Yikes! 2012 is over and 2013 is rapidly progressing. I guess it’s time to get my year-end (2012) favorites posted. It was tricky coming up with this list, because 2012 saw new works by three of my favorite authors: Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon, and Junot Diaz. Having a third of my favorites list taken up by perennial all-stars didn’t leave much room for everyone else. Accordingly, I’ll concede that those authors’ new books were among my favorites and continue on with my top 10 favorite books of the year that were not written by Eggers, Chabon, or Diaz. In no particular order:
City of Bohane byKevin Barry is my overall favorite read of 2012. From my review: “…muscular prose and a cracking story that doesn’t mess around. It demands to be read in a thick imagined Irish brogue with “an honest measure of John Jameson” within reach. And it’s got plenty of literary merit to back up the action. ”
My favorite came-from-nowhere read of 2012 is HHhH by Laurent Binet. I originally picked this one up after hearing some positive buzz , and it seemed like a good way to satisfy my goal of reading more translated books. From my review: “HHhH is a historical novel that very deftly explores all that is wrong with historical novels (and with historical narratives generally). It’s a novel that should not work – too self-aware, too gimicky, etc. Yet, HHhH not only works, it is one of the best books that I’ve read this year”
My favorite “holy crap” novel of the year was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. From my review: “Several times in the story you will say “holy crap”, out loud, when Flynn throws yet another unexpected bomb at the reader. I read this book in a day and a half. It only took that long because I had to sleep (at some point) and go to work. ”
My favorite non-fiction science meets art book of 2012 is Petrochemical America by Kate Orff and Richard Misrach. I haven’t reviewed this one yet, but it is simply amazing. Although called Petrochemical America, it focuses on the chemical manufacturing corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. This is, not incidentally, the geography of my family. The book features spectacular photographs (Misrach) and incredible infographics (Orff) that combine to tell a compelling story. The book is huge and very expensive, but its well worth its weight and cost.
My favorite book by an aging musical genius who may or may not be autistic is How Music Works by David Byrne. From my review: “For a particular type of music nerd, this stuff is pure gold. And I’m that kind of music nerd. And there’s more! Much more. The book is published by McSweeney’s and is thing of beauty. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy this one as an e-book.”
My favorite book by a rock star statistician is The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t by Nate Silver. I never got around to reviewing this one, but I had to pick it up after watching Silver’s amazing predictions for the 2012 election come to pass. The man knows his stuff. If you read this book, you will feel like a much smarter person as well — Grade-A New Year’s Resolution reading.
The novel that was the most fun to read this year was easily Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Sloan uses the best elements of the Cory Doctorow techno novel and adds humor, mystery, and a top-secret book society. And Google. Good fun.
My favorite novel in 2012 by a writer for Arrested Development is Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I almost didn’t read this one. I bought it as a present for my wife. She loved it and recommended that I read it immediately. I read it, loved it, and immediately handed it off to our friend Anne. It’s the 2012 pass-it-along novel of the year.
My favorite novel that I learned about from a Facebook update is Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk. I forget now just what the status update from my friend Todd said, but the book was in my Amazon basket five minutes later. A spectacular novel, perhaps even more so because it is the author’s first novel. This one is definitely worth an enthusiastic status update.
Rounding things out, if you’ll pardon the expression, is Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams. Breasts is a spectacular non-fiction look at important issues in environmental public health. From my review: ”Breasts is an endlessly fascinating and important book. I couldn’t stop discussing it with whoever was closest to me at any given time. According to my Kindle, I underlined 82 passages, which easily destroys my personal record for making notes in an e-book. Time will tell if Breasts will join landmark environmental books in the pantheon created by Silent Spring, but, to this reader at least, it has that feel.”