I'm lousy at resolutions. The best intentions in January usually give way to excuses by Feb. 1. The one resolution I did keep in 2012 was to read more. I still wasted too much time staring at the laptop, but I got better at turning off the television if there wasn't something specific I wanted to watch and picking up a book instead of a magazine before bed.
I read some great books in 2012. Here are a few of my favorites to consider for last-minute gift ideas.
BEST NOVEL I READ IN 2012: "Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk," by Ben Fountain. This National Book Award finalist distills the conflicting emotions surrounding the Iraq War with a sharp, satiric bite. A group of soldiers become media celebrities when an imbedded Fox News crew captures their actions during a firefight with insurgents. They are trotted for a publicity tour that culminates with a half-time appearance at a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving.
It's smart, insightful and often laugh-out-loud funny.
MOST ENTERTAINING NOVEL: "Gone Girl," by Gillian Flynn. I'm not alone in my affection for this book. It was a best-seller and is turning up on many year-end best-of lists. It's the story of a missing woman, and the chapters alternate between the voice of her husband, who is the prime suspect in her disappearance and an admittedly unreliable narrator, and excerpts from the journal she kept. The book is full of twists and surprises I wouldn't dare spoil.
FOR THE YOUNG ADULT READER: "Every Day," by David Levithan. This is categorized as young adult fiction, but like the "Harry Potter" and "Hunger Games" books, it will engage adults as well. The main character is A, a teenager who wakes up every day in the body of a different person around its age (A is genderless). One day A falls in love with the girlfriend of the teen whose body A is inhabiting that day, and A spends every subsequent day trying to reconnect with that girl in whatever new body A inhabits. Levithan finds a lot of heart in a high-concept story.
FOR THE MUSICIAN ON YOUR GIFT LIST: "Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll," by Joe Oestreich. I did a whole column on this book in June, but it's worth repeating. The story of Oestreich's band Watershed, a Columbus band that had a brief run on Epic Records in the mid-'90s but has toiled largely in anonymity ever since, may capture better than any other book the unbridled joy that comes from making music and the countless indignities that must be endured for those fleeting moments.
Music stores should include the book with every electric guitar and bass sold to a wide-eyed kid who sees those instruments as the key to untold wealth and fame. And if you buy the book, also pick up a copy of Watershed's latest CD "Brick and Mortar." It's one of my favorite albums of the year.
LEAST FAVORITE BOOK THAT I FINISHED: "Waging Heavy Peace," by Neil Young. Anyone who reads this space regularly knows my love of Neil Young borders on obsession. This autobiography is very much in the author's voice, but that voice is meandering, evasive and repetitive. His two releases with Crazy Horse in 2012, "Americana" and "Psychedelic Pill," are much better.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org