Books

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 Amazon.com 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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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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