Leave Feedback

The Best Books of 2012

Tom Jackson • Dec 12, 2012 at 11:07 AM

For my "best books of 2012" blog posting, I followed the same rules as when I did a similar posting last year -- I asked writers and other readers for recommendations. I did not ask anyone to limit himself or herself to books that were published in 2012.

For a big list of "best of 2012" book lists, see this article at Largehearted Boy.

Tom Perrotta, novelist “The Leftovers,” “Little Children,” “Election.”)

My books of the year are "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by Ben Fountain, a brilliant satirical novel about soldiers home from Iraq, being feted at a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game, and "Elsewhere," by Richard Russo, a moving memoir about his mother and his journey away from his boyhood home of Gloversville, New York.

Elinor Lipman, novelist ("The Family Man," "The Pursuit of Alice Thift")

"The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story by Joan Wickersham" (Knopf).   I was intrigued by the premise--that each short story in the collection had the same title ("The News from Spain"), and had heard nothing but raves from various writer friends.  I remember thinking when I read the first story, and thereafter, this book should be called, "This is how to write."  So smart, so beautifully observed and original.  Not an overstatement to call it brilliant, but deliciously so.

"May We Be Forgiven," by A.M. Homes.  (Viking) When I immerse myself in  a novel, it's always because I feel as if it's a life I am living and not just a book I am reading. I love all of this story's components and dilemmas, and its flawed characters and their obsessions.  The narrator is a Nixon scholar--another plus for a political junkie such as myself.  It's masterful writing, but accessible, engaging, and funny.

Ken MacLeod, Scottish science fiction novelist ("The Restoration Game," "Cosmonaut Keep.")

Iain M. Banks' latest Culture novel, "The Hydrogen Sonata," takes Subliming - the process, alluded to in earlier books but never explained, where an entire civilization bootstraps itself into immortal felicity - from off-stage to centre stage, while around it Banks juggles an array of spinning McGuffins into a neat, fast plot. Great fun.

"Dark Eden," Chris Beckett takes an SF cliche nobody uses any more: what if an isolated man and woman on an alien planet were to become the Adam and Eve of a new world? Well, for a start, their descendants would have lots of genetic defects ... The rest is likewise logical, and ruthless, but also darkly funny and full of character, colour, and incident.

David Hartwell, science fiction book editor (his authors include Robert Heinlein and Gene Wolfe, and he has edited numerous anthologies)

"The Weird," edited by Jeff VanderMeer & Ann VanderMeer. This a huge, ambitious reprint anthology of weird fiction, of the sort that is rarely

done in this new century. It is a milestone of the way in which we are thinking of weird fiction today, and a marker on the road to the future.

"Redshirts" by John Scalzi.  Funny, clever, entertaining riff on the cliche from "Star Trek." More than that for the attentive reader.  

Connie Schultz, syndicated columnist and author ("…and His Lovely Wife, a Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man.")

"Elsewhere" by Richard Russo.

"Master of the Mountain" by Henry Wiencek.

"My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns," edited by David Emblidge.

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple.

"The World We Found" by Thrity Umrigar.

Sherrod Brown, U.S. senator

A few of my top books for 2012 include Chad Harbach’s "The Art of Fielding," because I can’t resist the combination of great literature and baseball; "Home," written by Lorain’s own Toni Morrison; and Alexandra Horowitz’s "Inside of a Dog," which I read to try to understand why our dog Franklin insists on chewing every pair of shoes in our home.

Other books I liked reading this year include "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein, "11/22/63" by Stephen King, "The Big Roads" by Earl Swift, "The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan, "Catherine the Great" by Robert Massie, and "In the Garden of Beasts" by Erik Larson.

JMR Higgs, British author ("The Brandy of the Damned," "KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money"

"The Tiny Wife," by Andrew Kaufman

A short novel and a simple blast of wild, aimless imagination. A cast of characters find their lives changing and becoming increasingly absurd in the aftermath of a bank robbery, during which the thief only stole items of sentimental value. The main plot concerns a wife and mother who wakes up a little smaller each day. It's the only book I'm aware of to feature a baby that shits money.

"Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error," by Kathryn Schultze

An examination of how and why we always convince ourselves that it is we who are right - and that it's those other fools who just don't get it. Schulze covers similar ground to Robert Anton Wilson, a favourite author of mine. However, while Wilson looked at the subject from a 1970s counter-culture perspective and produced insights that were very funny, Schultze has a more mainstream viewpoint and her insights are highly compassionate. I think the world would run much more smoothly if everyone had read this book.

Kevin Maroney, publisher, The New York Review of Science Fiction

"How to Sharpen Pencils" by David Rees

You know you NEED a hand-crafted pencil point to jot down notes on where to find the best designer salts. Rees, who threw the world a thin rope of angry sanity through his clip-art comic "Get Your War On," here takes on the world of artisanal crafts with the same blend of wonder and acid.

Arthur Hlavaty, prominent science fiction fan and blogger

This is the year I finally discovered Kim Newman's marvelous Anno Dracula series, an endlessly inventive alternate history in which Dracula and other vampires are real. There are three volumes so far — "Anno Dracula," "The Bloody Red Baron," and "Dracula Cha Cha Cha", with a fourth, "Johnny Alucard," promised for next year. In nonfiction, I enjoyed Anthony Heilbut's "The Fan Who Knew Too Much," an essay collection ranging from gospel music to Thomas Mann, both of which are gayer than most of us imagine.

Gary Acord, software developer.

"Quantum Psychology," Robert Anton Wilson. Because it forced me to pay attention to, and regularly evaluate, my thoughts and feelings. (As if Wilson was capable of, or inclined to, "forcing" anyone to do anything...)

"No God," Penn Jillette. Overall a hilarious read and at times surprisingly touching.  Incredibly thoughtful throughout.  Penn embraces his humanity in a way I can truly dig.

"Brandy of the Damned," JMR Higgs.  A fun read taking you into the perspective of each of the three main characters.  It also gave me a comforting concept on a way to deal with the death of a family member.

Ann Jackson, manager of technical services, Rocky River Public Library.

"Gone Girl" — Gillian Flynn.  Delightfully wicked.

"The Informationist" — Taylor Stevens. Vanessa Michael Munroe is one tough cookie.

"Broken Harbor" — Tana French.  Creepy and dark.

"The Butterfly’s Daughter" — Mary Alice Monroe. A girls’ road trip.

"Lone Wolf" — Jodi Picoult. A howling good read.

"Defending Jacob" —-William Landay.  Guilty, or not guilty?

Tom Jackson, reporter and blogger, Sandusky Register

"Thinking, Fast and Slow," Daniel Kahneman. Our huge capacity to deceive ourselves.

"The Freedom Maze," Delia Sherman. Excellent young adult fantasy novel about slavery in Louisiana.

"The Cult of the Presidency", Gene Healy. The imperial presidency and how we got there.

"The Brandy of the Damned," JMR Higgs. Fine start for a new novelist.

"A Renegade History of the United States," Thaddeus Russell. Unusual and eye-opening revisionist history.

"The Hydrogen Sonata," Iain M. Banks. Another absorbing story from the master of modern space opera.

Recommended for You