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The Best Fiction of 2012

Historical fiction, science fiction, graphic novels, anthologies, mysteries, satire, young adult, even poetry(!) -- on subjects from the lighthearted to the apocalypse -- our favorites from 2012 are as wide-ranging and diverse as our writers and our readers. Dive in and revel in the pleasure of getting lost in a good book.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world.”

– Albert Einstein

Books are listed in alphabetical order.

Book: The Age of Miracles

Author: Karen Thompson Walker

Publisher: Random House

Publication date: 2012-06


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The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker

Karen Thompson Walker certainly earned a lot of pre-release buzz for her debut novel, The Age of Miracles. The rights for this book sold at an auction for a seven-figure sum, which is a bit of an odd number for a publisher to bid on during these recessionary days, especially on an unproven talent, and the hype was enough to propel Walker onto the New York Times bestseller list. The build-up was generally worth it. The Age of Miracles is a touching literary slipstream story about what happens once the earth stops rotating at its usual rate. Days and nights turn longer, and daily routines are gradually disrupted. All of this is seen through the eyes of a young female protagonist, Julia, who must make sense of a world coming slowly unhinged just at the same time she’s reaching the confusing period known as adolescence. Science fiction purists have pouted that the mechanics of what happens once the earth gradually moves toward its standing still are a bit questionable, but they’re sort of missing the point. The Age of Miracles is a coming of age tale for a narrator who may never quite come of age, which makes for a chilling, thrilling read. There wasn’t a novel quite like The Age of Miracles in 2012, and we may never see another one quite like it – until, at least, Walker pens a follow-up. Zachary Houle

Book: The Annotated Emma

Author: David M. Shapard

Publisher: Anchor

Publication date: 2012-03


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The Annotated Emma
David M. Shapard

Reading David M. Shapard’s annotation of Jane Austen’s Emma is such an effortlessly enlightening affair that it might almost be easy to miss what a painstaking business it must have been to compile such a wealth of information. Anyone who has ever wondered why it’s so especially impressive for a family to own a barouche box will be delighted to read notes about several different kinds of carriages and their functions. The reader who has only thus far felt her way vaguely around the subtleties of class and status in Austen’s world will gain new clarity from the detailed descriptions of exactly where Mr. Robert Martin, gentleman farmer, stands in the Highbury social scheme, and why it’s so particularly insulting of Emma to make fun of Miss Bates, the late vicar’s spinster daughter. Austen imagined meticulously detailed microcosms of a living and breathing world that still bears so much relevance to our own as to be endlessly significant. Jennifer Vega

Book: The Annotated Sandman: Volume One

Author: Neil Gaiman, Leslie S. Klinger

Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

Publication date: 2012-01


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The Annotated Sandman: Volume One
Neil Gaiman, Leslie S. Klinger

As most readers of The Sandman are aware, Neil Gaiman draws equally from such disparate sources as African folklore, Shakespeare, Aleister Crowley, Roy Orbison, Jack Kirby, serial killers, Greek mythology, Dante, and the Bible. The Sandman focuses on the kingdom of dreams, and Gaiman, like a magnificently deranged Gnostic tour guide, spends as much time off-road, exploring the diversions, back roads, dives, and alleyways of his story, as he spends on the main highway, collecting data for a never-to-be-published Fodor’s Guide to the Dream World. Given the allusions and the many narrative twists and turns, it’s easy for readers to feel like they might be missing something. Enter Leslie Klinger. As with his lavish editions of Sherlock Holmes and Dracula, Klinger provides fascinating notes—in this case for the first 20 issues of The Sandman. The comics are reproduced in greyscale, but Klinger compensates with quality paper and a wide, charcoal grey margin for each page. The art still looks striking, and the lack of color actually complements Mike Dringenberg’s style. Klinger infuses his notes with a clear sense of voice and style, lacing them at times with a touch of humor not found in most reference works. Greg Carpenter

Book: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Author: Ben Fountain

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication date: 2012-11


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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Ben Fountain

