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:
Best 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.
Best 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.
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.
Best 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.
Most 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.
Most 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.
You 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.
Best 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!
Book 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.
Most 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.
Best 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.
Best 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??