York County readers pick their favorite reads for 2012

By SARAH CHAIN
Daily Record/Sunday News

As I tried to remember the books I’ve read in the past year, I had far too many “favorites” to choose just one.

I was drawn to the unique narrative styles of Chris Cleave’s Incendiary and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” I enjoyed the easygoing tone of half-memoir, half-cookbook Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. And how do I not mention Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild?

And then, of course, there are the local authors I’ve discovered (and covered) in the past year. These are serious problems for a bibliophile — they’re all my favorites. So I asked a few York County bookstore owners and Daily Record co-workers to share their nominations for the best book they read in 2012.

Be forewarned — they have lots to say!


"A Dog's Purpose" by Bruce CamerronMy favorite book read in 2012 is “A Dog’s Purpose” by W. Bruce Cameron. It is a heartwarming story about life told from the point of view of a dog. Anyone who loves reading dog stories, as I do, knows that they are always happy and sad. I marvel at the way the author is able to capture what the dog might actually be thinking.

I had heard about this book a long time ago but never came across a copy. I was finally able to read it by borrowing it from one of my customer friends who mentioned that she had it while we were talking about books. The author has written some other books about animals, including a sequel to this one. I can’t wait to get a hold of that one.

— IRENE RITSON, owner, Recycled Reader Used Bookstore


One of the benefits of owning a used-book shop is that I get first pick of everything that comes in the door. And the really neat part about that is that I can take a book, bring it home, read it and then bring it back to the shop and put it on a shelf for sale. And it hasn’t lost its value! It is still a used book.

I’ve been spending time with some old friends this year. I made a conscious decision to re-read C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series of novels. There are 11 of them. If read in chronological order (rather than the order they were written), they follow the life and career of an English seaman during the Napoleonic Wars. They were written in the 1930s and 1940s and were the inspiration for a whole array of later fiction, ranging from Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek to Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.

I’ve also been reading some early Tom Wolfe. At the moment, for example, I am working on “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” but I must confess this is a bit of a slog. I fear I have nothing in common with either Ken Keesey or his Merry Pranksters.

"The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. LewisAnd I will admit to a secret, guilty pleasure: period Cold War thrillers (akin to “Fail Safe” and the original — not the movie version — of “Dr. Strangelove”). These are wholly forgettable, but really fairly enjoyable, novels. Rather like mental floss. They’re just good fun. But as long as I am making this confession, I will tell you that although I’ve read three or four such novels this year, I honestly cannot recall any of the titles.

There has been some non-fiction sprinkled in (“The Naked Ape” and “A World Lit Just By Fire”), but I hang my head in shame when I realize no classics or great literature is on the list (unless you care to stretch the definition by including C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”).

Those are the highlights. There were others (I usually go through one or two books per week).

— JIM LEWIN, owner, The York Emporium


(The Rev.) Bob (Hall) and I read a magnificent book this year that is life-changing called “The Magic” by Rhonda Byrne.

"The Magic" by Rhonda ByrneIn 2006, Rhonda Byrne came out with the very popular book and DVD called “The Secret,” a book and DVD about the law of attraction, which became our best-selling book ever at New Visions. This year, 2012, she came out with another book called “The Magic.” Bob and I both felt compelled to read it.

The book is all about gratitude. In the first chapter she explains the importance of gratitude, and that whatever you are grateful for, the Universe, through the law of attraction, must give you more of it. For instance, if you are grateful for the money you make, the Universe will return more of it to you. If you are grateful for good friends and relationships, the Universe must give you more of that. If you are grateful for front row parking spaces, the Universe will give you more of them, etc.

There are 28 exercises that she suggests you do that will instill living of life of gratitude, and ultimately your life becomes magical. She suggests that every night before you go to bed, you hold your gratitude stone and say thank you for the wonderful things that happened during the day.

The magic and the synchronicities that Bob and I, and many others who have read the book, are simply amazing. After reading the book and doing the exercises we find ourselves living a life of gratitude, and in turn, the Universe gives us magic. “The Magic” has been our best-selling book all year. We are grateful to Rhonda Byrne and we are grateful for “The Magic.”

