Saturday, January 05, 2013

Best Books of 2012 - Critics' Picks

Many readers eagerly anticipate the publication of the year’s “Best Books” lists.  We use them to inspire holiday gifts, set personal reading agendas, and compare our reading enthusiasms to others’.  (And we sometimes compare them unfavorably: “I am such a bad reader,” a friend exclaimed as she perused the lists.  I do NOT recommend this use.) 
I enjoy the selections of the Washington Post and the New York Times, and my reading often overlaps both lists (14 of the 50 New York Times’s Notable fiction titles this year, and 16 of the Post’s.)  I am sometimes surprised by their choices: I don’t think either Dave Eggers's A Hologram for the King or Zadie Smith’s NW belong in the Times’s top five.  I am no longer, however, surprised by how little overlap there is between the two lists. Only 18 titles appear on both lists of notable fiction, and the nonfiction lists share a paltry 6 titles.  Books that both the Post and the Times find “notable” must be notable indeed, and go immediately to the top of my to-be-read list if I haven’t already read them.  Here are the “doubly notably” titles for 2012:

Fiction (Books that appear on both the Times's and the Post's lists):
Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson
Arcadia, by Lauren Groff
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walters
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain
Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
Canada, by Richard Ford
Dear Life: Stories, by Alice Munro
The Devil In Silver, by Victor LaValle
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver
Gathering of Waters, by Bernice McFadden
Gods Without Men, by Hari Kunzru
Home, by Toni Morrison
NW, by Zadie Smith
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon
This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz
Watergate, by Thomas Mallon
The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers

(Books that appear on both the Times's and the Post's lists):
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, by Anne Applebaum
Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines - and Future, by Karen Elliott House
The Social Conquest of Earth, by E. O. Wilson
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham

(OK, maybe On Saudi Arabia won’t make it to my list. . . )

And for the third year, here is my own “top ten” list for 2012:

Arcadia, by Lauren Groff
Canada, by Richard Ford
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon
Wish You Were Here, by Graham Swift

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
The Lady in Gold: the Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, by Anne O’Connor
Life at Home in the 21st Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors, by Jeanne E. Arnold, Anthony P. Graesch, Enzo Ragazzini, and Elinor Ochs
One for the Books, by Joe Queenan
The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future, by Joseph Steiglitz

Next week - Best Books of 2012: RPL Readers’ picks (top books of 2012 based on circulation)

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