Oregon’s Multnomah County Library is the oldest public library west of the Mississippi. Portland, the county seat, is home to Powell’s City of Books and a community of avid readers. The award-winning library serves those readers through a commitment to responsive collections, a lively materials blog, and a staff dedicated to helping readers find the book that suits their taste and mood. In keeping with this column’s tradition of asking readers’ advisors to discuss the books that meant the most to them each year, I invited this amazing group to share their favorite titles of 2012.
Cheryl Strayed pens a powerful and haunting memoir of her journey along the epic Western path in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Knopf. ISBN 9780307592736. $25.95). In a free fall after the death of her mother and what seemed like the inevitable divorce, Strayed saw the 2,663-mile-long route as a way out. What she found along the trail were fascinating characters, a deep sense of awe, and a much-needed respite. Strayed’s openness in recounting her triumphs and mistakes and her honest, heartfelt, and sympathetic approach to life is also reflected in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. [TBT is one of LJ’s Top Ten Books of 2012, p. 22.—Ed.]
In Ramona Ausubel’s No One is Here Except All of Us (Riverhead: Penguin Group [USA]. ISBN 9781594487941. $26.95), one isolated Jewish village in Romania has managed to keep the world at bay even though World War II rages. Then a stranger brings news of terror and genocide. To protect themselves, the villagers come up with a wild plan: they will reinvent the world from scratch. If their faith is strong enough, the outside world will cease to exist. Ausubel’s brilliantly conceived debut novel explores in flowing prose the power of imagination and creation.
Joe Spork’s father was the king of London’s criminal underworld. His grandfather was a genius with clockwork. In Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker (Knopf. ISBN 9780307595959. $26.95), a fantasy caper with a richly imagined alternate history, vividly crafted characters, and a genre-bending sensibility, Joe now runs a modest clockwork shop as he tries to make amends for his father’s sins. When he is asked to repair a particularly ornate and clever device, it turns out to be a doomsday machine that will draw Joe into the world of superspies, religious zealots, and vengeful despots.
In Visit Sunny Chernobyl (Rodale. ISBN 9781605294452. $25.99), Andrew Blackwell willingly, even happily, visits some of the world’s most polluted places: the oil sands of Northern Alberta, the Yamuna River of India, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Is the author some kind of environmental rubbernecker? Armchair travelers who appreciate landscapes (even ruined ones) painted in precise and sharp language as well as readers who enjoy witty exposés filled with wry and sweet humor will enjoy finding out.
In Susanna Moore’s unusual novel of World War II and its aftermath, The Life of Objects (Knopf. ISBN 9780307268433. $25), Beatrice Palmer, a teenage Irish lace maker, spends the war on the German estate of a couple of decadent but principled aesthetes. Her hosts’ taste and character work mightily on Beatrice: they generously offer protection to assorted wanderers while enduring the theft and destruction of their exquisite belongings. Moore’s theme of buried treasure is apt for a story that probes boldly, and sometimes disturbingly, into the question of what shapes who we become.
What does the world’s greatest superhero do when he has only two weeks to live? In Paul Tobin’s Prepare to Die! (Night Shade. ISBN 9781597804202. $26.99), with the clock counting down, Reaver, born Steve Clarke, whose special ability is housed in his fists, heads home to reconnect with his high school girlfriend. Standing in his way are his own insecurity and grief as well as a crew of villains. Thrilling, hysterical, poignant, and joyously crude.
Take one part sun-drenched Italian coastal village and mix in two parts Hollywood studio back lot. Add a larger-than-life cast of characters and cameo appearances by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Stir in unbearable sadness tempered with a sprinkling of hilarity, then whisk in sharp observations about human nature shared via a piercing wit and lush turns of phrase. Bake in an oven set to span 50 years. The result is Jess Walter’s wonderful Beautiful Ruins (Harper: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061928123. $25.99), which delightfully captures the heartbreak and joy of fascinating and flawed people experiencing love and loss through life’s fleeting moments.
This column was contributed by staff at Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR. Selections and annotations are in the order given: Stephanie Chase (now at Seattle P.L.), Alison Kastner, Rachael Short, Tama Filipas, Markrid Izquierdo, Joanna Milner, & Sarah Mead.