12:47 pm - 12/07/2012

New York Times' 10 Best Books of 2012



By Hilary Mantel.
A John Macrae Book/ Henry Holt & Company, $28.

Taking up where her previous novel, “Wolf Hall,” left off, Mantel makes the seemingly worn-out story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn newly fascinating and suspenseful. Seen from the perspective of Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless maneuverings of the court move swiftly to the inevitable executions. Both this novel and its predecessor were awarded the Man Booker Prize. Might the trilogy’s forthcoming conclusion, in which Cromwell will meet his demise, score Mantel a hat trick?

By Chris Ware.
Pantheon Books, $50.

Ware’s innovative graphic novel deepens and enriches the form by breaking it apart. Packaged in a large box like a board game, the project contains 14 “easily misplaced elements” — pamphlets, books, foldout pages — that together follow the residents of a Chicago triplex (and one anthropomorphized bee) through their ordinary lives. In doing so, it tackles universal themes including art, sex, family and existential loneliness in a way that’s simultaneously playful and profound.

By Dave Eggers.
McSweeney’s Books, $25.

In an empty city in Saudi Arabia, a ­middle-aged American businessman waits day after day to close the deal he hopes will redeem his forlorn life. Eggers, continuing the worldly outlook that informed his recent books “Zeitoun” and “What Is the What,” spins this spare story — a globalized “Death of a Salesman” — into a tightly controlled parable of America’s international standing and a riff on middle-class decline that approaches Beckett in its absurdist despair.

By Zadie Smith.
The Penguin Press, $26.95.

Smith’s piercing new novel, her first in seven years, traces the friendship of two women who grew up in a housing project in northwest London, their lives disrupted by fateful choices and the brutal efficiency of chance. The narrative edges forward in fragments, uncovering truths about identity and money and sex with incandescent language that, for all of its formal experimentation, is intimate and searingly direct.

By Kevin Powers.
Little, Brown & Company, $24.99.

A veteran of the Iraq war, Powers places that conflict at the center of his impressionistic first novel, about the connected but diverging fates of two young soldiers and the trouble one of them has readjusting to life at home. Reflecting the chaos of war, the fractured narrative jumps around in time and location, but Powers anchors it with crystalline prose and a driving mystery: How did the narrator’s friend die?



Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.
By Katherine Boo.
Random House, $27.

This National Book Award-winning study of life in Annawadi, a Mumbai slum, is marked by reporting so rigorous it recalls the muckrakers, and characters so rich they evoke Dickens. The slum dwellers have a skillful and empathetic chronicler in Boo, who depicts them in all their humanity and ruthless, resourceful glory.

Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.
By Andrew Solomon.
Scribner, $37.50.

For more than a decade, Solomon studied the challenges, risks and rewards of raising children with “horizontal identities,” traits that they don’t share with their parents. As he investigates how families have grown stronger or fallen apart while raising prodigies, dwarfs, schizophrenics, transgendered children or those conceived in rape, he complicates everything we thought we knew about love, sacrifice and success.

The Years of Lyndon Johnson.
By Robert A. Caro.
Alfred A. Knopf, $35.

The fourth volume of Caro’s prodigious masterwork, which now exceeds 3,000 pages, explores, with the author’s signature combination of sweeping drama, psychological insight and painstaking research, Johnson’s humiliating years as vice president, when he was excluded from the inner circle of the Kennedy White House and stripped of power. We know what Johnson does not, that this purgatory is prelude to the event of a single horrific day, when an assassin’s bullet placed Johnson, and the nation he now had to lead, on a new course.

The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.
By David Nasaw.
The Penguin Press, $40.

Nasaw took six years to complete this sprawling, arresting account of a banker-cum-speculator-cum-moviemaker-cum-ambassador-cum-dynastic founder. Joe Kennedy was involved in virtually all the history of his time, and his biographer persuasively makes the case that he was the most fascinating member of his large, famous and very formidable family.

An Existential Detective Story.
By Jim Holt.
Liveright Publishing/W. W. Norton & Company, $27.95.

For several centuries now, thinkers have wondered, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” In search of an answer, Holt takes the reader on a witty and erudite journey from London to Paris to Austin, Tex., as he listens to a varied cast of philosophers, scientists and even novelists offer solutions that are sometimes closely reasoned, sometimes almost mystical, often very strange, always entertaining and thought-provoking.

What are your reading? What is your favorite books of 2012?
heleypenely 7th-Dec-2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
Yeah I didn't mind so much the lack of romance because I was just trying to get my head around the other stuff going on. I'm hoping the third book will be less wordy, but it might be a good idea to take a break from it if you're not following. My attention waned way too much while I was reading I'm surprised I finished it. In saying that though, I did actually like it once I got through the end.
sunktheglow 7th-Dec-2012 07:29 pm (UTC)
I'm one of those people that likes complex stories, but if they're too out there, I need to review several times before I get it. I'm thinking the best thing to do is start over from the beginning (Smoke and Bone beginning) since it's been a while since I read it. My experience should be a little bit better then.
heleypenely 7th-Dec-2012 07:42 pm (UTC)
Complex stories can be really rewarding, it's just when I get lost among too many confusing details or when I plain just don't understand something is when I start to lose concentration. A reread sounds like a good idea. I'll probably do the same when the third book comes out because knowing me, I'll have forgotten everything about the second book by then.
splendidlure 7th-Dec-2012 07:45 pm (UTC)
yeah. I wish Laini would release her books sooner. :( The wait between two books was so aggravating. Hope the next book will be released sooner than fall.
heleypenely 7th-Dec-2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
I had completely forgotten about the second book until it was out so I completely agree. But then there's a few series that I feel this way about too.
splendidlure 7th-Dec-2012 08:32 pm (UTC)
I read that the next book doesn't come out until 2014. That's an even longer wait. :(
heleypenely 7th-Dec-2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
Oh really?? Geez I assumed it would be around this time next year but 2014 is ages away. A reread will definitely be in the plans then.
splendidlure 7th-Dec-2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
Hopefully, it will released in January 2014 so it won't be too much of a wait. Then it will follow the pattern of 1 year and 2 months. Day of Starlight and Blood was released in November(2 months after the September release of Daughter of Smoke and bone).
heleypenely 7th-Dec-2012 11:24 pm (UTC)
Fingers crossed for that then.
splendidlure 8th-Dec-2012 07:04 am (UTC)
I am in love with this review for the book: http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/days-of-blood-and-starlight/
The writer articulately expresses how well written the series is.
heleypenely 8th-Dec-2012 09:33 am (UTC)
That's a great write-up. It highlights all the things in the second book that I did really like and in a way that I found myself nodding in agreement with. I went through some of that writer's other blog posts too because I liked that article so much so thanks for that!
sunktheglow 7th-Dec-2012 07:46 pm (UTC)
Agreed! I definitely don't mind complexity (I mean, Inception was dope, but I had to watch it three times to really get it), but I think the way the chapters were interspersed was really confusing. I think I would have probably had an easier time if there had been, like, a location indicator at the front of each chapter so I could have gone through and read those chapters in order, if that makes sense? It would have been easier for me to understand.
heleypenely 7th-Dec-2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
That makes sense. The constant chapter changes grated on my nerves, definitely.
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