- Stewart O'Nan's novella The Odds focuses on an unemployed couple who are just about out of options. Marion and Art Fowler are set to divorce on the eve of their 30th wedding anniversary, in order to protect what little assets they have left.
- Money woes and magical thinking are the dominant notes in Canada, a dazzling epic of family dissolution by Richard Ford. Set in 1960 in Montana and Saskatchewan, the story is narrated by 15-year-old Dell Parsons, whose parents hatch the bright idea of robbing a bank to pay the bills. Of course, they're quickly arrested and imprisoned, leaving Dell and his twin sister to fend for themselves.
- Junot Diaz's exuberant short-story collection This Is How You Lose Her charts the lives of Dominican immigrants for whom the promise of America comes down to a minimum-wage paycheck, an occasional walk to a movie in a mall, and the momentary escape of a grappling in bed.
- Katherine Boo's much-lauded book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, crowns this "best of the year" list in nonfiction. Based on three years of "embedded reporting" in the slum settlement of Annawadi adjacent to the Mumbai airport and its nearby luxury hotels, Boo's book takes readers deep into the subsistence-level lives of residents like teenager Abdul, a peddler of recycled plastic; and Manju, a dreamy young woman bent on becoming the settlement's first college graduate.
Now, I don't know about you, but I read to escape. Occasionally, I will read a non-fiction work that has sparked my attention (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Under the Banner of Heaven were two recent reads), but I am primarily a fiction reader. And my tastes vary widely, from fantasy to thriller to cozy mystery to straight up chick-lit.
However, I can say that I try to steer clear of books that make me wish they came with a razor so I can slit my wrists at the end. There are two books which come quickly to mind that made me feel like this: Zoya by Danielle Steele and White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I would be a better person today if I had never read these two books. I am sure there are more, like the mental damage that short story Guts by Chuck Palahniuk inflicted upon me, but these are the two that are on the top of my list.
So, with that said, here are my favorite books of 2012, recommended with great aplomb:
Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett - This book was at my grandmother's house and I had been interested in some time to read a book by Patchett. This is a heartwarming story of a difficult time in a girl's life.
Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz - The name of the protagonist alone is reason enough to read it, but you will want to read all in the series by the time you are finished simply because of the superb writing.
And Then There Were Two by Agatha Christie - Arguably the best and most well known of her works. Kept me guessing until the end!
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston - Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Should be required reading in schools.
The Call by Yannick Murphy - Loved the format of the book, which made reading a pleasure. I would consider this one a sleeper. By the time the book was finished, I loved the characters.
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer - The only non-fiction of the group, I recommend this one to lift the veil of ignorance many of us are under regarding Mormonism.
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley - This is a huge roller coaster of a book. Very well done and impossible to put down. This is the only book on the list that I stayed up in the wee hours reading because I had to know what happened next.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers - Winner of the Michael L. Printz and Coretta Scott King Book Awards, I recommend this one because of the way it is written. The story is not a happy one, but the format is intriguing and the ending is satisfying.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford - The only book on the list that made me cry. It is so beautiful and completely satisfying that I was fully invested by the end. I had to take a breather after this one, just to do it the honor of living in my soul a bit longer.
See? Not a single one here that will make you want to commit Hari Kari. There you have it! My recommendations to bring you out of your 2012 doldrums.