Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Best books of 2012

Glancing through my Shelfari, some themes emerge around my favorites of the books I've read this year. If not otherwise noted, they are 2012 titles.


NW by Zadie Smith
Explores choices and identity as two childhood friends' lives move in different directions. Lots of local color from one of the most vibrant parts of my very favorite city.

Incendiary (2005) by Chris Cleave
I read all three of Cleave's novels this year, but this was the only one which blew me away. It's about a terrorist attack at a soccer match, and it was published the week of the Tube bombings, so I think it got a little lost in the aftermath.

Capital by John Lanchester
A sprawling novel about the investment banking crisis and its impact on one suburban neighborhood. I was rather desperate to read it after I read a review that said if a woman wrote it, it would be dismissed as chic lit, but as it wasn't, it was probably headed for a Booker. I do not regret paying for the shipping from the UK one bit.

The Northern Clemency (2008) by Phillip Henscher
Another big sprawling novel, this one about Sheffield in the 1970s. A family saga worthy of Maeve Binchy.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets (2006) by Eva Rice
A fabulous historical novel with a country mouse cast among debutantes in 1950s England. Sadly, it is Rice's only book.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Don't let the rather stupid cover art fool you, this book is a grown-up version of The Fault in Our Stars. Just where you think it CAN'T be going, it does, and Moyes carries it off.

Other Women (2005) Kirsty Crawford
Reminded me of Cathy Kelley -- the intersections of a trio of very different neighbors,  one of whom has just decamped to the county from London. A surprising twist at the end left me clinging to my copy all night until I could finish it.


My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
I heard about this one at the YA Lit Symposium, then got a copy at ALAN, where Backderf spoke. I am not into true crime AT ALL, but this is a gentle treatment of Dahmer's descent into isolation before he killed. And the illustrations are wonderfully 1970s in style, and drawn from Backderf's high school sketchbooks.

Little White Duck by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez
This memoir in graphic format was exceptional among the many, many books I read about China this year. I saw someone today on twitter say it was as narratively rich as many Newberies, and I agree.

Drama by Raina Telgmeier
I loved this glimpse behind the scenes at a production of a middle school musical. Telgmeier conveys the interpersonal angst of preteens so perfectly with her deft illustrations.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt (2011) by Caroline Preston
This Alex winner is charming, cobbling together text and ephemera for a vibrant sense of bohemian Paris in the 1920s.


Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
This was a banner year for middle grade readers. -- I'm thinking about See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles and Don't Feed the Boy by Irene Latham. But I think Liar & Spy transcends kidlit. It's as tight and as circular as When You Reach Me, but even better because it's not so strictly inter-textual. Everyone should read it.

Penelope by Rebecca Preston
Penelope is a Harvard freshman, and Preston nails all that entails in an idiosyncratic little novel.

Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived in That House (2010) by Meghan Daum
I read about Daum's work on The Billfold. She gives voice to the young women who seek to define themselves through their lifestyle with her peripatetic motion and palpable anxieties.


Money Boy (2011) by Paul Yee
I really, really wanted to know more about Chinese culture after reading this book. An immigrant boy whose parents discover his sexual orientation takes to the Toronto streets. The end is a little pat, but on the whole, I loved it.

The Fault on Our Stars by John Green
Did you hear it was Time's best book of the year? It feels a little bandwagon-y, but it is a great book. And it gets bonus points for excellent descriptions of Amsterdam.

Artichoke's Heart (2008) by Suzanne Supplee
I had somehow missed this sweet, funny, warm book. I heard Supplee speak and picked this one up just after, but I was thrilled it was already in the school collection so I don't have to surrender my copy. I loved Supplee's sense of place and the complexity of her characters.

A Plague Year (2011) by Edward Bloor
This account of the effects of methamphetamine on a Pennsylvania town is a hundred times better than anything else, nonfiction or fiction, I've read about addiction. It's downright eerie the way the characters start peeling off, joining the ranks of the pushers and users, and the violence escalates.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This is my favorite book of the year, hands down. I loved both the central characters, all the intrigue and most especially the World War II backdrop. I read the book the week it came out, then listened to the brilliant audio version. I want to give a copy to everyone I know, it's that good.
So -- not much nonfiction here. And nineteen books, like nineteen books in 2010, and seventeen in 2011. Telgmeier and Moyes recur from years past. I know what I like, as the saying goes.

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