This is the year I read 13 books in July — many on a beach at the Jersey Shore that no longer exists — then failed to finish another until late September. The summer I swung and missed at Proust. The fall when I could feel my 58-year-old eyes surrender in anything but the strongest light.
Yet it was also the year of Julie Otsuka and Haruki Murakami. An election year of laughing at least once a week with columnist Gail Collins. A “Silent Spring” reunion with Rachel Carson. And the stage for the 11th annual reading contest.
As always on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I glance back at the year’s best books and look forward to your stories about the classics I’ve missed.
For the last 10 years, the reading contest has chronicled those who read the most pages and celebrated those who write most eloquently about the experience.
The rules are static and minor inconveniences. I need a list of the books you devoured in the 2012 calendar year, charitably organized by the author’s last name. Whether the list arrives by e-mail or hand truck, it must include the year’s total pages and it must reach me by Jan. 15.
There are three awards, $75 gift certificates to Powell’s or what’s left of its competition. As prolific readers go, Kevin Brown is the two-time defending champion, totaling just under 130,000 pages last year. The 2012 winner in the school-age category was Ellen Pearson, who read 89,007 pages as a fifth-grader at Fir Grove Elementary in Beaverton.
As the book club well knows, my favorite prize lands on the bibliophile who submits the best essay on a year of reading. That award is named for Ann Brownell, who won twice before her death in 2008. Wendy Vannoy, a naturopathic physician in Forest Grove, penned last year’s keeper.
While I treasured the hours spent with Chad Harbach, Ann Patchett, Jess Walter and Steve Coll, let me close with three books that revisit me when the rain is heavy and the house leans into the wind.
As I wrote in July, Chris Hedges and cartoonist Joe Sacco bring a rich blend of anger and observation to “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt,” their tour of the “sacrifice zones” — coal-mining towns and immigrant labor camps — that fuel our economy.
I am still awed by Otsuka’s “The Buddha in the Attic,” which won the PEN/Faulkner Award. With poetic precision, Otsuka collates and choreographs the lives of the Japanese picture brides who arrived in California in the early 20th century.
But my favorite read this year remains Murakami’s “1Q84.” Aomame is a lithe assassin who hunts down abusive men, Tengo a ghostwriter, and they are both haunted by the moment, 20 years earlier, when their hands touched in a fifth-grade classroom:
“A lonely boy, and a lonely girl. A classroom, just after school let out, at the beginning of winter. They had neither the power nor the knowledge to know what they should offer to each other, what they should be seeking.”
Impeding, or assisting, their search for one another are cults, the “Little People,” and an alternative universe overseen by twin moons. What I was looking for in Proust, I found in Murakami who, to the end, writes and reads like a dream.
Steve Duin is The Oregonian’s Metro columnist, a post he has held for 15 years. He has twice been named the nation’s best local columnist by the Society of Professional Journalists.
A graduate of Wake Forest University with a Masters degree in English, Duin joined The Oregonian as a sports writer in 1980. He began writing the paper’s first political column in 1988, then switched to the Metro column in 1994. He has written or co-authored five books — including “Comics: Between the Panels,” a history of comics, and “Father Time,” a collection of columns on fatherhood and family — and lives with his wife, Nancy, in Lake Oswego.