You have probably seen many of these lists, from the New York Times Ten Best Books of 2012 to the Millions’ Year in Reading series. (Both are highly recommended, by the way.) Not that my opinion is terribly important, but I thought I would contribute to the lists, as well, if nothing else because I read some great 2012 books, which deserve the publicity (albeit very minor) this blog provides.
Since it would be silly to say these are the “best” books of 2012—”best” is impossible to determine, and considering I’ve read only about 20 books that were published this year, I’d be hardly one to determine it—these are, then, my “favorites of the books I read this calendar year that also happen to be published in 2012.” Not quite as catchy as “Best of 2012,” but far more truthful.
Charlie and Sophie once dated; they broke up; now Sophie shows up at Charlie’s house, again, with a new history she won’t speak of. What Happened to Sophie Wilder is a story masterly told, and manages to rise about the typical ennui and navel-gazing of novels about writers. This book is more about the impossibility of connection with a single other individual, and with a faith—but the striving, and the creation, that is done to attempt it, anyway.
Alan Clay is on a desperate sales mission in Saudi Arabia, a country whose relationship to the United States, Lawrence Wright wrote in The Looming Tower, has always been strange: perhaps no two countries that are so unlike each other depend on each other more. Eggers’ has trimmed his style down, and the resulting oneiric tale is full of vivid images, unsettling actions, and unbearable sadness.
There is not much original in this book, but Cave, a former diplomat, has organized all of the existing outlooks on immortality into a beautiful, poetic, and comprehendible package. A must-read for anyone with his or her mind on the infinite. It is the most engrossing nonfiction book I read all year.
The Truth Book, by Joy Castro (Buy on Amazon) (Reissue)
Originally released in 2005, the University of Nebraska Press put out a new (and much more handsome) edition this year. Castro’s memoir is baffling and surreal, the kind of nonfiction that routinely makes you question whether it could all be true—the best purpose of memoir is to write about something that is so strange it seems fictional—in other words, this is the exact kind of nonfiction I love. (Full disclosure: I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow the new edition of this book from the author herself after writing a profile.)
Other Great 2012 Books:
The World Without You, Joshua Henkin (my review); Mortality, Christopher Hitchens; Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain.
Books I Haven’t Read: To provide some context, let me include another list of 2012 books I haven’t read or yet finished, which seem promising enough that they might have found their way onto one of these lists: NW by Zadie Smith; Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt; Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo; The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers; The Round House by Louis Erdrich.