Quirk’s Favorite Books of 2012
It should come as no surprise that here at Quirk, we like to read. A lot. I mean, you can't make books if you aren't reading them too, right? Emails are frequently sent around the office about this book or that, and finished books usually end up in our lobby, free to a good home.
Below, you'll find some of our favorite reads of the year. Some are new, some aren't. But all of them are great.
The Odds by Stewart O'Nan: I've read all of Stewart O'Nan's novels and his latest, The Odds, is one of my favorites. The story concerns a marriage on the brink of collapse; Art and Marion Fowler are unemployed fifty-somethings, drowning in debt and facing foreclosure on their home. In a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, Art plans a second honeymoon at a Niagara Falls casino, where he intends to gamble every last penny of their retirement savings on a "can't-miss" roulette scheme.
Maybe you have to be married to fully appreciate this book (and the longer you've been married, the more you'll enjoy it). It's a short novel, only 192 pages, and I read the entire book in a single night. The suspense of the final chapters (when Art finally embarks on his roulette scheme) caught me off-guard. I realized I really cared about these characters; I really wanted them to win, even though I knew the odds were stacked against them. The last line is perfect. – Jason Rekulak, Creative Director
Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You by Dolly Parton: I love Dolly Parton's new book. It's a slim little volume that outlines her philosophy of life, based on her 2009 commencement speech to graduates at the University of Tennessee. But if you haven't read any of Dolly Parton's books yet, I'd have to recommend starting with her 1994 autobiography, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. It's a great read.
And her Imagination Library is an excellent charity dedicated to fostering a love of reading among preschool children by mailing them high-quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes. All children deserve books, regardless of their family's income. As Dolly always says, "Never let a rhinestone go unturned." – Margaret McGuire, Editor (@oinkoink)
Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV by Warren Littlefield: I must admit that my favorite book from 2012 was, in fact, Gone Girl. It was fun and surprising and devious and likely on everyone's list already.
My second favorite book was The Last Policeman. It's imagination of a pre-apocalyptic Earth is timely and well-thought out. If you like Revolution and The Walking Dead, consider it a must-read. But, alas, it is a Quirk title and I'm sure there are rules against choosing your own title on a 'Best of' list.
So, why Top of the Rock? Well, I'm a pop-culture junkie who grew up on 80s & 90s TV. And, during that stretch, NBC was at the top of their game churning out hit after hit: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends, ER, and the list goes on. Warren Littlefield was NBC's President of Entertainment during the peak of this magical run. With the help from notable stars and executives (Jerry Seinfeld, Helen Hunt, Lisa Kudrow, Anthony Edwards, James Burrows and more), the book is an oral history recounting how all of these shows got on the air and propelled NBC to #1. It's fast-paced, fun and a must read for any TV fan. – Brett Cohen, Vice President (@brett_quirk)
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield: No highbrow stuff here! Instantly transported to childhood memories of big hair, stonewashed jeans, and classic 80s tunes Talking to Girls About Duran Duran is all this girl could ever ask for and one of the most fun reads of the year for me.
This entertaining and fast read is a journey back in time, complete with its very own soundtrack. Who doesn’t want to read chapters named after epic 80s tunes like Ashes to Ashes” by Bowie, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” by The Culture Club, “Funky Cold Medina” by Tone Loc or “Kiss Me Deadly” by the one and only Lita Ford? Hilarious and poignant, I felt an instant connection to Rob’s reflections and musings of his adolescence. And, of course, of the importance of having some Duran Duran in your life. – Mari Kraske, Publicist
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: *sniffle* *sob* I'm sorry, I just have SO MANY FEELINGS RIGHT NOW.
A sweet love story about two young cancer survivors in love, The Fault in Our Stars was one of my favorite reads this year. John Green has this marvelous gift, where he's able to make you laugh one minute and sob hysterically the next. Hazel and Augustus' moving story found me crying on public transit and laughing loudly in my office. Filled with wonderful literary references and memorable characters, it's impossible to not find yourself deeply invested in the characters and their complicated lives.