— THE REV. BILL TRIVETT, co-owner, New Visions Books & Gifts


For me, there is no one favorite book. It would depend on genre, category, what sort of books you’re considering — I’ve got my favorite scholarly books on theology, my favorite political science works, my most-loved art-related books, etc.

Here are a quick few, though, that I love to tell about. I have special connections to a few, but I don’t think that’s why I chose them. All are non fiction. Favorite novels is a whole other subject…

“January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her” by Michael Schofield (Crown). This might have been the book I raced through the quickest — a true page-turner for me, except when I put it down to wipe my eyes or smack my head. A riveting read of young parents with a severally mentally disturbed child. What a story!

"The Exact Place" by Margie Haack“The Exact Place: A Memoir” by Margie Haack (Kalos Press). A wonderfully written memoir of a girl growing up in a rough home, in poverty, in very rural Minnesota. I’ll admit she’s a friend (and I have a blurb on the cover) but it truly is just wonderful, both entertaining and inspiring.

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf). We are proud to have discovered this early on — before Oprah! — and literally couldn’t put it down. What an adventure, and so well written. I loved her heart-felt book of tender (and very frank) advice column responses “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” (Vintage), although they are so vulgar at times, it is hard to recommend them to many ordinary folks. She is a beautiful, caring, good-hearted writer, though, and I’d read anything she does. The forward to that one by novelist and essayist Steve Almond is itself a great piece of writing.

“Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis” by Lauren Winner (HarperOne). Lauren has done readings in our store, and she is a breathtaking writer, really good at memoirs and eloquent, thoughtful essay. Here, she follows up her memoir, telling of the demise of her marriage, the lack of vibrancy of her faith (she tells of her conversion from conservative Judaism to Episcopalianism as a hip, young woman, in the very smart and moving “Girl Meets God”) The writing of this is literate and honest, good for anyone who has wondered if faith was real, if God was there, and if church activities were authentic, even in the midst of slow, hard times. A beautiful book.

“You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church…and Rethinking Faith” by David Kinnaman (Baker). Why 20-somethings who once were involved in churches ended up drifting away. Based on the largest amount of research yet done on this demographic, reflecting upon the stories told, and offering insights about what churches can do to retain their young adults. We brought David in to lecture on this right after the book came out, and attracted almost 400 folks.

"The End of Your Life Book Club" by Will Schwalbe“The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe (Knopf). Not as morbid as it sounds, when it becomes evident that the author’s mother is dying, they read books together — and this is the wonderful, wise, result. Mitch Albom calls it “a wonderful book about wonderful books.” Very, very good.

“Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me” by Karen Swallow Prior (L.S. Poetry Press). This is a memoir of a woman who is a literature professor, arranged around different books that shaped her life and faith. A memoir in the guise of book reviews? Book reviews with mostly her own story? Yep. Loved it.

“Love Does: Discover a Secretly Ordinary Life in an Ordinary World” by Bob Goff (Nelson). Readers of Donald Miller’s coffee-shop ruminations on faith may recall Goff, who shows up part way through “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” to help mentor Donald Miller. In this long-awaited book he tells tons of stories from his life as an international activist, do-gooder, justice worker, friend, prankster, and erstwhile follower of Jesus with a gigantic sense of humor. It is about the funniest book I’ve read all year, and probably the most inspiring. You won’t believe some of his crazy tales, from fighting child slavery in Uganda to pulling pranks on rich friends in NYC. Goff is energetic, optimistic, a born story-teller, and not the least bit cynical or ironic. He thinks God loves everybody, so he does too. And then he enjoys raising a ruckus to show it.

“Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work” by Timothy Keller (Dutton). We were invited to help launch this important book at a big event in Manhattan with the pastor as they gathered folks for a conference on Christian faith and its relationship to vocation, calling, career and work. What a great resource for people of faith to see how their convictions play out in the workaday world. One of the best books I’ve read on this topic, ever.

