Best reading of 2012 — so far

As I’ve documented, I am a list-maker. My daily work obligations are now listed in handy list format — the better for me to complete and cross them off, of course. Being as I’m always on deadline, my lists are crucial to my getting everything done before my coworkers shout at me for holding up the presses. (That’s never happened, but I think it would be sort of cool — in a cinematic way.)

Given my penchant for organization and crossing things off, I’ve compiled a list of my best reads of 2012 — so far. It’s scary to think we’re six months into the year, friends, and I get itchy thinking about the passage of time. But we’re almost exactly halfway through 2012 (or has that already passed? Math is not my BFF), it’s time to reflect on the 33 books I’ve read since January. And choose some of the best — because I play favorites.

write meg!’s Four Favorite Books
of 2012 (so far)

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Okay, so here’s the thing: despite having read and adored this book, I’ve never reviewed Silver Sparrow. And I feel really, really guilty about it — mostly because it is so moving, realistic, unique and heartbreaking that I wish everyone had a copy. On the shortlist for the Indie Lit Awards, I picked it up in March and figured I’d wait to write my review until the awards had been announced (and it won!). Then a month went by . . . then two . . . and now I’m sitting here like a dummy, wondering why I never made the time to post about it.

So here I am, posting. Telling you. Imploring you. If you’re looking for an addictive read about family, change, love and class, Jones offers all that and more in one stunning package. Plus, now it’s out in paperback. So you really don’t have an excuse, do you?

Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer (my review)

Oh, I loved this book. It earned one of my elusive five-star ratings back in April, one of my best reading months ever (10 books!). Apron is an unforgettable narrator who seems to bump into you at the grocery store, at the library, out at restaurants — everywhere, really, because she’s so funny and sad and awesome that you want to squeeze her . . . and therefore look for Apron everywhere you go.

If this book wasn’t already on your radar, consider this your not-so-gentle nudge. It’s been a while since I read a story so simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, and I don’t think you’ll regret a second you spend in Miss Bramhall’s company. Kudos to the lovely Jennifer Gooch Hummer, an author with whom I’d love to sip root beer floats and muse about life. She’s awesome.

History Of A Pleasure Seeker
by Richard Mason
(my review)

Ack, this novel. It was sexy. It was unnerving. It was riveting and different and atmospheric, ripe with intrigue and fantastic settings and a charismatic, utterly narcissistic lead who still manages to seem human and endearing when it’s most needed. I sung this one’s praises back in January, and I can still recall certain turns of phrase six months later. That’s the mark of a great read — and a great writer.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (my review)

Having spent nearly a month listening to Steve Jobs’ biography on audio, I felt like I got to know the man well through Isaacson’s meticulously researched, thought-provoking account of the trailblazer’s story. I was sad when it ended (and how it ended, of course, but c’est la vie) and felt like I’d been on an odyssey.

When the review was Freshly Pressed by WordPress and featured on its main page, the comments and emails came pouring in — some kind, some not so much. One visitor’s response is probably my favorite personal insult of all time: Her [mine, that is] artistic intelligence is exactly why we need more math and science in schools. (Um, wow.) Some accused me of coming “too late” to the Apple game, being some insipid follower who only “discovered” the brand after iPods began hitting college campuses in the early ’00s.

To which I say: yep. That’s pretty much what happened.

And by the way, that was a book review. Not a character assassination.

That review and its backlash/response taught me quite a few things about blogging and life, but that’s another post. The point is this: if you’re even vaguely interested in the trials, triumphs and joys of Steve Jobs, Isaacson’s biography is a must read. While I got bogged down in the minutiae of Apple’s rise to success, it was Jobs the man who kept me captivated through 20-some discs of his life story.

Book review: ‘History Of A Pleasure Seeker’ by Richard Mason

Twenty-four-year-old Piet Barol is handsome, seductive, manipulative — and poor. After his mother’s death, Piet uses her many lessons and attempts to elevate him beyond his meager circumstances to seek wealth and employment far from his sad, boring past.

