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BY SEAN CLARK

[As each year comes to a close, we ask our contributors to give us their favorite books from the past 12 months—and we let a few older ones slip in, too.]

2012 has been a tumultuous and extremely busy year for me, and my recreational reading pace has consequentially dipped below what I’m used to or where I’d like it to be. On top of that, none of the books I did read this year wowed me with a sense of lasting importance quite as much as I’d have hoped or have experienced in previous years. But there were a few that caught me by surprise and proved quite enjoyable. So, these are my picks for favorite books from 2012.

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The Twenty Year Death, by Ariel S. Winter

I had pretty low expectations for this ambitious title. A 700-page debut novel emulating three acknowledged masters of crime writing is a tall order. Winter pulled it off with aplomb, writing three distinct yet linked mysteries that shone–and for once a book actually delivered on the hype.

Read my review here.

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Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

I love McEwan, he’s one of my favorite authors, so I’m a little biased. This is not his best book (that would be The Cement Garden), but Sweet Tooth offers exactly what I want from McEwan, pristine writing and complex, compelling characters. I haven’t quite finished this novel yet, so the jury’s still out, but so far I’m content to include Sweet Tooth on this list.

Look for my review later this month.

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The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, by Mark Leyner

This quasi-epic-poem is not a book for everybody. It is a bizarre, at times difficult and obtuse read. But it’s also a brilliant piece of writing the likes of which doesn’t come around all that often. If you’re up for putting in a little effort, you find the experience rewarding.

Read my review here.

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Company of the Dead, by David J. Kowalski

Another one that caught me by surprise. While not  a technical marvel, the book overcomes writing that vacillates between pedestrian and slightly above average, with a fun, compelling, and at times quite complex time travel plot. If you want a quick, albeit lengthy, read about a time travel causality loop effecting an alternate history wherein America is occupied post-WW2 by Germany and Japan, give this a shot.

Read my review here.

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Honorable Mention: Dinosaur Art, by Steve White (ed.)

I started getting a number of review copy art books this year, a trend that I hope continues into 2013. While I really enjoyed Scott Campbell’s The Great Showdowns as well as others, this one nabbed my heart because well, it’s full of dinosaur pictures. There’s only one stegosaurus, which is a shame, but otherwise: stellar.

Here is my review.

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