It's a story about seizing every opportunity, and not letting life pass you by. I recommend this book every chance I get. Including now! – Eric Smith, Marketing & Social Media Coordinator (@ericsmithrocks)
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. The title of Walters' book perfectly describes the story it contains. Spanning from the 1960's to present day bouncing from Italy to LA, this book explores the effects of our choices, what makes a person successful, and the sustaining power of memories. – Nicole De Jackmo, Publicity Manager (@ndejackmo)
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway: This book was a blast. Spies! Secret trains! Clockwork bees! Doomsday and the eternal fight against becoming one's own father! This follow-up to my still-favorite book The Gone-Away World did not disappoint. – Mandy Sampson, Production & Sales Assistant
Wonder by R.J Palacio: My favorite book of this year was Wonder. I loved this book, and especially loved reading it with my daughter, Sophie. It's about a severely disfigured boy and his ability to remain centered, whole, and beautiful amidst the pressures of middle schoool. It's YA, but it touches on universal truths for every age. A wonderful read! – David Borgenicht, President & Publisher
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey: I like stories that reimagine folk tales (think Angela Carter's Saints and Strangers). This one does it well. The setting — a hardscrabble homestead on the 1920s Alaska frontier — is poignant and chilly, all covered in snow. The lack of quotation marks in dialogue scenes with Faina was a stroke of genius (is she real? is it all imagined?). In a word: magical. (And I think the cover art is perfect.) – Mary Ellen Wilson, Managing Editor
The Absolutist by John Boyne: Such a powerful book! Engaging, unexpected, and while painfully sad it is beautiful in it's writing and storytelling. – Moneka Hewlett, Senior Sales Director
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan: I geeked out over this book a bit. It's a love letter to books in the form of a fun, geeky adventure into the depths of a secret society. On top of that though, it presents an optimistic view of the future of books in the age of the internet and e-books, which is just something we all need to hear once and a while. Not to mention the cover glows in the dark. – Andie Reid, Junior Designer, Digital & Marketing
BONUS: Two Books by Three Writers Who've Sold Millions – Doogie Horner
I’ve never read any mass market fiction except for Stephen King and Mickey Spillane, so this year I decided to choose some popular authors and see what I liked or didn’t like about their writing. As Spillane said himself, “Those big shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more unsalted peanuts consumed than caviar.”
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone & Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling: The first book is practically perfect. Nice and lean. Rowling moves the story quickly without making it feel rushed by maintaining a propulsive rhythm. She doesn’t slow down and take forever describing something just because it’s awesome. She relates interesting facts [a moving photograph, an ogre] and pedestrian facts [a train pulling out of the station] with the same level of detail which helps merge the extraordinary with the ordinary. The second book was a bit flabbier, but still good. It has the same strengths of the first book: brisk pacing, consistent rhythm, and a story that’s imaginative but believable. Overall she’s a very solid writer who doesn’t take a lot of risks.
Intensity & Seize the Night by Dean Koontz: Dean Koontz is the exact opposite of J.K. Rowling. He is a lunatic. There is no merging of the believable and unbelievable, he just smooshes them together and then pounds on them with a hammer and when that doesn’t work he wraps the whole thing in duct tape. I had no idea professional authors were allowed to write like this. His faults are legion: I can’t imagine a plot twist that he would deem implausible. His rhythm is uneven; he’ll bring the story to a dead halt to smother a scene in overwrought description.
He dumps his exposition so gracelessly the reader almost gags on it. On almost every page he asks the reader to make another buy in: The main character is an albino; now he’s also a small arms expert; now his dog is a genius; now he’s fighting super apes. However, this is also why his stories are so interesting: You never know what’s going to happen next. All realms of possibility are open. By jettisoning plausibility and smooth transitions his stories are able to scale heights that earthbound authors would never dare. His characters are unbelievable in appealing ways. And, most importantly, he stands behind his writing.
You can tell he’s having fun, he’s passionate about the story, and despite its many faults I found his writing exhilarating, like eating a Dorito.
The Lincoln Lawyer & The Firm by John Grisham: Grisham takes less risks than Koontz, but isn’t as solid as J.K. Rowling. Calculated and intricately plotted, his books seem like they were created by a group of writers sitting around an office table. I am getting bored just writing about him. Having said that, his stories are smart. His characters are intelligent and likeable, but not particularly memorable. I guess I can’t think of a better courtroom drama writer, but I can certainly think of a lot of great detective writers whose stories have the cat and mouse games that make lawyer banter so appealing—so why wouldn’t you read them instead? Why not read Michael Crichton? His characters are also paper thin, but his pacing is better and his stories are more imaginative. Grisham’s writing isn’t good enough to make up for his lack of emotion. Mickey Spillane is a horrible writer [“The guy was dead as hell”], but he’s passionate.
ERIC SMITH is the cofounder of Geekadelphia, a popular blog covering all-that-is-geek in the City of Brotherly Love, as well as the Philadelphia Geek Awards, an annual awards show held at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He’s written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly, and Philly.com