In belle époque Amsterdam, Piet interviews for a position teaching the talented but strange child of Maarten and Jacobina Vermeulen-Sickerts. Young Egbert, one of the family’s three children and the only son, is haunted by invisible demons demanding he put himself through grueling paces like playing the same song on piano hundreds of times. Piet is determined to help the child — if only to continue living in the lap of luxury at his wealthy employers’ home.

Ruled by lust and a desire to ascend to the privileged class, Piet begins to change the Vermeulen-Sickerts’ lives in swift, tangible ways. Long kept at arm’s length by her husband, Jacobina is desperate for attention — and companionship. Louisa and Constance Vermeulen-Sickerts, sisters and polar opposites, exercise a due wariness regarding Piet’s infiltration but have plans of their own. And Maarten, the family patriarch, is so desperate to “cure” his only son that he’s willing to look beyond the obvious. Is Piet pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes — or is he merely another pleasure seeker in a vast, complicated game?

Richard Mason’s History Of A Pleasure Seeker is a lush, sensuous and finely-wrought story of how, through charisma and seduction, one man is able to change an entire family and free them from their stuffy, well-made cages. In return, Piet is able to leave behind his poverty-stricken youth and seek all the pleasures to which he feels entitled as a self-made man.

I was initially attracted to this book because of a line drawn between it and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite classics. After finishing History Of A Pleasure Seeker, I can see the parallels between the two. Though our setting here is The Netherlands, Piet functions as a sort of Gatsby-like anti-hero. I took turns loving and despising him, wondering if he possibly felt for the Vermeulen-Sickerts family or merely sought to snap off a piece of their prestige. That feeling morphed many times over, and I’m still not completely sure how I feel about Piet. Other than, you know . . . seduced.

On one hand, he’s a selfish devil accustomed to getting what he wants — and when he wants it. Whether a lusty embrace comes from a man or woman seems to be of little consequence, and he’s already daydreaming about receiving satisfaction from a fellow employee at the Vermeulen-Sickerts’ residence just hours after arriving. I don’t think this was so much a bisexual tendency as a rampant desire to be pleasured when he felt the urge — regardless of who was there to satisfy him. The true nature of his sexuality didn’t seem to be of much consequence outside of what it asked him to do for others, and what he asked others to do for him. As you’d expect from a book with such a title, History Of A Pleasure Seeker is really all about Piet’s pleasure.

And it’s hard not to be seduced by Piet. On the surface, he’s a talented pianist, an educated dreamer, a reliable employee. He’s described as devastatingly handsome and all too aware of what his attractive physique can afford him from others. (I pictured him as a Henry Cavill type, at right.) Whether everything is just an elaborate scheme to buy himself fortune, I’m not sure — but I’m leaning toward not. At his heart, I don’t think Piet was a cold and calculated gold digger. I think he was just a little tortured and entitled.

Though Piet is our central character, he isn’t the only one craving release. Louisa and Constance Vermeulen-Sickerts want to be freed of the confines barring women from doing much beyond finding a good husband, becoming a good mother. Bright and devastatingly sarcastic, Louisa was a favorite character of mine; her sassy observations and unwillingness to become a pawn in anyone’s game made me smile. Little Egbert desperately wants to be freed of his inner demons, and Maarten craves only the security to take care of his family in the manner to which they’ve been accustomed. And Jacobina? She just wants to be loved.

History Of A Pleasure Seeker was a fast, intoxicating read — and though my interest waned slightly as Piet moved on from Amsterdam, I was very invested in the plot and characters. The novel features several scenes steamy enough to make my cheeks flush, but I wasn’t bothered by the erotic and hypnotic nature of the story. If you’re easily offended by sexual content, I’d suggest tiptoeing around this one — but those seeking a raucous, entertaining and sexy story of one social climber pawing his way to the top will find Richard Mason’s novel goes down a treat.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0307599477 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review