6. Joseph Anton, A memoir by Salman Rushdie. This big fat book gave me surprising insights and a creepy feeling about the Satanic Verses affair and the protagonist. Jonathan Cape.
  7. The Elephant Keepers' Children by Peter Hoeg. More adorable than any novel has the right to be. Absurd plot and outrageous characters including religious con artists by the dozen. Harvill Secker
  8. Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. Yes, I've "read" it. This one spent three months at the bottom of the book pile, because reading it was a professional chore. Then I skipped through in couple of days—getting the gist of the structure, ha ha. Yep, I think I understand the phenomenon now. Good on you, EL James. Arrow Books.
  9. God's Doodle: the life and times of the penis by Tom Hickman.  The book (like the topic) is charmingly silly. Published by (I kid you not) Square Peg.
  10. The Open World by Stephanie Johnson. Absorbing novel about the mysterious Elizabeth Smith, in nineteenth century London and New Zealand. Vivid, human, and enjoyably odd. Vintage.

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

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