Monday, December 17, 2012

Best (and Worst) Books of 2012

According to Goodreads, I read fifty-three books this year. That's somewhat low considering that Goodreads doesn't list all books--especially literary magazines--so I know I read several more. Also, my eighteenth-century fiction class monopolized much of my reading time these past few months as we had to read a couple very lengthy novels in addition to a couple average-sized ones. The point being that, besides offering excuses for why I didn't read more books this year, there's never enough time. Common knowledge, of course. Also, I didn't include a chapbook category this year, because evidently I didn't read any. For previous best-of lists, see 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008

Best Novel

Preceded by MLKNG SCKLS (PGP, 2009), which is great in its own right, Justin Sirois's Falcons on the Floor, written with Haneen Alshujairy, focuses on Salim and Khalil, who, during the siege of Fallujah, escape up the Euphrates to avoid the battle. On foot, they must contend with the elements, lack of supplies, and the fact that everyone they encounter could be their undoing. During the journey, Salim writes to a girl on his dying laptop, which adds another dimension to the narrative. There's a lot to like here: the characterization of Salim and Khalil, the compelling plot, and, in the end, the masterful rendering of what it's like to see someone through someone else's eyes. Yes, Falcons on the Floor does have its share of flaws, like any novel, but I highly recommend this engaging, engrossing read. 

Honorable Mentions: Paula Bomer's Nine Months (Soho Press), Mickey Hess's The Nostalgia Echo (C&R Press)

Best Short Story Collection

I named Tim Horvath's Circulation as the Best Chapbook of 2009, so when I first heard about his forthcoming collection, Understories, I couldn't help but eagerly anticipate it, knowing full well that such a level of anticipation often results in disappointment. Thankfully this wasn't the case with Horvath's book, because it's phenomenal. I especially like "The Understory," involving Heidegger, and "The Conversations." Every other story, including each of the "Urban Planning: Case Study" series, has a host of merits, and unlike many collections, Understories doesn't contain a loser among the bunch. Still, I must recommend checking out the chapbook version of "Circulation" as the format--book as object, as artifact--really complements the story, but it was nice to read it again here. Plus, including it in this collection ensures that more people will see it. Overall, a great book. 

Honorable Mention: Elizabeth Ellen's Fast Machine (Short Flight / Long Drive Books)

Best Literary Magazine

Sadly, after twenty issues, > kill author ceased publication this year. It's been one of my favorite mags since it launched in June 2009, and I've mentioned it in the Best Lit Mag category several times. What I will miss most, naturally, is the innovative work they published on a consistent basis. But, another aspect of the mag that continually impressed me is the site itself--the color scheme, design, and navigability. And, until recently, it was fun to think about who the editors were. Now we know the editor was Vaughan Simons, and we have him to thank for over three years of literary excellence. I hope the site lives on. 

Worst Book

I really wanted to like this book. I truly did. I enjoyed Boudinot's short story debut, The Littlest Hitler, and it still sits on my shelf today. I didn't like his first novel, Misconception, but thought that maybe it was a misstep in what would prove an otherwise solid catalog. So, when I read the title and saw the cover art of Blueprints of the Afterlife, I was immediately in. The description, which I'll let you read for yourself, only cemented this. As a matter of fact, a couple of times I posted about ordering it on this blog. Unfortunately, I hated it. As soon as I finished it, I got rid of it--what I do with all books I dislike--so I can't tell you much about why I hated it. I don't know if I simply prefer Boudinot's short work, or if TLH is an anomaly that he won't be able to live up to again. In any case, I'd avoid this one. 

Agree? Disagree? What were your favorites of 2012?

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