Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Books of the Year 2012

Today I want to celebrate New Year's Eve by listing the best books we've read in this, my peak reading year.  Never before and never again will I be able to read so many books in a year.  We've already posted our best 2012 Books On Books and Best Western Novels.  Here are the overall best in the other award categories:

Winner of the Best Memoir/Fiction Tandem Read of the Year Award was the duo of Pico Iyer's The Man In My Head and Scott Hutchins' A Working Theory of Love.  These two books were especially remarkable for their reflections on father/son relationships.

A Working Theory of Love also shares the award for Best Artificial Intelligence Novel of the Year along with Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.  Coincidentally I read the latter book right after posting about I Dream of Jeannie/Genie and electronic books (see this link).

The four best Music Books we read this year were:

1.  The First Four Notes: Beethoven's Fifth and the Human Imagination by Matthew Guerrieri.  The author connects the notes to many cultural icons, including Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.  Guerrieri got me listening to several associated musical renditions including the disco "A Fifth of Beethoven," the rap rendition, a piano solo arrangement, etc.  He discusses the Morse Code "V" but not the derivative pregnant pauses in the opening of the Dragnet theme ("Y" in Morse Code).  Oh, well, a very nice book, and Best Music Book of the Year.

2.  The Holy Or The Broken by Alan Light.  Because "Hallelujah" has the enduring and conflicted spirituality of so much of Graham Greene's fiction, I was compelled to listen to the song while reading Pico Iyer's memoir as well as when reading this interesting volume.  I naturally made a CD with different versions of the song, starting with Cohen's own, then covers by Jeff Buckley, Regina Spektor, and other vocals and instrumentals. 

3.  Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie.  Last year it seemed like every book on music concerned folk songs, but this year it was classical music.  Timeless stuff.  I enjoyed his earlier book about four Catholic authors.

4.  Carole King: A Natural Woman was the best musical memoir of the year (link to my review).

Best Literary Novels of the Year:

1.  A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Dubois.  A breathtaking novel about the persistence of love as a candle in the vast darkness.  I'm surprised that this novel does not appear on more best lists.  I read it twice.  Here is the thing that matters most: humanity's perseverance even against the Orwellian psychopaths, the enduring better angels of our nature to which William Faulkner referred in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

2.  A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins.  Once into the novel, the author wows you with the potential of his ideas.  A flawed protagonist we can root for despite his flaws.

3.  The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.  The first time through this novel I was only mildly impressed.  The second reading revealed a zen interpretation which I blogged about at this link.  And I blogged about my interpretation of the bookjacket art here.
4.  Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.  The author takes a novel to say what gets shouted down if plainly spoken.

5.  The Infinite Tides by Christian Kiefer (see my review here).  Mid-life crisis tale of the year. 

The Six Best Thrillers of the Year:

1. and 2. Cold, Cold, Ground by Adrian McKinty (link to review) and Target: Lancer by Max Allan Collins (link to review).  A tie between the top thrillers, both of which rise above genre. 

3.  Shake Off by Mischa Hiller.  Another nicely paced thriller that rises above convention.  Those in power use true believers for their own ends.

4.  HHhH by Laurent Binet.  The author makes us think about hype and history and the trouble with personally engaging the subjective past.

5.  Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr.  An interesting tandem read with HHhH.  This had a different feel from his other books in the series, but Kerr is always trying something new.  Earlier in the year, I reread Kerr's A Philosophical Investigation and reviewed it at this link.  

6.  Vulture Peak by John Burdett.  One of the best in the series, though I loved them all.  Quirky, picturesque novels with an ethical voice.

This year's Track of the Cat Award goes to Nelson Demile's The Panther, which, although not as funny as some of his other novels, showed a greater human complexity.  The Runner-Up Awards in this category went to A Smile on the Face of the Tiger by Loren Estleman and I Am An Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran.

In the Baseball Book of the Year categories, Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding won for Best Baseball Novel and  Damn Yankees: Twenty Four Major League Writers On The World's Most Loved (And Hated) Team, edited by Rob Fleder, won for the Best Baseball Non-fiction.

The Best Book On Economics 2012 was The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer (link)If you haven't read it yet, you should do so.

The Best Cosmology Book of the Year was Jim Holt's Why Does The World Exist?  The Best Philosophical Book of the Year was Cheryl Mendelson's The Good Life: The Moral Individual in an Antimoral World.  The Runners-up here were Daniel Klein's Travels With Epicurus and Shimon Edelman's new volume, The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About The Good Life.
We also enjoyed Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, as well as Oliver Burkeman's The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking.

The Best Tandem Read Novel/Science Award goes to Don Winslow's novel, Savages, read with John Coates' The Hour Between Dog and Wolf.  I blogged about it here and here.  Winslow had a prequel out this year but I haven't yet obtained a copy of it.

Last year's Best Awards lists are here and here.

Thanks to Largehearted Boy who includes us in his aggregate best lists at this link. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, the January edition of Books You Loved is open for entries. Here is the link Books You Loved January Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book/s you loved. Maybe this post? Cheers and Happy New Year!