Our Favorite Nonfiction and Biographies of 2012
The staffers of Fiction, Movies and Music and Adult Reference read a lot of books in 2012, and we thought we would share our favorites. Here are our picks for nonfiction and biographies:
“All there is: Love Stories from Storycorps’’ by Dave Isay
Love is found in unexpected places: a New York tollbooth, a military base in Iraq, an airport lounge. We encounter love that survives discrimination, illness, poverty, distance, even death.
Recommended by Haley
“Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity’’ by Katherine Boo
The Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post spent three years among the poor residents of a slum near the Mumbai International Airport.
Recommended by Trish and Nate
“A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors’’ by Peter Smith
In this series of funny, honest, and moving pieces, Smith, who spent part of his childhood in Libertyville, explores a few messy episodes from his own life.
Recommended by Sonia
“Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman’’ by Robert K. Massie
Massie presents a reconstruction of the empress's life that covers her efforts to engage Russia in the cultural life of Europe, her creation of the Hermitage, and her numerous scandal-free romantic affairs.
Recommended by Susie and Connie
“Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President’’ by Candice Millard
An account of James Garfield's rise from poverty to the American presidency, and the dramatic history of his assassination and legacy.
Recommended by Ellen
“Elsewhere: a Memoir” by Richard Russo
This is the famous novelist’s memoir of his life, his parents, and the upstate New York town they all struggled to escape. Anyone familiar with the Russo's fiction will recognize Gloversville, New York.
Recommended by Jane
“The Fry Chronicles’’ by Stephen Fry
The popular actor, comedian, and writer traces his unlikely Cambridge education, his relationships with such contemporaries as Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, and his hedonistic rise to stardom.
Recommended by Jane
“Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake’’ by Anna Quindlen
Quindlen writes about the lives of women today, looking back and ahead, and celebrating it all, as she considers marriage, girlfriends, our mothers, faith, loss, all that stuff in our closets, and more.
Recommended by Connie
“Mrs. Kennedy and Me’’ by Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin
Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent assigned to guard Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, went from being a reluctant guardian to a fiercely loyal watchdog and, in many ways, her closest friend.
Recommended by Jo and Connie
“Paris: A Love Story” by Kati Marton
In this remarkably honest memoir, award-winning journalist and distinguished author Marton narrates an impassioned and romantic story of love, loss, and life after loss.
Recommended by Jenny P.
“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’’ by Susan Cain
Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with the indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so.
Recommended by Andrea
“Steve Jobs’’ by Water Isaacson
A riveting biography based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years, as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues.
Recommended by Ellen
“Stories I Only Tell My Friends’’ by Rob Lowe
Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-seventies Malibu, where he embarked on his pursuit of a career in Hollywood.
Recommended by Connie
“Then Again’’ by Diane Keaton
The award-winning actress documents her rise from an everyday girl to an acclaimed performer while exploring her defining relationship with her mother and how their shared and separate dreams influenced their experiences.
Recommended by Connie
“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed
A powerful, blazingly honest, inspiring memoir tells the story of a 1,100 mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe, and built her back up again.
Recommended by Connie
The Best Nonfiction of 2012
I continue my quest to track down the best books of the year by looking at the nonfiction lists (Please see my previous post for best fiction.). The following is compiled from the 2012 best lists from Amazon, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, New York Times, Barnes & Noble, Book Page and the Washington Post. While several books stand out, no book made all seven compilations. For more information about the following books, click on the title to go to our library catalog.
Four books were mentioned five times:
1) Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. The Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post spent three years among the poor residents of a slum near the Mubai International Airport. The New York Times called it an “exquisitely accomplished first book. Novelists dream of defining characters this swiftly and beautifully, but Ms. Boo is not a novelist. She is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama. She makes it very easy to forget that this book is the work of a reporter. …. Comparison to Dickens is not unwarranted.”
2) "Mortality'' by Christopher Hitchens. When the author/journalist learned he had esophageal cancer, he spent the next 18 months until his death writing about the disease and his pending death. Kirkus Reviews described it as “a jovially combative riposte to anyone who thought that death would silence master controversialist Hitchens.’’
3) "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power'' by Jon Meacham. This is the latest biography of the third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence. The author won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2009 for “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. Joyce Appleby for the Washington Post wrote that Meacham “accomplishes something more impressive than dissecting Jefferson’s political skills by explaining his greatness, a different task from chronicling a life, though he does that too — and handsomely. Even though I know quite a lot about Jefferson, I was repeatedly surprised by the fresh information Meacham brings to his work. Surely there is not a significant detail out there, in any pertinent archive, that he has missed.’’
4) "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail'' by Cheryl Strayed. An Oprah Book Club pick, the author, who is devastated by her mother’s death and the end of her marriage, decides to hike more than 1,000 miles over three months. The Library Journal wrote that “She takes readers with her on the trail, and the transformation she experiences on its course is significant: she goes from feeling out of her element with a too-big backpack and too-small boots to finding a sense of home in the wilderness and with the allies she meets along the way.’’
