Best Books 2012: More of the Best

After LJ’s editors chose our Top Ten of the year, we still some had titles we felt strongly about. Here are 16 more can’t-miss books from 2012.

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Crown. ISBN 9780307352149. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780307452207. PSYCHQuiet1217 Best Books 2012: More of the Best
This book makes me want to go on an unintrovert-like rant. Why is the world set up for loud know-it-alls? Why is brash all-roundedness emphasized in college when singular focus serves so well in many jobs and in relationships? Well, one reason is that even introverts don’t value introverted­ness enough, and everyone misunderstands what it is. Relating personal experience and backing it up with case studies and published research, Cain explains how the quietly confident can take over the world or at least become more content. (LJ 1/12)—Henrietta Thornton-Verma

Chabon, Michael. Telegraph Avenue. Harper: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061439334. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062124609. F
Set in the early 2000s in a fictional space somewhere between Berkeley and Oakland, CA, where longtime friends Achy Stallings and Nat Jaffe preside over a used-record emporium, Chabon’s grand, ground-changing work explores crucial issues of race, corporatism, and last-stand idealism. Rich, baroque language, multiple intriguing story lines, spot-on cultural details, and inevitable wit combine here with Chabon’s best attribute: a big, big heart. (LJ 8/12)—Barbara Hoffert

Edugyan, Esi. Half-Blood Blues. Picador. ISBN 9781250012708. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781466802841. F
Alternating between Berlin, and then Paris, on the brink of World War II, and a reunion 50 years later, Edugyan crafts a story in the spellbinding language of jazz, passion, jealousy, and loss, as Sid Griffiths of the Hot-Time Swingers remembers his band’s fate as it met the challenges of Nazi power and human frailty. Orange and Booker short-listed; Giller prize winner. (LJ 3/15/12)—Margaret Heilbrun

Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl. Crown. ISBN 9780307588364. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780307588388. F
Flynn’s twisty, trenchant crime novel about a woman’s disappearance, the mounting evidence against her husband, and the details of their disintegrating marriage has gotten plenty of attention and more than stands up to the hype. It’s a marvel of subverted genre conventions, brilliant writing, subtle characterization, and genuine surprises. The police, the public, and television crime shows all focus on Nick Dunne in the wake of his wife’s disappearance. He’s acting strangely and might be hiding something, but did he kill her? (LJ 3/1/12)—Stephanie Klose

French, Tana. Broken Harbor. Viking. ISBN 9780670023653. brokenharbor1217 Best Books 2012: More of the Best$27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101583753. F
Each of French’s four Dublin Murder Squad novels features a different narrator, a detective engaged in the most difficult or personal case of his or her career. In this expertly plotted police procedural that examines the human cost of large-scale economic failures, Scorcher Kennedy is tasked with solving the brutal murders of a family, as well as deciphering the odd, creepy circumstances in which they’re found. His efforts are complicated by his personal connection to the area where their half-built luxury development is located and that his emotionally fragile sister is coming apart at the seams. (LJ 5/1/12)—­Stephanie Klose

George, Alex. A Good American. Amy Einhorn: Putnam. ISBN 9780399157592. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101559895. F
This touching first novel by a British expat now living in Missouri traces four generations of one German immigrant family as they search for acceptance in America. (LJ 12/11)—Wilda Williams

Harris, Jane. Gillespie and I. HarperPerennial: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062103205. pap. $14.99; ISBN 9780062103215. F
Prefer to be slowly and subtly chilled, rather than thrown around by heavy-handed plot twists? Settle down with narrator Harriet Baxter in 1933 London as she recounts her friendship of many years past with Glasgow artist Ned Gillespie and his family. Orange Prize–nominated Harris’s second novel is a page-, heart-, and mind-turner. (LJ 3/1/12)—Margaret Heilbrun

Hassman, Tupelo. Girlchild. Farrar. ISBN 9780374162573. $23; ebk. ISBN 9781466801455. F
In this brutally realistic portrait of trailer-park America, Rory Hendrix struggles to survive poverty and abuse with advice from the Girl Scout Handbook, which she has checked out many times from the library. A heartbreaking yet humorous coming-of-age tale. (Xpress Reviews, 2/24/12)—Wilda Williams

