I feel like I read a lot of mediocre books this year, so I was happy when I scanned through my 2012 posts to find some pretty good books hidden among the dross. Several of them were audible books I listened to, a new format for me. I still listen mostly while walking, but I guess I am a convert, as I currently have six books on my iPod waiting to be "read."
House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. It's unlike me to pick a classic as my favorite novel of the year, but when I think back to what I read in 2012, House of Mirth and its central character, Lily Bart, come immediately to mind. Wharton perfectly captures the world of wealthy New Yorkers in the early 20th century; similarly, we understand exactly the choice that Lily must make in order to maintain her status in that social world--Lily must marry for money. Yet she just cannot force herself to do it, sabotaging herself each time she is close to an engagement. And the final outcome can only be tragic.
Honorable Mention: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell; Faith, by Jennifer Haigh; America, America, by Ethan Canin; History of Love, by Nicole Krauss; The Story of Beautiful Girl, by Rachel Simon.
Sister, by Rosamund Lupton. No other mystery came close to Sister (and I read quite a few that I didn't bother to write up on the blog). It was well-written, cleverly structured, scary, and moving. The book recounts what happened from the time Bee learned that her sister Tess was missing and boarded a flight from New York to London through Bee's unraveling of the mystery of Tess's death.
Best Short Stories
War Dances, by Sherman Alexie. I didn't read too many short story collections this year, but War Dances, which includes poems and brief prose pieces as well as short stories, would be a worthy selection whether I had read two collections or two hundred. Alexie's vision is dark and humorous; most of his stories are about men, many about men and their fathers. Parts of the story "The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless" were so well written and so spot on with their description of the function of popular culture in our lives that I literally thought, "This might be the perfect story" while reading it.
Life on the Line, by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. I'm a bit surprised to find myself listing this book as my favorite nonfiction book of the year, but it's the book I talked about the most and remember most vividly--perhaps in part because I really did not care for chef-author Grant Achatz. But his story, particularly the story of his battle with tongue cancer, was compelling and even inspiring. His co-author and partner in his renowned Chicago restaurant business, Nick Kokonas, kept Achatz's arrogance from becoming overwhelming. It's definitely a book worth reading.
Honorable Mention: Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson; Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell; When Women Were Birds, by Terry Tempest Williams.
As usual, I didn't read as much poetry as I think I should have. However, both collections that I read--The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni and Good Poems, American Places (selected by Garrison Keillor) were wonderful and I highly recommend them both.
Also as usual, I continue to find lots of great writing in magazines, although I don't keep track of magazine articles I have read (perhaps I should). If you're looking for examples, you might start with David Brooks's annual Sidney Awards (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/25/opinion/brooks-the-2012-sidney-awards-i.html?_r=0 and http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/opinion/brooks-the-2012-sidney-awards-part-ii.html).
Happy reading in 2013.