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BY NICO VREELAND

[As each year comes to a close, we ask our contributors to give us their picks of the best books that came out in the previous 12 months–and we let a few older ones slip in as honorable mentions.]



Fiction

The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt

The brothers of the title are Charlie and Eli Sisters, a pair of ruthless hired killers tracking down a fugitive inventor in the old West. The brothers are not anti-heroes or vigilantes or freedom fighters. They do not conform to an unconventional moral code, they conform to no moral code at all. But they are not sociopaths and deWitt’s nuanced characterization of such men makes this novel great. It’s also fantastically well-written, and funny to boot. This “revisionist Western” was well-received and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; it’s perfect for any Western or adventure fan with a tolerance for violence. (Full review)

Machine Man, by Max Barry

A thought-provoking absurdist adventure-comedy about a socially stunted engineer named Charlie Neumann who accidentally cuts his leg off in a lab accident. He becomes frustrated with his limited prosthetic, so he builds himself a new one, a very good one, a prosthetic so good that he cuts his other leg off so he can have two. Things only get weirder from there, but Charlie’s pitch-perfect voice keeps the novel grounded in humanity. An outstanding read for anybody. (Full review)

Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson, over the years, has transitioned away from tight, stylish novels like Snow Crash, and toward sprawling, expansive everythingscapes, like Anathem, and, most recently, Reamde. This latest features virtual worlds, Chinese gold farmers, ransomware, gangsters, terrorists, and much more. While its writing is not Stephenson’s best, he’s good enough to make even this slightly flabby thriller a great novel, if also an exhausting one.(Full review)

Love and Shame and Love, by Peter Orner

This novel in fragments covers the lives of three generations of the Popper family as they try (and fail) to hold on to love. It’s beautifully written, and while many of the brief chapters are tiny jewels, the artful gaps between them sometimes rob the larger narrative of its impact. If you like your reading material to ask a lot of you, this is your book. If you want lighter fare, this isn’t it. Orner, though, is one to watch. (Full review)


Nonfiction

You Are So Smart, by David McRaney

Freelance journalist David McRaney’s first book is part psychology survey, part self-help guide, and part humor column. Each of its 48 chapters details a different way in which our fallacious instincts deceive us. The result is a winning formula perfect for just about anybody who doesn’t have a psych degree. (Full review)


Late addition from 2010

The Dream of Perpetual Motion, by Dexter Palmer

In an alternate-history twentieth century, mechanical men perform nearly all the jobs in a futuristic city. Their creator, genius (and possibly insane) inventor Prospero Taligent, has also created a real-life unicorn and a zeppelin which runs on a tiny perpetual motion engine that might not exist. Against this backdrop, debut novelist Dexter Palmer tells a witty, mesmerizing postmodern sci-fi story, rich with invention and depth. A must-read for any fan of sci-fi or postmodernism. (Full review)

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