Saturday, December 8, 2012

Top Fiction Books 2012

My top list of fictional books I read this year.   No particular ranking.  Other lists will soon follow.  I thought of the music show Later...with Jools Holland when putting my lists together, looking at literature and film from a variety of genres and time periods.

The Mayor of Casterbridge
by Thomas Hardy

The story of Michael Henchard begins with him getting drunk at a fair and then selling his wife.  Remorseful of his actions, he gives up the drink and eventually becomes the mayor of Casterbridge.  When I read the back cover of this book, my first though was that this book has to be read.  A great melodrama.  One scene worthy noting is when the townspeople skimmity ride through the town to publicly shame Henchard and Lucetta.  This part of the story demonstrates that big new scandals and carnivalish ways of gossiping have been around for quite a while.  Hardy leaves us wondering whether or not this is a novel of fate. Probably one of the best books I have ever read. 

The Shining
by Stephen King

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is one of my favorite films and what led me to go to film school in 1993.  I finally read the book to see what Kubrick left out of the story.  This is a great book and much different from the movie.  Whereas King emphasizes the supernatural, Kubrick underscores the psychological.  I particularly love the The Wasp's Nest sequence.  Of course, in the novel you get a deeper understanding of Jack Torrance and his dissent into madness. There are some really scary moments, especially "The Elevator" scene.  King is a great storyteller.

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury 

Bradbury's dystopia world where books are banned and burned.  Great book about literature and mass media.  It is worthy to note that this book came out shortly after Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's essay: "The Cultural Industry," which deals with mass entertainment and mass culture.  Francois Truffaut's film adaption of the novel is also worth checking out.  

The Invisible Man
by H.G. Wells

One of the great all-time science-fiction novels about Griffin (the invisible man) who takes residence in a small village to conduct his research.  Griffin eventually turns to robbing the villagers in order to generate money for his rent.  Once the villagers discover that Griffin is invisible, a mob is formed and they attempt to capture him.  I kept thinking about Michel Foucault's work on the panopticon as I read this. In many ways, Griffin intensifies the villagers' sense of looking and self-scrutiny in a sort of surveillance fashion.  When it comes to surveillance, Foucault argues that it is not that someone is actually watching you that makes the panopticon effective.  It is the fact that you don't know if someone is watching you and what internalizes the gaze.  I believe Griffin has this effect on the villagers.

by Jonathan Frazen

Franzen covers a lot of ground in this long tale of the Berglunds family.  Franzen takes his time, providing the reader a detailed account of each character.  The description and dialogue are excellent here.  The storytelling is non-linear, suggesting the disconnection of the Berglunds.  I particularly love the character Richard, a disenchanted punk rocker who has a sort of strange relationship with Walter Berglund.  Though not as great as The Corrections, this was a long, yet rewarding read.  Franzen is one of our best contemporary writers.

Young Hearts Crying
by Richard Yates

Yates' gritty and melodramatic novel about of the Davenport couple.  For more, see my random review.

The Dead
James Joyce

Joyce's beautifully written novella at the turn of the twentieth century.  See my random review on John Huston's film adaptation.

Mother Night
by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut's novel tells the story of Howard W. Campbell Jr, an American Nazi playwright living in New York city.   See my random review about the film adaption. 

From Hell
by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

Alan Moore is known widely for writing Watchmen, probably one of the most important graphic novels of the twentieth century.  From Hell deals with Jack the Ripper which speculates the motives behind these horrific murders in England.  This is a haunting, gruesome and philosophical tale on the nature of evil and madness.

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