ABC’s Favorite Reads of 2012, part I

Hooray!  It’s time for my favorite series of posts: ABC’s Favorite Reads!

That’s right, the ABC Staff is about to reveal their favorite books read in 2012!  There will be new titles, old titles, magazines, Dutch books, games, fiction, non fiction, anything and everything we read and liked in 2012. We are as diverse as our individual choices and that is what makes ABC unique!

Barry, Renate and Karin start us off. Barry is one of ABC The Hague’s most familiar faces and the History, Current Affairs, Political Science and Travel Literature buyer there.  Renate is ABC Amsterdam’s Fiction, Poetry and Memoirs buyer.  And Karin is our Marketing Director.

We would love to hear about your favorite reads of 2012, too. Please mail with your choices and a picture of yourself (optional). We will post your list at the beginning of the new year and send you an ABC Gift Certificate (so don’t forget to include your home address with your list!).


I’ve read a lot of books this year, but the three that stand out the most are all works of fiction.

The first is The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace. This is a dense, often difficultto-follow novel, but absolutely, spectacularly mind-numbing in attention to detail. The masterly use of the English language is a pleasure to read.

The second book is The Art Of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. Set in a small Midwestern college, it is the delightful story of the inter-personal relationships of the characters, against the backdrop of one baseball season at the college.

My third recommendation is also a work of fiction and has only just been released so I haven’t quite had the time to finish it!  The title of the book is Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe.  The truth of the matter is, I can never wait for his books!!!

The first new book by Wolfe since I Am Charlotte Simmons, promises by all reports to be a winner. The publisher is reported to have paid a huge pre-publication advance on the basis of the synopsis. Knowing Wolfe’s scrupulous attention to detail and way with words, this book, set in Miami in the here and now, promises to be a winner!


1. Leaving the Atocha Station – Ben Lerner

Wonderful debut novel by American poet Ben Lerner. His prose sometimes really reads like poetry and while reading I was often struck by the simple beauty of some of his paragraphs.

It’s about an American poet (who’s also quite unreliable and is, in fact, a bit of a prick) encountering history, life and his life as a poet while abroad on a scholarship in Madrid. The novel is full of awkward, bizarre, hilarious and painful situations that are strangely recognizable in some way.  In other words, that kind of novel that tells you a lot of stuff about yourself and the world, which is what fiction is all about, right?

2.  Rabbit, Run – John Updike

A former colleague of mine told me that I should definitely read Updike. “I’m in love with Updike” he told me, “if he were still alive I’d marry him and tell him how much I love him”.

After this declaration of love I started reading Rabbit, Run, the first of Updike’s Rabbit novels, and I knew my friend was right: it was like magic. Why don’t people talk about Updike more? I don’t know about his other novels, but Updike’s prose in Rabbit, Run is wonderful, every sentence a gift and even better than the last one he wrote. While reading you’re with Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom when he runs, from woman to woman, from town to town, and back. You’re with him when he’s thinking about his golden days as a basketball player in high school; when he leaves his pregnant wife and makes love to a promiscuous woman; when he talks, drinks, smokes and hangs out with a priest while spanking that priest’s wife and oh.. just read it.

3. The Age of Absurdity – Michael Foley

Something completey different for me: non-fiction. Who would’ve thought..

Anyway, Foley’s book is a joy to read. In a down-to-earth, funny and elucidating way, he describes modern society and all its absurd ways. With references to classic philosophy, psychology and literature, Foley explains how we’ve become what we’ve become and, more importantly, how to still find joy and, yes, happiness, in spite of all the absurdity that surrounds our daily existence.

4. Agua Viva – Clarice Lispector

I’d never read anything by Brazilian author Clairce Lispector (she was born in the Ukraine), until these wondeful editions of her books appeared by New Directions Publishing Corporation. They looked pretty and I wanted to know if the contents were pretty too. They were. Clarice is a fearless, passionate, mad writer and I loved her nerve, her spirit and her honesty that shines through her prose. Agua Viva is not really a novel, it reads more like a diary or a memoir. It has observations about her life as a writer, journalist and about art and life and love. As a writer myself, her writing opened my eyes as to the ways people can write. It can never be fixed, there are no rules.


Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China – Guy Delisle

This year I travelled to China again to visit my brother who lives and works in two of China’s most dynamic places: Hong Kong and Shenzen. Shenzen, in the economic zone, and only about an hour travelling from Hong Kong is not beautiful, but it is an interesting city. Here you see everything that money can buy and then ten times over. This was the second time I visited Shenzen and in three years’ time new enormous sky scrapers and shopping malls seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. I personally think its a very depressing city and people seem friendly but its really hard to communicate with the locals. Guy Delisle’s graphic novel, an account of him living in Shenzen for a while several years ago, is just spot on. For all of you who are interested in the real (new) China.

City Walks New York: 50 Adventures on Foot – Christina Henry de Tessan

Really handy box with 50 cards with a little map on the front of the (part) of the neighbourhood you want to take a walk in and information on the back about interesting sites, shops and restaurants that you will encounter.

I also travelled to the US this summer and visited New York in the middle of a heat wave with 2 kids. In the mornings we selected 2 or 3 City Walk Cards and explored some really fun parts of the city, while trying to stay hydrated and keeping out of the sun.

A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

I know I am not the first ABC’er who put this on their favorites list.

I was the buyer for the SF/Fantasy section in Amsterdam for many years and was not tempted once to read this novel. I read SF not fantasy! Then the HBO series got rave reviews and I suggested reading A Game of Thrones to my bookclub. Our bookclub verdict: not a literary but a highly entertaining read! One that draws you in and keeps you on the edge of your seat and then you want more of it!

Fifty  Shades of Grey – E. L. James

Why did I put this one on my list? Not because it is just a great book, but because it has not been since The Da Vinci Code that I have talked with so many people about one particular book. Everyone is reading it and it makes a great conversation piece at the moment with women and men alike. It is fun for the time being, but it’ll pass eventually, like we never hear from Dan Brown anymore.

Bonita Avenue – Peter Buwalda

Yes, a Dutch novel. I read quite a few English novels this year as well: The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco, just to name a few….but this was actually the best novel I read! It has not been translated into English yet. It might actually be a little too controversial for a US audience even though a part of the story is set in the US. This novel has won many awards and rightly so.

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