What Books Did You Overlook in 2012?
When I was asked to write about overlooked books of 2012, I thought, great—there are so many books that don’t get their due. Then I started going through all of lists of the best books of 2012 and realized that I was so steeped in thinking about those, I could barely think of what was being overlooked. Then I remembered that despite feeling that I should, I don’t go out and read all of the acclaimed books the year they are published. So in some ways, I may be different from a lot of the people who are obligated to write about books for work because there are books they simply must read (see Salon critic Laura Miller’s “Five books I bailed on in 2012“).
However, one way that I am similar to a lot of the reading public is that I (quite naturally) tend to stick to reading the kinds of books I like. I like fiction and more specifically, I like literary fiction. So perhaps the most overlooked books of the year are the ones that belong to categories we normally don’t consider. I don’t believe you should spend your leisure time forcing yourself to read something you don’t want to read, but I do think you can find hidden gems when you read outside of your comfort zone.
For some people, graphic novel is a weird marketing category, and some still think they are just comic books under a different name. If the graphic novel label convinces you to try a book with a more visual storytelling, good.
These books with picture aren’t just for kids, but I was gratified to see a graphic novel that I read and gave as a gift to a young reader included on NPR’s list of Graphic Novels that Flew Under the Radar in 2012. For me Reina Telgemeier’s latest work, Drama (“teenage intrigue…mad crushes and mood swings take place among the stage crew of a middle-school theater production.”), is overshadowed by her brilliantly executed memoir Smile, but when I gave Drama to a 13-year-old, she read it in one sitting and raved about it.
As a true fiction junkie, I find that I rarely read nonfiction. There is a lot of worthwhile nonfiction out there but I tend to think of the worst I’ve seen in this category and avoid it. What I forget is that nonfiction is not just one kind of book and that nonfiction includes self-help and how-to, as well as narrative nonfiction and collected letters.
Cheryl Strayed, an author who has Oprah smiling upon her memoir, can hardly be considered “under the radar,” but some readers of Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick Wild may not know that Strayed also has an advice column (“Dear Sugar”) at TheRumpus.net. In Tiny Beautiful Things, collected “Dear Sugar”columns are a rich tapestry that lets readers reflect on their own lives as they read exchanges between Strayed and advice-seekers.
Yes, these fall under Nonfiction but I wanted to mention them separately because cookbooks are so much more than recipe collections these days. For example, if you check out Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You by D.C.’s own Carla Hall with Genevieve Ko, you’ll find plenty of anecdotes and observations about Southern life that make the book an interesting read, even if you never take it into the kitchen (although would be a shame because there are some great recipes in there.)