“How God Became King” by N.T. Wright (HarperOne) Wright is no doubt one of the most important Bible scholars and religious figures in the world today. We couldn’t believe we had the opportunity to host him lecturing on this book in the backyard of our store, where we had hundreds of guests, amazed that the famous former Anglican Bishop would visit Dallastown. He has many scholarly books and many less academic, and this one is just excellent, a good study of the four gospels and the Biblical theme of the Kingdom of God, and its relevance for people and society today. I read these sorts of books for a living, it seems, but this one truly stands out.

— BYRON BORGER, owner of Hearts & Minds


"The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty"“The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer. I had planned to skim through this book to refresh myself on some of the more fascinating events of the colorful Henry VIII reign. Instead, the book is so engaging, I can’t put it down, or skip a page. Meyer alternates chapters between the story of the Tudors, beginning with Henry VII, with interesting background information. For example, details on the lives of average English people. The story itself is tremendously entertaining.

— JOHN HILTON, Features


My favorite book of 2012 is “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce. Something about it struck a chord with me, perhaps because I am in the same age bracket as the main characters. But it’s also just a good story that pulls in the reader and doesn’t let go.

— TERESA COOK, Features


“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood — The scenario that Atwood devised scared me and enraptured me. Her story could actually happen in America, and like many other doomsday fanatics, I wanted more and more as I read. The thing is, this supposed change in history was quiet, came on through time, deceit and by many the citizens trusted. It was such a good book, I recommend it to everyone I meet.

"The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz — A bit vulgar at times, this story is from a heritage different than my own. Diaz pulls in many geek and contemporary references, which is why I think I loved it. Plus, many of the characters are around my age, so I could relate. Diaz has written a few more books and I can’t wait to read them.

“Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese — Again, another story outside my realm of experience, as two twin boys are adopted by hospital doctors after their mother, a nun, died in childbirth. The story is based in India. It was a very long read, but great nonetheless.

As far as comic books, I added a few to my list this year: “Punk Rock Jesus,” “Kill Shakespeare,” and “Saga.”

— BETHANY FEHLINGER, Features


I have to admit “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” by journalist Hanna Rosin, first provoked me with it’s doomsday title and bright yellow cover. But, after reading the narrative non-fiction book, released in September, I realized that the pages inside were much more compelling.

"The End of Men" by Hannah RosinThe book cites research showing how women are increasingly rising the ranks in work, education, households and relationships. Rosin spotlights specific females — students, career women and those in committed (or not-so-committed) relationships. But, it’s not what you think; it’s not an anti-men book. In fact, in some chapters, I feel like Rosin is writing to encourage men to get back out there, go after higher education and look for other work; and women to get back in touch with our nurturing side. But, the overwhelming idea is that women have switched the tables, taken on a more aggressive role in society and men are falling behind. Ladies are working overtime to get that dream job but still making time to have kids and make dinner.

As a 22-year-old working female, I felt a connection and resonance to the women Rosin featured and the stories they shared. I thought the book was strong enough though that it would be interesting to those outside of the 18-to-35-year-old female demographic.

— ASHLEY MAY, Features


Two books stood out as favorites in 2012:

"Bright Shiny Morning" by James FreyThe first was “Bright Shiny Morning” by James Frey. I’ve been obsessed with Frey since the whole “A Million Little Pieces” Oprah debacle. While his morals are questionable, Frey’s writing is fabulous and “Bright Shiny Morning” is no exception.

Broken into small vignettes, the book bounces around Los Angeles, focusing on a a number of well-developed plot lines. From a teen runaway to a first-generation American to a washed-up put-put course owner to a closeted movie star, Frey does a phenomenal job of transporting you into the lives of the each of his characters as their story plays out on the page.

The other was “How To Be A Woman” by Caitlin Moran. Described by Vanity Fair as “the British version of Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants,’” Moran takes a crass, but honest, look at modern-day womanhood. On her website, Moran says the book follows her from “her terrible 13th birthday (‘I am 13 stone, have no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me’) through adolescence, the workplace, strip-clubs, love, fat, abortion, TopShop, motherhood and beyond.”

Be prepared to both laugh out loud and cringe at Moran’s brassy commentary.