Four books were listed four times:
1) “Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity’’ by Andrew Solomon. The author, who won the National Book Award for “The Noonday Demon’’ in 2001, interviewed more than 300 families that have exceptional children. Publisher’s Weekly writes, “Profoundly moving…Solomon’s own trials of feeling marginalized as gay, dyslexic, and depressive, while still yearning to be a father, frame these affectingly rendered real tales about bravely playing the cards one’s dealt.”
2) “Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956’’ by Anne Applebaum. The author, who won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for “Gulag’’, provides a sequel about the spread of communism after World War II. The Washington Post wrote, “One of the most compelling but also serious works on Europe’s past to appear in recent memory…In her relentless quest for understanding, Applebaum shines light into forgotten worlds of human hope, suffering and dignity.”
3) “Joseph Anton: a Memoir’’ by Salman Rushdie. When novelist Salman Rushdie was sentenced to death in 1989 by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the writer spent the next nine years in hiding, using the alias “Joseph Anton. “A harrowing, deeply felt and revealing document: an autobiographical mirror of the big, philosophical preoccupations that have animated Mr. Rushdie’s work throughout his career,’’ wrote Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times.
4) “Passage of Power: the Years of Lyndon Johnson’’ by Robert A. Caro. Caro’s fourth book in his LBJ series follows years 1958-1964. Neal Thompson from Amazon wrote, “Lyndon Johnson finally reaches the White House. At 600-plus pages, it’s a brick of a book, but it reads at times like a novel, and a thriller, and a Greek tragedy. Caro's version of JFK's assassination is especially chilling, and the characters—not just LBJ, but the Kennedys and the power brokers of Washington --are downright Shakespearean.’’
Eight books were named three times:
1) “Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama’’ by Alison Bechdel: A graphic novel follow-up to Fun Home with humorous stories about the author's mother.
2) “Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies’’ by Ben Macintyre: The work of six double agents helped Allied troops across the Channel on D-Day.
3) “End of Your Life Book Club’’by Will Schwalbe: A touching story about how a son forms a book club with his dying mother.
4) “People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo and the Evil that Swallowed Her Up'' by Richard Lloyd Parry: Follows a gruesome murder case in Japan.
5) “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis’’ by Timothy Egan: A biographical portrait of a famous photographer who photographed more than 80 Native American tribes.
6) “Social Conquest of Earth’’ by Edward O. Wilson: A groundbreaking book about evolution by a celebrated scientist.
7) “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic’’ by David Quammen: Tracks the animal origins of human diseases.
8) “Winter Journal’’ by Paul Auster: A memoir from an acclaimed novelist.
Thirty books made the cut two times:
2) “By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir’’ by Joe Blair
3) “Cronkite’’ by Douglas G. Brinkley
4) “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child’’ by Bob Spitz
5) “Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution’’ by Rebecca Stott
6) “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt’’ by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
7) “Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power’’ by Rachel Maddow
8) “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars’’ by Kurt Eichenwald
9) “God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine’’ by Victoria Sweet
10) “Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies’’ by Mikey Walsh
11) “Haiti: The Aftershocks of History’’ by Laurent Dubois
12) “Hello, Goodbye, Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings'' by Craig Brown
13) “Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’’ by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer
14) “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan’’ by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
16) “Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death’’ by Jill Lepore
17) “On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson’’ by William Souder
19) “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines - and Future’’ by Karen Elliott House
20) “Patagonian Hare: A Memoir’’ by Claude Lanzmann and John Gaffney
21) “Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy’’ by David Nasaw
23) “President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity’’ by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
24) “Quiet: Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’’ by Susan Cain
25) “Reinventing Bach’’ by Paul Elie
26) “Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age’’ by Richard Seaver, Jeannette Seaver and James Salter (not in catalog)
29) “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God’’ by T.M. Luhrmann
30) “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’’ by Jeanette Winterson
I hope this list gives you great reading and gift ideas. Do you have a nonfiction book that you think should have made the list?
Holiday Romantic Fiction
It’s the most wonderful time of the year again, and with it comes a crop of new holiday romantic fiction. I love diving into this genre in December! Here are some of my picks for this season:
What Happens at Christmas by Victoria Alexander
Publishers’ Weekly calls this book a “divine Christmas confection.” Camille, the widowed Lady Lydingham, hires a troupe of actors to impersonate her family and staff in order to win the affections of the mysterious prince Nicolai Pruzinsky. But her plans are thwarted by the surprise arrival of her long-lost love, Grayson Elliot, and all sorts of other unexpected events that complicate the farce. Witty and entertaining, this is an ideal light holiday book.
Angels At the Table by Debbie Macomber
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a new Debbie Macomber novel. The angels Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy reappear in this year’s book, as they descend upon New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve with an apprentice angel, Will, in tow. The novice angel spies a young couple in the crowd and assists them in a New Year’s Eve kiss. Then the love-at-first-kiss couple loses all contact with one another, and it’s up to the angels to set things right. This is a quick, heartwarming read that will bring joy to the season.
