Ten favorite books read if not written in 2012

No, this isn't a top 10 list of new books published in 2012.  It's a list of some of the books that I read during 2012, when I wasn't writing.  Some were pure inspiration, and some were literary models, but all are worth reading.

The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg.  Eisenberg writes about loneliness as no one else can.  To me, she's what Salinger should have become.  Her world is close to Salinger's, but Salinger's truths are the truths of the young.  These stories are blessed with moments of transcendence, "as ample in mystery as the face in the moon."

Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson.  You may know Hudson from the magical romantic tale, Green Mansions.  He was also a superb naturalist and bird-lover, and one of the great writers ever.  I found this among my mother's books after she died, and only this year, read it.  Hudson grew up in Argentina, which was to him a bird paradise-- and he captures, without trying, the wild strange world of childhood.  As soon as I read one Chapter Heading, The Tyrant's Fall and What Followed, I was hooked.

Regrowth by Der Nister.  This story collection, from a Russian/Yiddish writer (recently translated from the Yiddish) contains masterpiece after masterpiece of life during and after the Nazi occupation.  Der Nister, I believe, translates as The Hidden One.  The stories are intricate and layered, and the meaning hidden beneath the narrative.  I've gone to sleep thinking about these characters.

Tales from a Greek Island by Alexandros Papadiamantis.  Few American readers know of this Greek author, and that is a shame.  Papadiamantis writes of the peasants on the Aegean Island of Skiathos, without any folksy sentimentality: the life's harsh, and the people more so.  Children fall into wells, unmourned; and brides are prized only for dowries. Each story speaks of an entire world, and not a a false note anywhere. [Note:  my Greek-speaking spouse alerts me that much is "lost in translation, but as with Chekhov, enough isn't.]

The Encylopedia of the Dead by Danilo Kis.    Another story collection, this time from a Serbian writer.  Kis is influenced by Borges, to be sure, but his take on magical realism is very much his own.  The stories have a dignity and an authority and a voice impossible to forget as seemingly cryptic symbols lead the author to childhood memories, haunted by the Holocaust.

Into the Silence by Wade Davis.  I've read many books about Everest.  But Wade Davis's re-interpretation of the Everest expeditions in light of the horrors of The Great War stands apart  Mallory becomes, heartbreakingly, alive once again in the book.  I wished, once again, that he had seen the summit.   I read this one twice.

Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza by Peter Cole and Adina Hoffman.  I discovered this gem of a book through one of my favorite online resources. Tablet Magazine.  Just over a century ago, scholars discovered the "hidden" manuscripts of Medieval Jewry, some of which looked like shredded trash.  The scholarly hunt for this treasure is the subject of this lively book.  It's an adventure story of the mind.

Robinson by Muriel Spark.  This novella was unavailable ( more accurately, only available in expensive used editions) for years.  I was overjoyed to find it in City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and now it's again on Amazon.  It's one of Spark's earlier novels, and it's sharp and lyrical as only Muriel Spark can be-- strangers together on an unknown island, guided by the mysterious (and since its a Spark novel, perhaps evil) Robinson.  I read it once and then I started again. 

The Light that Failed by Rudyard Kipling. In a year of writing my romantic stories, I've returned to the great Romantics.  There's no better than Rudyard Kipling.  Why this novel's been forgotten is beyond me.  It's a novel about a painter, and visions of all kinds, and it's unforgettable. On Amazon, it's free as a Kindle edition.

Passion and Affect by Laurie Colwin.  Last December, my darling sister sent me a load of Laurie Colwin (who died at 40.)   They're all funny and compassionate and warm, and yes, entertaining.  This one's a charmer of a story collection, with the kind of stories that used to get published in women's magazines (not highbrow ones, either.) I'm in awe of her mix of serious and funny.


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