Best books 2012.

Position:Book review

A look back at our favorite books

Literary Fiction

Arcadia

By Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff's first novel was The Monsters of Templeton (**** SELECTION May/June 2008). Here in her second novel, Bit Stone is the first child born in the upstate New York commune of Arcadia, whose settlement of Free People espouses "Equality, Love, Work, Openness to the Needs of Everyone." The story of Arcadia--and its lasting influence on Bit--unfolds as he struggles to understand himself and his unusual heritage. (May/June 2012)

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At Last

By Edward St. Aubyn An earlier novel in the Patrick Melrose series, Mother's Milk, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. As a young boy, Melrose was repeatedly brutalized by his sadistic, pedophile father. His mother offered no protection. On the day of her funeral, he reflects on his own life--one filled with drugs, alcohol, and infidelity--and wonders if he'll ever be able to escape his parent's terrible legacy. (May/June 2012)

Beautiful Ruins

By Jess Walter

Former journalist Jess Walter is the author of The Zero (2006), a National Book Award finalist. In his latest, a beautiful American actress arrives by boat in a remote Italian coastal town in 1962. She has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and hurriedly ushered off the set of Cleopatra, her big-screen debut with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. But her illness doesn't make sense, and an idealistic hotelier who has fallen in love with her journeys to the film set in Rome to uncover the secret of her exile. (Sept/Oct 2012)

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

By Ben Fountain

Ben Fountain's debut novel tells the story of eight soldiers returning from Iraq as heroes. Now on a Victory Tour, they find themselves, on Thanksgiving Day, slated alongside the pop group Destiny's Child as halftime entertainment for a Dallas Cowboys game. In this microcosm of contemporary America, one of them--Billy Lynn--learns some truths. (Sept/ Oct 2012)

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Bring Up the Bodies

By Hilary Mantel

* BOOKER PRIZE

In Hilary Mantel's previous Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall (**** SELECTION Jan/Feb 2010), Thomas Cromwell rises to become the most influential advisor to King Henry VIII. In Bring Up the Bodies, Anne Boleyn (wife number two) has failed to give Henry VIII a son, and the king vows to get rid of her and court, in her place, the demure Jane ("plain Jane") Seymour. (July/Aug 2012)

Canada

By Richard Ford

Ford is best known for his Frank Bas-combe trilogy, whose second volume, Independence Day (1995), won the Pulitzer Prize. In Canada, life changes for 15-year-old Dell and his twin sister, Berner, when their parents wind up in jail. Berner flees their home, abandoning Dell, while Dell is whisked away to Canada to live with a dark, mysterious man. (July/Aug 2012)

The Stranger's Child

By Alan Hollinghurst

Alan Hollinghurst won the Booker Prize in 2004 for his novel The Line of Beauty (**** SELECTION Jan/Feb 2005). Here he imagines an iconic poem, "Two Acres," that is known to every Englishman. Hollinghurst dramatizes several generations of English life by connecting them to efforts to uncover the origins of the poem. In the process, he sketches out a secret gay history of modern English literature. (Jan/Feb 2012)

The Cat's Table

By Michael Ondaatje

In 1950, 11-year-old Michael takes a three-week journey aboard a cruise liner from Sri Lanka to join his mother and start a new life in England. As we gradually come to realize that the adult Michael is telling the story, the novel's vignettes take on a greater significance in a book about how some rites of passage never really end. (Jan/Feb 2012)

The Dog Stars

By Peter Heller

Peter Heller is an adventure writer, and this is his first novel. In a postapocalyptic Colorado, a devastating flu killed 99 percent of the human population nine years ago. After the loss of his pregnant wife, Hig spends his time guarding his stash of food and weapons from intruders. One day he boards his Cessna with his dog and ventures out into the great unknown--and to the point of no return--in the hopes of, just possibly, love and friendship once again. (Nov/Dec 2012)

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Gods Without Men

By Hari Kunzru

In 2003, Hari Kunzru was named one of Granta's best young British novelists. In his new novel, a mysterious rock formation in the Mojave Desert continues to attract those searching for answers to life's mysteries. Over 200-plus years, Kunzru explores our search for higher meaning and salvation. (May/June 2012)

Half-Blood Blues

By Esi Edugyan

Canadian writer Esi Edugyan's second novel, Half-Blood Blues, won the Giller Prize and was a 2011 Booker Prize finalist. At the onset of World War II, the Gestapo raids the club where a famous jazz combo is playing and takes away its young Afro-German trumpet player, Hieronymus Falk. People come to believe that he perished in a concentration camp. In 1992, two of his former bandmates learn that Falk is alive and waiting in Poland to see them. (July/Aug 2012)

A Hologram for the King

By Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers took the literary world by storm in 2000 with his debut, the best-selling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. In this novel a divorced and unemployed middle-aged American businessman has one last hope: to sell a lucrative IT contract to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. Day after day, he and his staffers travel to the remote site of the planned King Abdullah Economic City, but the king fails to arrive. (Sept/ Oct 2012)

How It All Began

By Penelope Lively

British author Penelope Lively has written more than 20 novels, including Consequences (**** Sept/Oct 2007) and the Booker Prize--winning Moon Tiger (1987). In this novel, when a retired English teacher is accosted by a 14-year-old mugger and breaks her hip, her convalescence sets in motion a chain of events that will have lasting effects on those around her. (Mar/Apr 2012)

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