— APRIL TROTTER, Features


"Devil in the White City" by Erik LarsonFiction: “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towels (June 2012). If you love F. Scott Fitzgerald, this is the novel for you.

Non-fiction: “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon” by David Grann (2010) and “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America” by Erik Larson (2004). Two great reads for history and/or journalism junkies.

— ERIN McCRACKEN, Features


I have three that come to mind:

“When She Woke,” by Hillary Jordan: A futuristic take on “A Scarlet Letter,” but instead of being pregnant, the protagonist is labeled a criminal for her abortion. In jail, they change people’s skin color to signify their crimes, and then release them back into the world. It’s a quick read and truly surprising.

"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed: Strayed’s mother dies, and she quits her job to hike the Pacific Crest Trial. I’m no avid hiker, but I was spellbound by this author’s need to find herself and her mother after her death. I can’t imagine that I could do something like that, even in a state of such grief. It was inspiring.

“The Leftovers” by Tom Perrotta: If you’re reading this, the world didn’t end like the Mayans thought it would. And if you’re enthralled by end-of-the-world stories, pick this up. I loved how Perrotta didn’t focus on how or why people disappeared in the rapture — but how those left behind coped with the loss. It’s a touching book about loss and grief, which sadly is all too common in the world these days. I found it simple, brilliant and touching.

— KATE HARMON, Metro


On Facebook
Earlier in December on the York Daily Record/Sunday News Facebook page, we asked for your favorite reads of 2012. Here are some of the comments:

Jennifer Boger: Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy!!
Brian Albin: Eat and Run by Scott Jurek
Kimberly Carlo: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
Ashley Yingling Fleshman: mists of avalon marion zimmer bradley
Nicholas Spolarich: In cold blood – Truman capote (an oldie but a goodie)
Megan Erickson: The Book Thief – best book I read this year and one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life.
Pam Westbrook: The Racketeer by John Grisham
Melissa Urey: The Hunger Games Trilogy!
Penny Shellenberger: Any John (Sanford)
Gwen Fariss Newman: The Help by Kathryn Stockett. will make you laugh – and cry
Marissa McFarland: The Shoemakers Wife by Adriana Trigiani.
Amanda Knudson: Saving Max by (Antionette) VanHaugen…. omgsh it will boggle your mind! Great psychological thriller.
Julie Brose Delozier: The Light Between oceans
Deanna May Rye: Facebook by everyone in the universe its a never ending story of everyones sad and hopeless lives
Abbie Milcoff: Both Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth were great!
Morgan Riebel: “Lets Pretend This Never Happened” by Internet blogger Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess
Anne Fonda: Re-read “The Hobbitt”
Rhett B Lowry: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Debbie Redelberger: A new day by Ann Goering. The 2nd book in the Glendale series
Nicholl Kapp: Pandora’s Seed
Kelly Smith Groft: The Rose Triology by Beverly Lewis
Nicole Lewis Eckersley: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
JoAnn Paules: I’ve been reading books by indie authors for over a year now and have read some terrific books. It’s tough to say which one was the best because I read several different genres. If I had to pick one (actually two), it would be the first two books of The Owl Wrangler Trilogy by William Vaughn. It would be much easier for me to list the worst book I read this year. That would be Alice in Zombieland by Lewis Carroll and Nickolas Cook.
Amanda Long: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
William Vaughn: Thanks, JoAnn. As soon as I get out of the hospital (again) I hope to get back to the third…
JoAnn Paules: Healthy heart vibes headed your way! Not just because I want book 3 but because I care about you!
William Vaughn: Thanks. Your flattering comments about The Owl Wrangler helped end a pretty tough day on an upbeat.
Donna Smeltzer Starner: Bitter Blood
Adam Marcini: The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas. The best revenge novel of all time.
Doreen Snyder: The Passage by Justin Cronin.
Bonnie Ewell Hedrick: 50 Shades Trilogy
Tabatha Turnbaugh Taylor: Dracula and The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe

About Sarah Chain

I'm an avid reader and book lover living and working in downtown York. Follow me on Twitter at @sarahEchain.
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