After considerable discussion and a semi-democratic voting process, we at Island Books have produced our list of the Top Ten Books of 2012. No such list is definitive, in the sense that there are always too many good books to choose from and too many different audiences ready to make judgments about them. This list is definitive in one sense, though--the books below are definitely outstanding.
It's a fairly eclectic group we've assembled, featuring comedy and drama in about equal measures. Settings range from the rainy Northwest to the sunny coasts of Italy to the realms of fantasy, and the authors (six female, four male) hail from all corners of the country (and abroad). Short stories take a share of space on the podium, and in an even rarer treat, some of the best fiction of the year is already available in paperback.
Gillian Flynn's novels have long been a favorite thrill ride for the staff at Island Books, but as soon as this one came out, word went around that it would take her and her fans to a new level. And judging by the response of our customers, we were dead right. Seems like half the island has already sampled this he-said/she-said mystery where you're never sure what (or who) to believe. If you haven't, what are you waiting for?
Jess Walter is a Spokane-based author whose only flaw is that he never writes the book you expect. He's mastered gritty suspense and domestic drama, but who knew that he'd turn to Italy in the 1960s for his latest fiction? The tangled lives of a dozen characters start entwining on the set of the legendary Liz Taylor/Richard Burton film Cleopatra, and the hilarious, poignant knots won't soon be unraveled--or forgotten.
Israeli author Etgar Keret is wildly popular internationally, and has a rabid, growing fanbase here in America. His offbeat tales of absurdity pack more laughs, pathos, and insight into personality into two pages than would fit into most encyclopedias. The stories in Suddenly, a Knock on the Door are like Halloween candy for the soul. Try one--like "What Animal Are You?"--and you'll find it so tasty you'll want to finish the whole bag at once.
Another Northwest author appears on the list, this time writing about her home state. At the very beginning of the 20th century, a reclusive farmer's peace is interrupted by the presence of two runaway girls desperate for his help. As a picture of a landscape and a way of life, The Orchardist is incredibly vivid, and as a story of human conflict and struggle, it's powerfully moving.
Given how popular young adult fiction has become for all ages of readers, we could (and probably should) create an entire top ten list just for that category. Regardless, John Green's latest novel deserves special mention for the way it treats heavy emotional issues with equal parts depth and humor. Young love discovered by the members of a terminal cancer support group may not sound like a promising topic, but this is a remarkably sensitive, engaging, and memorable novel that's well worth investigating whether you have teens or not.
There's a reader we know (no names revealed) who likes a lot of books but doesn't love many. When she says "this is the one," we always take notice. Sure enough, within a few months that book will be at the top of our best-seller list and we'll watch every book club on the island order it. This year The Round House, a quest for justice in the sacred space of a North Dakota reservation, was that book. And hey, the National Book Award jury agrees with her.
Sometimes an author has been around so long and has written so much that it's hard to appreciate how great she really is. Can you sum up a half century of work in one book? No. But you can do it in two. Ursula Le Guin, a near neighbor of ours (she's an Oregonian) has written fiction of the highest order in multiple genres for decades, and the best of her short stories have been collected in this book and its companion volume. If you want to hear more about them, read our blog entry, but trust us--she can do it all.
A businessman makes a last-ditch attempt to resuscitate his career by pitching a deal to a Saudi king, or trying to. If the king doesn't show, the man's financial house of cards will collapse, and so will his personal life. The novel is a microcosmic look at American economics that couldn't be more timely, and couldn't be more timeless in quality. A favorite of a whole cross-section of our staff, we blogged about it a few months back.
Alaskan native Eowyn Ivey was born into bookishness (her parents named her after a character in The Lord of the Rings). In The Snow Wife she takes the bones of a Russian fairy tale, in which a childless couple take in a fey orphan child, and fleshes it into something greater. It's a wonderful debut.
We really didn't mean to stack the list with local writers, but it looks like that's what we did. Maria Semple is a transplant to Seattle who's grown to love the town, but on her way to accepting it, she had to get used to quite a few of our Puget Sound peculiarities. That experience turns into spot-on satire in Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the story of one misanthropic woman's inability to cope with modern life and her resulting disappearance. Her daughter's trawl through mom's emails, memos, and other notes in search of her whereabouts becomes one of our favorite novels of the year. Semple's a blast herself, and her appearance here in the store was another one of the year's highlights for us.