Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Top 5 Underrated Books of 2012

Yes, everyone is doing some sort of year-end list, but we all know how I feel about good lists in general. I already covered the five favorite books I read this year, whether they came out in 2012 or not. Now, I'd like to point your attention to five other reads that perhaps received less attention, but are no less worthy. Here they are, in no particular order:

Echolocation by Myfanwy Collins

(from the review:)
"I will admit that the first fifty or so pages of the book were tough for me to read, not because of their quality, but because of the depressing subject matter. Lost limbs, neglectful mothers, discussions on whether or not they should shoot the feral cats living out back — all of it is heavy, especially when I read it at a time of my own dubious mental clarity. However, that should not dissuade anyone, as those are my problems and not the book's. I wanted to keep reading; I cared about these women despite the urge to look away from the reminder that people like this do exist in the world. Everything in this slim book serves a purpose, even the scene regarding the cats, and that purpose sneaks up at the end in such a way that I have to admire Collins' skills. The details are at once circular, woven, and carved like puzzle-pieces, everything straddling the line between inevitability and choice."

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell

(from the review:)
"Paul Russell is a lovely, immersive writer, and while the story was such that made me carry on reading at an anticipatory clip, occasionally I would stop and marvel at the skill of his sentences. Now, I don't know enough about Vladimir Nabokov's writing to know if Russell's style pays homage at all, but he is subtle about the way he presents everything. The over-the-top characters like Cocteau or the ballet enthusiasts feel natural – By that, I mean that at no point does the writing sound like, “Look at me! Look at me writing these characters oh-so-dramatically!” And given the unassuming, shy nature of Sergey, it makes sense that his narration would be that way as well. He reports what happens and how he felt, but he is not about to call any extra attention upon himself. To be paid attention means scrutiny, and scrutiny leads to judgment, and the times he has been judged, the results are rarely in his favor. Still, Sergey has an incredible mind attuned to beauty, and Russell's fictionalized version of him makes me wonder what writing this “other” Nabokov could have accomplished, had he lived longer and been encouraged to explore it."

The Boys of Summer by Ciarán West

(from the review:)
"The story, its pacing and content, is absolutely enthralling. [...] [West] wants to make you uncomfortable, yet you want to press forward. The narrative speeds along breathlessly, all culminating in an ending that's simultaneously inevitable and unbelievable.

If this book were published by Harper or some other big publisher, I am confident that it would get scores of attention. As a small release, I've seen it well-received, and I hope that my review directs at least a few more readers its way. Yes, I know the author, but I do pride myself in being fair. The Boys of Summer is worth your time and money."

The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax

(from the review:)
"What an impressive, thought-provoking novel this is. Set in 1938 Germany and Italy, The Detourpresents a man who must weigh his love against his duty, all while existing in the broader picture of pre-WWII. We know what is ahead, and this purgatorial state stirs up all sorts of questions about idealism, loss, connection, art, and the perils of authoritarian states. I hadn't heard of any Andromeda Romano-Lax's work before receiving this book, so this was a fantastic surprise.

The writing in this is just... Well, I know I overuse the word "lovely," but that's what it is. Lovely. Full of love for the Italian surroundings, the people swept up in this crazy shift, and none of it comes across as heavy-handed, which might be something of a feat when discussing Nazi Germany."

Companion to an Untold Story by Marcia Aldrich

(from the review:)
"How unspeakably sad it must be to lose a close friend to suicide. How can we find the words or the understanding for their state of mind? Marcia Aldrich and her husband Richard lost their friend Joel in this way. Because it is not as though she can conduct an exit interview, she can only speculate about the moments that led to his death, how one point informed another. But rather than write a biography or a typical memoir, the examination is conducted as though it were a reference book on Joel's life. It's an indirect approach to processing her grief.

Not every writer would be able to pull off a book like this, and I don't know how much attention Aldrich has received for her effort — apart from winning the AWP Award for Creative Nonfiction — but I suspect that it isn't what it deserves."

That's four novels and one memoir, all of it excellent. Do hit up your favorite (indie) bookseller or perhaps your library (make a request, if they don't have it!) and give them a go. You won't be sorry.

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