Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Best Books of the Year 2012

Another year has drawn to a close, and another year of reading continues to wind down. and various other publications have now released their own "Best of the Year" lists (albeit with books written in 2012 only).  Once again please remember these are books I have read this year but they are not necessarily written in 2012 - though many are:

Clive Cussler Award (Best Page Turner) 
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane - After a couple of stumbles (notably the "pulled punches" of his previous effort Moonlight Mile) Lehane returned to form with this fantastic sort of sequel to his historical novel The Given Day.  Instead of focusing on the characters from the previous book, Lehane strikes out to create new terroritory with a Godfather-esque tale that slowly and subtly twists and turns.  The novel is Lehane at his dark best and features a brutal sequence set in prison that shapes the remainder of the tale. 
Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger - As the baseball season wound down I picked up this gem from the author of the classic Friday Night Lights and was not disappointed.  Bissinger breaks down a three game series between the Chicago Cubs and Saint Louis Cardinals through the eyes of manager Tony La Russa.  The book goes inside the world of baseball amd allows an unforgettable and intimate glimpse inside a world often viewed as simple or mundane. 

James Patterson Award (Most Disappointing Books of the Year)
The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson - A horror classic and supposedly one of the scariest books of all time, this one actually read like a series of "and then...and then...and then..." and not one bit of it rang true in any way.  Ultimately incredibly disappointing, especially in the way Anson writes - without any tension or sense of terror. 
Snowblind by Robert Sabbag - Sabbag has to be complimented on one aspect of his book: it takes someone with great skill to make the story of a drug trafficker boring.  Zachary Swan was a drug dealer in the 70's who realized money could be made on cocaine...and then virtually nothing else happens aside from Sabbag's failed attempts at stylish writing. 

Harper Lee Award (Best YA / Female Authors)
Divergent / Insurgent by Veronica Roth - After finishing The Hunger Games one must turn to other dystopian YA series and Roth's is one of the best.  Her books are fast paced, interesting and twisty. 
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo - Dark, serious and powerful, this is a book that stays with you after you have read it.  Unlike other dystopian thrillers, this one is set in a world we do not recognize and one undergoing a transition to a new era.  Bardugo gets a lot of credit for literally manifesting the darkness in the world into a physical place ominously called "the fold".

Bill Simmons Award (Best Sports Books)
Richer than God by David Conn / Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby - Two sides of the same coin, Conn's book owes a great debt to Hornby's classic of the sport, and then becomes almost the sequel Hornby never wrote.  Both authors wrote about their teams (Arsenal and Man City) and both covered their own, autobiographical rises in relation to their love of said team.  Where they differ is Conn's attempt to understand the world of football beyond his own small sphere.  He examines the oil sheik who bought the squad and the impact of money in the world of the game.  Two incredible reads by any estimation.
The Dream Team by Jack McCallum - A whimsical and interesting look at the 1992 Olympic basketball team (with many parallels to the 2012 squad) this is a great, lighthearted read. 
The Best of Down Goes Brown by Sean McIndoe - In what could have easily been a series of blog posts (and is) the author elevates his material by being absolutely hilarious.  A quick and funny read for all those who miss the game we all love during this awful lockout.

David Simon Award (Smartest Books)
Supergods by Grant Morrison - A brilliant look at how superheroes reflect and shape our culture, Morrison's book is not an easy read.  It is however a rewarding one: challenging, complex and utterly fascinating this is a worthwhile book to understanding just why superheroes have been around for such a long time.
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Keen - Imagine sitting in Grade 9 Science class and having to learn about the periodic table.  Now imagine learning it is completely awesome thanks to Keen's great book which is interesting and enlightening about the elements we absolutely need and do not really know. 

The Best Books of the Year
(A Quick Note: this list does not include Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn simply because I absolutely could not decide on the book.  Did I love it?  Did I hate it?  I simply cannot come to any final thoughts on it, but I did read it and acknowledge that it exists)
5. The Twelve by Justin Cronin - Like the first book The Passage this one is a post-apocalyptic story set after a virus radically changes twelve death row convicts (and one scientist).  Just like the previous book, Cronin shapes and molds a world that has fallen apart in absolutely breathtaking style.  In the hands of a less skilled writer this would have fallen apart completely but Cronin is such a great writer that the world he creates is beautiful and haunting.  His book deepens and complicates the world he created before and is so heart wrenching and sad that it makes up for a challenging (and chaotic) ending. 
4. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - A stunning book that evokes the best of Harper Lee, this novel (the first of a series) is a powerful book about being an outcast and fighting to fit in.  Add a gothic setting and mystery and it all adds up to a wonderful novel.  The love story at the center of the story manages to be so real and tragic that the book elevates and challenges the reader to put it down. 
3. On Writing by Stephen King - A book about the ins and outs of writing that is actually good and readable?  You had better believe it, especially when it is written by Stephen King.  Absolutely fantastic.
2. Fever Pitch
And the best book of the year is:
1. The Last Policeman by Ben Winters - Many authors have tried their hand at post-apocalyptic tales that detail a world and civilzation jarred to a brutal end through some kind of devestating catastrophe.  Many authors have written hard boiled noir so dark, complex and thrilling that it is virtually impossible to put down.  Then there is Ben Winters who has written a flat out brilliant novel that sets a noir mystery against the backdrop of a pre-apocolayptic world slowly consuming itself and its citizens.  What Winters does is create a world held together by duct tape, and a man struggling to do the same within himself.  All his main protagonist has ever wanted is to be a policeman and now that he is getting his chance the world will be completely destroyed in six months.  The book moves through one haunting scene of desperation, decadence and devestation to another and all along the policeman keeps plugging along, following his instincts to solve a crime where the outcome does not matter.  Amidst all of this is a series of conspiracy theories and the frightening destruction of our society, piece by piece.  The book sticks with you long after it has been read, and Winters writes with such an emotional and deadpan style that perfectly gibes with the world falling apart.  One scene however sticks apart from all others: the policeman awakens one more to a vibrating rumble and believes the asteroid coming to Earth has arrived early.  His heart wrenching panic and the complete disintegration of his carefully constructed composure falls apart completely as the true horror of his future washes over him completely.  Then he realizes his phone is ringing.  He pulls himself back together, but it is still simply by bits and pieces that are barely hanging on.  What happens to the world when there is no hope, none at all.  As Winter's elegantly notes: some fall apart while other struggle to hold some sense of order together, no matter what the cost. 

No comments: