The above is a photo of our desk at the office: perpetually covered in stacks of tottering books. Flat surfaces in our apartments don't look much neater. We're up to our ears in books, day in, day out, which is why we feel confident in telling you which ones this year were the best, including graphic novels, poetry, journalism, short stories and novels.
10) The Scientists
By Marco Roth
This memoir about Roth's father dying of AIDS is intensely personal without being revealing in an embarrassing or exploitative way. It is intellectual without being condescending and it does what the best memoirs do—show the human experience through a specific lens so that it becomes universal.
9) This Is How You Lose Her
By Junot Diaz
Diaz’s linked story collection centers on Yunior, the insightful Dominican-American philanderer who guided readers through Diaz’s earlier collection and his Pulitzer-awarded novel. Yunior’s voice seduces you with its mix of highbrow (an ambivalent lover “Bartlebys” a response) and colloquial (idiomatic Spanish and profanity), and his rutted road to redemption is comical and heartrending.
8) A Night in Brooklyn
By D. Nurske
A fine, vibrant collection of poems about the older, grittier, working-class Brooklyn that lies, Pompeii-like, under strata of memory and demographics. It's poignant without being mawkish, expressive yet austere, and sneakily subversive.
7) People Who Eat Darkness
By Richard Lloyd Parry
This well-reported, compulsively readable and amazingly titled exploration into the disappearance of a young English woman working in Japan educated us about many terrible things, from the ineptitude of Japanese police to the weird lives of foreign "hostesses," ripe targets for a serial rapist and killer who went unnoticed for decades.
6) Big Ray
By Michael Kimball
In this meticulously composed, compressed novel, the surviving son of an abusive, obese father sifts through memories and photos to process their complex relationship. Each phrase reverberates with multiple meanings, and while the tone is elegiac, Kimball avoids the maudlin through spare narration and an injection of humor (as in dead-dad and "yo daddy's so fat" jokes).
5) True Believers
By Kurt Andersen
Andersen's novel about 60s radicals all grown-up, in positions of power and grappling with their pasts is many things: a coming-of-age tale, a period piece, a mystery about politics, friendship, Occupy, James Bond and Type 1 diabetes.
4) The Devil in Silver
By Victor LaValle
LaValle takes you into the twisted world of a psychiatric ward, rendered all the more horrifying by the bison-headed creature that stalks its patients at night. So much more than your typical horror-thriller, the book explores the deep-seated fears and delusions that plague not just our society as a whole but also each of us at our most personal levels.
3) The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan, Vol. 1
By Scott McClanahan
Combining the short-story writer's out-of-print Stories I
and Stories II
, this collection provides an excellent introduction to the work of the best writer you don't know—yet. (Just wait for 2013!)
2) Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan
Sloan's first novel demonstrates the way technology and its opposite complement each other—it's an ode to both printed books and computers. Though at times a little clumsy, it's also a fast-moving adventure about friendship populated by lovable characters. We actually wept on the C train as we read its final pages.
1) Building Stories
By Chris Ware
This box set renders beautifully a devastatingly mundane life, finding space for an emotionally depressed apartment building and a neurotic bee trapped inside a window, headed for doom. Comprised of 14 uniquely formatted booklets that mix up past, present, and future at the reader’s whim, the most modern novel of 2012 is a very pretty box of comics.
Contributors: Zachary Gomes, Kristin Iversen, Jeff Klingman, Mike Lindgren, Penina Roth, Henry Stewart