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Staff Favorites: Books We Read and Loved in 2012

 
 
Kim’s most memorable books of 2012 are:
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
A tale steeped in local fables and driven by one woman’s experience of the never-ending violence that swept the Balkans after the reign of Tito in Yugoslavia. As Natalia and a friend travel across the former Yugoslavia, immunizing villagers, the body of her grandfather turns up in a hospital in the middle of nowhere. She and her family have no idea why. In her quest she discovers something particular about his childhood: a tiger escaped from a zoo of his local village during World War II. It terrorized the town, the devil incarnate to everyone, except for her grandfather and ‘the tiger’s wife’.
Welou, My Brother by Faith Bandler
A boy and his struggle to live between three cultures. Bandler remains for me one of Australia’s great writers. An authentic and indigenous voice among the clatter of so many other noisy birds. She captures the meaning of family, the strains of multiculturalism, the exploitation of slave labour and the celebration of domesticity and farming.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
An incredible novel that sends a slender assassin named Aomame into hiding. She is given an apartment, groceries, and the entire collection of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in order to survive this period of isolation. This book is long, but worth the effort.
The Yellow Birds  by Kevin Powers
Deceptive because it is gentle and poetic, but graphic and unrelenting in its portrayal of the Iraq War. Returned soldiers are the “other” victims of war – lionized for acts that are both heinous and yet necessary to survive, and tragically almost always too painful to be able to share.
 
 
 
 
Lance’s favorites of 2012 are:
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
A departure from his normal work in that it had a much higher action: intellectual content ratio, I thus found it a refreshingly easy and diverting read. I will say, though, that I hope he returns to form in his next book.
Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
Before reading this, I had no idea just how much Twain drew from his own experiences and community for those of Sawyer & Finn. That is a pretty romantic notion, but what is truly fascinating is Twain’s chronic (and  nearly unabashed) disregard for social mores: Twain is Loki, at once divine and anarchic. He’s not without  empathy, but it’s clear that he lived life in a somewhat Taoist spirit of “let it be”.
The Tao Is Silent by Raymond Smullyan
If Twain is Loki, then Smullyan is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, constantly pranking his reader with ever more  logical paradoxes (or paradoxical logic?) that inexorably lead to a subconscious realization of the sublime. My  favorite chapter, “Is God a Taoist?” which is available online here and which I highly recommend everyone read  and ponder at least twice.
Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson
The venture capitalist authors would likely cringe at this, but I consider this book to be essentially “VC for  Dummies”, in that it is written in plain language accessible to anyone with a decent business acumen, and is  happily very honest and transparent.
 
 
Anna opted to tell you about her new discoveries of 2012, given her most memorable list would have been far too long:
Into the Silence by Wade Davis
Wade Davis, fascinating researcher, interesting writer and the man who probably has one of the most coveted jobs on the planet—Explorer in Residence with the National Geographic Society—composes a masterpiece; a fascinating story with an amazing scope. Discovering just this year that Davis was interested in Mt. Everest and its daring climbers, I was captivated by the riveting way in which Davis unveiled his findings.
HHhH by Laurent Binet
One of the most original books of this year: an intriguing combination of fiction and nonfiction in one story. Imagine a writer presenting a fresh and spellbinding account of the 1942 assassination attempt on the “Butcher of Prague,” Reinhard Heydrich. At the same time it is a novel in which Binet chronicles the process of writing this story. Historical fiction fans and readers interested in the writing process, you will love this story.
Our Daily Bread  by Lauren B. Davis
I could not put it down and more importantly, I could not start reading anything else for a couple days after finishing this book (which is very unlike me). It’s complex, yet not difficult to read. It’s graphic and disturbing, but not in a way that will leave you paranoid. How did Lauren B. Davis escape my writer radar?
Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret
A brilliant collection of really short stories—funny, witty, a bit wacky and full of surprises. What a talent to create something so complete in such a limited amount of space and what an imaginative way to make us reflect on the craziness of our own lives.
 
 
John, our resident crime and thriller buff, really enjoyed:
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
A magnificent new historical epic from the beloved author of Pillars of the Earth. Five interrelated families move through the momentous dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage.
Not Dead Yet by Peter James
Next adventure of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of Sussex and his venture into the world of stars and their obsessive stalkers. 
 
 
 
Natasha was moved by Gemma Sisia’s St. Jude’s:
St. Jude’s by Gemma Sisia
An autobiography of an Australian girl who founded a school in Tanzania. Her life story is an amazing example of somebody who has devoted herself to a cause that she is passionate about and who does not let anything get in the way of achieving her vision, how inspiring.
 
 
Marissa found herself amidst a pile of very unrelated selections from 2012, including:
By the Iowa Sea by Joe Blair
The most fascinating, yet ordinary, memoir that I have read thus far.
Skinnydipping by Bethenny Frankel
The main character Faith Brightstone, a fictional Bethenny Frankel, makes this book incredibly real, funny, and relatable.
The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal
If you’ve never thought about the intricate interworking of the ceaselessly conflicting publisher-editor-writer bond that’s responsible for churning out a good book, maybe it’s time you should. In an accessible, frustrating, and often times amusing way, The Lifespan of a Fact will hit you over the head with the controversies of what makes great art.