In a development that was long overdue, 2012 was the year that the Iraq War finally became a topic that American novelists wanted to tangle with. One of the results, David Abrams’ Fobbit tried too hard to be the war’s Catch-22. Ben Fountain’s dark fantasia hits much closer to the target. Billy Lynn is a young Texan soldier who has just rotated back from Iraq with his squad. The novel takes place in a single day where Billy’s squad is being squired around Cowboys Stadium on the day of the big Thanksgiving Day game. They’re the heroes of the day because of a firefight captured on video that’s now in constant rotation on Fox News. The cheerleaders coo, fans offer wide-eyed platitudes, a movie deal is in the works, and in the midst of it all Billy is screaming inside. It’s an ugly time capsule from the peak of the country’s war-loving Freedom Fries period, slathered with comic horrors and the occasional short, sharp shock of piercing tragedy. Chris Barsanti

Book: Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories

Author: Sherman Alexie

Publisher: Grove

Publication date: 2012-10


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Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories
Sherman Alexie

What we have here is a collection of stories culled from the span of Sherman Alexie’s 20-odd year publishing career, with selections ranging from his very first book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, to “War Dances”, published just last year. For anyone who needs an introduction to this important writer’s work, there is no better place to start. Two things jump out at the reader making his/her way through this anthology: the recurring nature of certain themes, and the wide variation in style. Stories range from super-short, one- or two-page slaps like “Idolatry” and “Breakfast” to the 50-plus pages of “The Search Engine” and “Whatever Happened to Frank Snake Church?”—stories that are so loaded with incident and character that another author might have chosen to expand them into novels. The sudden fiction pieces act like fables, short sharp shocks that make a pithy point and move along, while the longer stories encompass a range of emotional response, usually including humor, sorrow, exasperation and some degree of heartbreak. This is an outstanding collection of stories by a masterful, and very important, storyteller. David Maine

Book: Bring Up the Bodies

Author: Hilary Mantel

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Inc.

Publication date: 2012-05


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Bring Up the Bodies
Hilary Mantel

The second installment of a trilogy from arguably the greatest living historical novelist delivers very simply much more of what made Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall the treat that it was. This Booker Prize-winning sequel (Mantel is the first British writer to win it twice) picks up the action with little time to spare, as Henry VIII’s advisor Thomas Cromwell spreads himself thin trying to keep his many businesses afloat, riding out the hostility of the once-powerful Anne Boleyn, his head connected to his body (not an easy thing amidst all the jealous nobles who resent this commoner), and the king from wrecking a nation that Cromwell is so ardently trying to modernize. It’s a rich, bloody, and intrigue-tangled tapestry of event and commentary, with Mantel tripping off to the side of the action just often enough to give readers a view of the inbred, mud-spattered Tudor village that is London at the time, without leaving us too long without the company of Cromwell. Mercenary, merchant, scholar, spy, nation-builder; by the time Mantel’s next novel comes along it will seem as though Cromwell was the man who created England. If the first two books are any indication, it’s a claim that will be easily believed. Chris Barsanti

Book: Carry the One

Author: Carol Anshaw

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication date: 2012-03


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Carry the One
Carol Anshaw

In recent years, if you think of an author who successful plumbs the depths of the inter-relatedness of family, you probably think of Jonathan Franzen. Well, it turns out there’s a new kid on the block (sort of; author Carol Anshaw has previously published other novels) and she has delivered quite the bewildering piece of fiction. Carry the One is the story of three siblings whose lives are intertwined throughout a 30-year period after a terrible car accident robs a young stranger’s life. The novel is certainly polarizing – read the reader reviews as proof of that – but Anshaw creates memorable, flawed characters that resonate. And the writing is very painterly and minimalistic to hypnotizing effect. Anyone interested in a novel about family affairs and is sick of Franzen should definitely give Carry the One a shot. You may find it absolutely mesmerizing. At least, I did. Zachary Houle

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