‘Twas the Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries
Pierce, the rakish Earl of Devonmont, wants nothing to do with his mother after being banned from his family’s estate for twenty-three years. But when he receives a letter from his mother’s companion, Camilla, telling him his mother is on her deathbed, he rushes to her side … only to discover that his mother is in perfectly good health. Rather than firing Camilla and returning to London, Pierce stays on the estate and growing increasingly interested in the young woman. Kirkus Reviews says the book is “an enchanting holiday charmer with a complex and captivating plot; characters that interact with emotional authenticity; and a rich set of conflicted, heart-tugging obstacles--all of which combine to provide a satisfying happily-ever-after set against a fun holiday backdrop.” I’m in the middle of it right now and can’t put it down!
Other titles on my list:
Last Chance Christmas by Hope Ramsay
Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight by Grace Burrowes
My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr
The Best Novels of 2012
Working at a library is a constant temptation for me. I always want to bring home just one more book to add to my ever-growing pile.
It’s especially bad when so many wonderful novels come out toward the end of the year. I’m sure this is a strategy by publishers who are hoping their authors will be fresh in reviewers’ minds when picking the best books of the year.
Now that many of the 2012 best book lists are out, I’ve compiled some of them to see if a few titles stood out among the thousands that were reviewed in the last 12 months. I used the lists from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Book Page, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the New York Times and the Washington Post. This blog entry will focus on fiction, and I will do another entry later featuring nonfiction. For more information about the following books, click on the title to go to our library catalog.
Sixty-two titles were named at least twice, while no title made all eight lists. Four young adult books were named, reflecting the growing interest in the genre that is not just for teenagers: "Ask the Passengers'' by A.S. King, “The Fault In Our Stars’’ by John Green, “Code Name Verity’’ by Elizabeth Wein and “Every Day’’ by David Levithan. One graphic novel, “Building Stories’’ by Chris Ware, also made the cut.
Some of my favorites that showed up on the lists included “Beautiful Ruins’’ by Jess Walter, “Flight Behavior’’ by Barbara Kingsolver, “Gone Girl’’ by Gillian Flynn, “Home’’ by Toni Morrison, “The Snow Child’’ by Eowyn Ivey, “Sandcastle Girls’’ by Chris Bohjalian, "In One Person'' by John Irving and “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’’ by Maria Semple.
Three books were listed six times:
1) “Bring Up the Bodies’’ by Hilary Mantel won the 2012 Man Booker Prize. It is the second in a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII, and the sequel to “Wolf Hall’’, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2009. Mantel delves into the relationships of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, and provides a captivating story about the downfall of Ann Boleyn. The Library Journal writes, “Mantel's crowning achievement makes Cromwell not just powerful but sympathetic. Mantel is a consummate setter of scenes: stunning, poetic descriptions are embedded in scenes of savagery and earthiness. The historical novel does not come any better than this. It will be as much of a success as its predecessor.’’
2) “This is How You Lose Her’’ by Junot Diaz provides nine interconnected stories about the power of love. Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008 for “The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.’’ Booklist writes, “Fast paced, unflinching, complexly funny, street-talking tough, perfectly made, and deeply sensitive, Diaz's gripping stories unveil lives shadowed by prejudice and poverty and bereft of reliable love and trust. These are precarious, unappreciated, precious lives in which intimacy is a lost art, masculinity a parody, and kindness, reason, and hope struggle to survive like seedlings in a war zone.’’
3)“The Yellow Birds: A Novel’’ by Kevin Powers, who is an Iraqi War veteran, tells the coming-of-age war story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive as their platoon is in the midst of a bloody battle. Author Tom Wolfe calls this debut novel "The ‘All Quiet on the Western Front' of America's Arab wars." The New York Times Book Review said this: "A first novel as compact and powerful as a footlocker full of ammo … Kevin Powers has something to say, something deeply moving about the frailty of man and the brutality of war, and we should all lean closer and listen."
Seven books were listed five times:
3) "Dear Life: Stories’’ by Alice Munro, the master of short stories, examines how a life can be changed by a chance encounter or an action not taken.
Six books were mentioned four times:
Twenty books were mentioned three times:
20) “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank’’ by Nathan Englander: A series of short stories that the New York Times calls "insightful and uproarious.''
Twenty-six books were mentioned two times:
6) “Book of Mischief: New and Selected Stories’’ by Steve Stern (not in catalog): A series of short stories.
I hope this gives you a lot of ideas for new books to read. Another list will be coming soon. In a few weeks the staffers from the Adult Services Department at the Cook Memorial Public Library District will share their best reads of the year. In the meantime, what were your favorite novels of the year?
--Jo Hansen, firstname.lastname@example.orgAdd a comment
November Displays at Cook Library
Here's what's new at Cook in November!
Check out this display for fun recipes the whole family can make and enjoy!
A great selection of public television series to curl up with on chilly November evenings.
A tribute to some of the luminaries we've lost in 2012.
Engrossing historical mysteries that will take you from Victorian England to colonial America and many other settings.
"Killer" romantic suspense!
If you have any other ideas for displays you'd like to see at the library, please contact me.
Add a comment