Heidi’s Best Books of 2012

Heidi and Patricia pick their best books of the year, just in time for last-minute holiday shopping! Here are Heidi’s picks…

In a recent post on The Millions, Sheila Heti wrote “It’s a weird and tremulous thing to look at a list of the books you loved in a year — you see the inside of your mind and heart: what you were coping with in January, what mattered most in February and March, what you hope to be thinking about next year.”

As I put the finishing touches on this post, it struck me that my slate of best books of 2012 almost all center around characters facing pivotal life decisions. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it was a big year of big life decisions for me, as well. It’s strange to realize, after the fact, that your reading choices say a lot about who you are and what you’re going through. And so here they are, in no particular order:


The Yellow BirdsBest Debut: The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers

War fiction at its best – poetic, personal, elegiac. Written by an Iraq War Vet who will be on many literati’s radar from now on.



This is How You Lose HerBest short stories: This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz

It’s not an easy feat, but Junot manages to portray his philandering, doltish male characters as endearingly sympathetic.


WildMost deserving of its hype:

Janet Potter recently pronounced Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, this year’s Strongest Confirmation of Public Opinion, saying “Everyone is right. This book is great.” Patricia also praised this book in a similar fashion. I heartily second their endorsements. Just read it, already.


Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBest nearly plotless novel: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain is set at a bombastic Dallas Cowboys game where Billy Lynn and his army comrades are worshipped as war victors. Nothing much happens, but it will wrench your gut all the same.



Gone GirlMost appealing book to fans of both literary and thriller fiction: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn is tautly plotted and tightly written. Twisty and turny, with deplorable characters you can’t help but root for.



Tiny Beautiful ThingsMost likely to make you cry while vowing to make momentous life changes: Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed

There she is again! Who needs a therapist when you’ve got two books by Cheryl? This one is a collection of her Dear Sugar columns, originally published anonymously on the therumpus.net.


NWYou either love it or hate it award: NW, by Zadie Smith

I fell into the former camp, obviously. Yes, it was experimental and slightly uneven, but I was ultimately impressed by Smith’s ability to illustrate four characters’ struggles with identity and class in contemporary Northwest London.


Above All ThingsBest historical fiction: Above All Things, by Tanis Rideout

Based on the true story of British mountaineer, George Mallory – the first Westerner to scale Mount Everest in the early 1900s — and his wife, Ruth. The book simultaneously inspired me to start backpacking and also to vow never to set foot on a mountain again – it is that inspiring and that terrifying. Bonus: Tanis Rideout will be at the North Shore Writers Fest next April!


The Age of MiraclesBook that left me ruminating days after I put it down: The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

Subtle and poignant, the story of a future tween who must cope with the increasing drama of adolescence while the world around her literally slows to a stop. A coming of age story set in a scarily realistic speculative future.


The LifeboatMost harrowing book of the year: The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan

A tense and morally questioning tale of shipwreck survivors on the open sea. A perfect book club selection.



Beautiful RuinsBest narrative construction: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

Quite possibly the most perfectly constructed novel I’ve read in a long time. Walter dazzles with a kaleidoscope of stories – a love triangle between a young Italian dreamer, a Hollywood ingénue, and a smarmily charismatic fictional Richard Burton; a despondent musician and his playwright girlfriend; and a jaded Hollywood agent whose life takes a turn for the bizarre when her boss – a fossilized has-been movie producer – options a young hipster’s screenplay about the Donner Party. Yes, it’s funny. It’s romantic. It sounds and looks like a beach read. But underneath its many layers, this book illustrates how decay and suffering weather life and love into things of beauty. 


The Dog StarsBest Book of the Year: The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

Very rarely does a book meet my extremely high expectations. This one exceeded them. I fell in love with The Dog Stars, which could be described as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road if written by John Krakauer, with a slightly more optimistic take on the aftermath of apocalypse. 


Okay, people, what were your favourite books of 2012??




  1. Nice list! I can totally see how one person could read their way through this lot. I have to express my own surprise at The Age of Miracles — perhaps because I read so many coming-of-age during the apocalypse books and many have been more my taste. Either way, Heidi, it’s been nothing but a pleasure reading with you in 2012. I’ll read your Stars (The Dog Stars) if you read my (The Fault in our Stars).

  2. I can’t wait to read Fault in Our Stars… if I ever get through the massive hold list! (Maybe we need to loby for an extra copy). I think we both had really high expectations for The Age of Miracles… it was super hyped. It didn’t live up to the hype for you, but I think I was able to read it with fresh eyes. However, if I were to order the books from 1-12, with Dog Stars being one, Age of Miracles and The Lifeboat would be 11 and 12. So that says something.

    I agree, it was a true delight reading with you in 2012, Patricia. I can’t wait for our 2013 discussions, gushings, and arguments about books!!

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