The Best Books We Read in 2012

Categories: Books

*****
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Fountain of Age: Stories, by Nancy Kress This collection of nine short stories and novellas feature not ray gun-wielding space rangers but business men, Jewish grandfathers and aging professors afflicted with future shock in a rapidly changing world. Kress' characters are realistic, and not just because a geriatric being uncomfortable with technology is a believable trope.

Themes of aging, genetic technology and a dash of surreal otherworldliness are a common thread through this collection of stories, all backed by a world and people that are familiar, but fundamentally changed by near-future science.

Ultimately each story makes for a satisfying read, altogether different from the epic sci-fi trilogies that tend to dominate the market. -- Alex Copeland, contributing writer

*****

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Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
A wife, Amy, disappears on the day of her five-year anniversary, leaving her seemingly uncaring husband, Nick, as the leading suspect. It's difficult to not associate him with Drew Peterson and other husbands-as-villains in the Nancy Grace spotlight, so it feels natural to assume his guilt. The chapters are split between the current story of Nick's investigation and the diary of Amy, chronicling her life from the moment she met Nick.

The first-person storytelling lets you see things from only the main characters' perspectives, which adds to the suspense and also makes the character seem very real and complicated. There are plenty of secrets revealed in the first half to keep you constantly surprised. But in the second half, the truth -- and real plot-changing twist -- will make you want to read it to the end immediately. And you might as well do it now, because there's already a movie in the works with Reese Witherspoon as the lead. -- Tracie Louck, art director

*****

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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson
The Warmth of Other Suns brings the story of America's great migration to light through a graceful combination of narrative storytelling and historical context. Told through the stories of three main characters -- Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster -- the story of some six million African-Americans' great migration north, from World War I through the 1970s, is told with startling intimacy.

Escaping the Jim Crow South for the possibility of something better -- true freedom and a chance at the American dream -- African-Americans from all walks of life risked everything, embarking on dangerous trips north, often leaving everyone and everything they knew behind. -- Jane LeBlanc, contributing writer

*****

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I Love You Through and Through, by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak (words) and Caroline Jayne Church (illustrations)
I read a lot of books in 2012. A ton of them. The publishing houses send them to our offices, and I always intercept the mail on my way to the bathroom, and go ripping through the envelopes from Random House and Knopf, taking the good-looking ones and leaving the boring-looking ones in the mail bin, oftentimes without bothering to throw out the scraps of envelope I've created in the process.

So, yeah, I'm an asshole, and I read a lot of books. But here's the thing: I have a kid. A new kid. Ten months old. So when I say I read a lot of books, I mean that I read the beginning of a lot of books. Like, the first three pages. Then I fall into blissful, long-awaited asleep. And by the time I get a chance to read again, usually three or four days later, there's a new book lurking on my nightstand, tempting me to crack its spine. This is the one that will out-duel my sleepiness, I think, and four pages later I'm walking through my middle-school quad wondering where my pants are. I'm honestly not sure I finished a book in 2012, with one exception:

I Love You Through and Through. It's my kid's favorite book. It seems weird to think that he can distinguish between it and the dozens of others he has stacked on the big red shelves in his room. He speaks almost no English and doesn't yet know a truck from an eyeglasses case. (He thinks both belong in his mouth.) But he loves that damn book. His face lights up when he sees it, and he grunts like a bull about to impale a tiny Spaniard.

Most books he paws at and chews on and spikes into the floor all Rob Gronkowski-like. But for this one, he just watches and listens and loves. I love your top side, I tell him, and bop him lightly on his head. I love your bottom side. Your inside, your outside, running, walking, laughing, talking, etc. etc. etc. He hangs, and often drools, on every word.

I'd quote more accurately -- it's a beautifully simple little book -- but we're heading on vacation tonight. The book is already packed away, deep, deep in the suitcase, where it's safe. -- Tone

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Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban
The book that really stuck with me this year was Russell Hoban's dystopian novel, Riddly Walker, first published in 1980. The entire novel is written in a strangely unforgettable invented language. Here's a sample scene: Two thousand years after a nuclear holocaust, humans in what was once Kent, England, are using crude hoists made of wood and rope to salvage buried machinery which they will then pull apart and use in some kind of bleak Iron Age barter. The scene:

We took up the slack then Straiter Empy give the syn and Chalker Matchman the Widders Dump 1stman chanting us on:

Gone ter morrer here to day

Pick it up and walk a way

Dont you know greaf and woe

Pick it up its time to go

Greaf and woe don't you know

Pick it up its time to go

Roun we gone with the roap winching in and the A frame taking the strain. Straiter Empy and Skyway Moaters leavering the girt thing wylst we wincht and Dad and Leaster Digman working the sling unner.

Sly and profound, Riddley Walker sticks to a reader's soul like glue. The trick later is not to break into that song 'round the Yule log, although it might be interesting to see who else knows it. -- Jim Schutze, columnist

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6 comments
JaimesonPaul
JaimesonPaul

The Art of Fielding was hands down the best fiction I read this year, while Live From New York owned my non-fiction list.

TLS1
TLS1

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.  Non-fiction that reads like a novel.  Unforgettable.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

If you enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy try The Rho Agenda by Richard Phillips.  It's a sci-fi trilogy and you won't be able to put it down.

danielslauren
danielslauren

War by Sebastian Junger was a haunting look at the war in Afghanistan. The Presidents’ Club was extremely insightful and, well, I learned a lot. But, The Last Campaign by Thurston Clarke about Bobby Kennedy was, hands down, one of the best book I’ve ever read and everyone else that I’ve convinced to read it agrees.

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