James, Eloisa. Paris in Love: A Memoir. Random. ISBN 9781400069569. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780679604440. TRAVParisinLove1217 Best Books 2012: More of the Best
Literature professor and best-selling romance author James decided on a change following her bout with breast cancer, the disease that killed her mother. After selling their New York–area house and possessions, she and her husband and their two children moved for a year to Paris. With the same wit and urbanity that make James’s novels such delights, she here describes their time abroad, offering captivating perceptions of the sights, smells, and tastes of the City of Light and how her family members were affected by their time in this glorious city. (LJ 3/1/12)—Bette-Lee Fox

Joinson, Suzanne. A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. ISBN 9781608198115. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781608198320. F
“I may as well start with the bones,” observes Eva, who in 1923 is traveling with sister Lizzie to the Silk Road city of Kashgar, where they will serve as missionaries. Flash forward to contemporary London, where disaffected Frieda befriends a gentle Yemeni refugee and discovers her link to the sisters. In language that’s taut, piercing, and smartly observed, this atmospheric first novel reminds us to look out for connections and the odd twists of fate. (LJ 2/1/12)—Barbara Hoffert

Lawson, Jenny. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir). Amy Einhorn: Putnam. ISBN 9780399159015. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101573082. MEMOIR
A memoir about growing up poor in rural Texas and learning to live with mental illness doesn’t sound like a laugh-out-loud read, but Lawson, better known online as The Bloggess, has a way with gallows humor and a knack for providing nontreacly support to anyone struggling with loneliness, anxiety, chronic pain, or depression. Plus, after her stories about life with a taxidermist father, readers will never look at a dead squirrel in the same way.—Stephanie Klose

Osborne, Lawrence. The Forgiven. Hogarth: Crown. ISBN theforgiven1217 Best Books 2012: More of the Best9780307889034. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780307889058. F
In Osborne’s brilliant, unsentimental rendering of East-West conflict and the imperfect human psyche, there’s a lot to forgive and no easy wrap-up. Driving with his wife to a party of dissolute Europeans in the Moroccan desert, bilious Englishman David Henniger strikes and kills a young man, whose own dark past later unfolds for readers. Osborne does an extraordinary job of capturing moral complexity in a book that should be grim reading but is vivifying. (LJ 9/15/12)—Barbara Hoffert

Provine, Robert R. Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond. Belknap: Harvard Univ. ISBN 9780674048515. $24.95. SOC SCI
Psychologist and neuroscientist Provine looks at 13 curiosities of how humans function, from laughing and yawning to being ticklish and prone to emotional tears. Random oddities? No, each is an evolutionary inheritance. With wit, a light touch, and scientific expertise accessibly delivered, Provine gives us the fascinating backstory on each. (LJ 9/15/12)—Margaret Heilbrun

Walter, Jess. Beautiful Ruins. Harper: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061928123. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062098085. F
An American starlet flees the chaotic Roman film set of 1962’s Cleopatra for a rundown Italian seaside hotel whose young proprietor is instantly smitten; 50 years later, an elderly man shows up at a movie studio where an ambitious assistant to a legendary producer is enduring another Wild Pitch Friday. The versatile Walter connects these disparate characters with wit and empathy to reveal life’s “beautiful catastrophe.” (LJ 4/1/12)—Wilda Williams

Wa’Thiong’o, Ngugi. In the House of the Interpreter. Pantheon. ISBN 9780307907691. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907707. MEMOIR
Kenyan novelist Wa’Thiong’o (whose iconic A Grain of Wheat, about Kenya’s struggle for independence, I read in college) follows his memoir, Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir, with this story of his time in a British-style high school during the turbulent Mau Mau Uprising. As fluidly written as any of his other works, what’s striking about this book is how it captures the experience of double consciousness: Wa’Thiong’o’s simultaneous love for the British culture he imbibed in school and hatred for the British imperialism he experienced outside it.—Molly McArdle

Wasik, Bill & Monica Murphy. Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus. Viking. ISBN 9781101583746; ebk. ISBN 9781101583746. $25.95. MED
No dry medical tome, this book digs up the rabid origins of cultural fixtures like werewolves and vampires. Reaching back to ancient Babylon and the shores of Troy, Wasik and Murphy trace the path this terrifying virus has burnt through human history—while it is still a certain death sentence, the disease was nearly eliminated after Louis Pasteur and Émile Roux developed a vaccine in the late 19th century. Full of art, literature, and history, this is the perfect science book for humanities nerds. (LJ 6/1/12)—Molly McArdle

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