Top 10 Books of 2012 Worthy of the Review I Never Got Around to Writing | Laura Hamlett

best2012 sqTo my credit, #1 & 2 were both borrowed from the library, not obtained from publicists, so I don’t feel quite as guilty about them.


1. Erin Morganstern | The Night Circus (Anchor; paperback)

I had a tough time choosing between Gone Girl and The Night Circus; ultimately, as this one was far more unique and creative, it won out. Trust me when I say you haven’t read a book like The Night Circus. Two young magicians are pitted against each other in a high-stakes, to-the-death duel, both part of a traveling circus that simply springs up, and then just as quickly disappears. Neighborhood kids are involved, unrequited love comes into play, and one young mystic must meet a fateful end. You will devour this book, again and again.

2. Gillian Flynn | Gone Girl (Crown)

I’m glad I read the book before I heard the hype. But you know what? Gone Girl is worth every bit of praise it’s received. Did Nick kill his wife, Amy, or did she simply run away? It’s a unique presentation of third-person, present-day narrative focused on Nick, and a tale of the past from Amy’s meticulously kept journals. No matter which side you believe, you’ll be surprised at the results.

3. Jacques Strauss | The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. (Picador)

Jack is a precocious 11-year-old living in apartheid Johannesburg. The novel’s first-person from his point of view is sharp and right on, despite his young age. The family has a black maid, Susie, whom Jack adores like a second mother—perhaps even more than his own distant mother, in fact. When Susie’s troubled teenaged son, Percy, comes for a stay, Jack is instantly jealous. When Percy catches Jack in an embarrassing moment, making fun of the boy and threatening to tell, Jack deals with the situation in the most logical way he knows: to fabricate a story about Percy and get him sent away. What initially seems to work soon backfires, as Jack’s lie ruins lives, and teaches him a hard, hard lesson.

4. Lorin and Sadie Stein (eds.) | Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story (Picador)

I’ll admit, this one was a bit distracting, as I was reading from an uncorrected proof that had more editing issues than normal. However, once I overlooked those minor distractions, I fell in love with the book. The premise is this: A contemporary writer introduces each story—all of them previously appeared in The Paris Review—and tells why it is important. The stories themselves are wonderful, but I wish the introductions were a bit longer.

5. Joseph Schuster | The Might Have Been (Ballantine)

This is a very, very good novel about baseball. I am not in any way a baseball fan, and yet I still greatly enjoyed it. It’s telling, too, that Schuster is a St. Louisan, an instructor at my now double alma mater, Webster University. You’ll immediately identify with Edward Everett (he has two first names), and feel his heartbreak as if it were your own.

6. Geoffrey Gray | Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper (Broadway Books; paperback)

You know the story: In 1971, a man skyjacked a Northwest Orient Airlines flight, demanding parachutes and $200,000 before jumping from the plane, never to be seen again. The way Geoffrey Gray chooses to present this well-worn tale is brilliant. Throughout the majority of the book, he weaves back and forth in time, between his own personal experiences and motivations in writing the account, to past accounts of the infamous D.B. Cooper, to police and media reports. Toward the very end, the book hones in on another writer out to prove the identity of the skyjacker, and works its way to the anticlimactic ending you know is coming. Still, it’s largely a creative and captivating effort, making me hope for another book-length effort from Gray.

7. Jonathan Lethem | The Ecstasy of Influence (Vintage)

Jonathan Lethem is a brilliant writer, as recognized by acclaimed novels The Fortress of Solitutde and Chronic City, among others. Ecstasy is a collection of his nonfiction, largely presented as random journal entries that at times only loosely flow together. That said, his writing is still solid—even if reading this book filled with his über-literary ideas did somehow make me feel somewhat stupid.

8. Paul La Farge | Luminous Airplanes (Picador)

Our unnamed protagonist has two mothers: Celeste Marie and Marie Celeste. The two are sisters, having slept with the same traveling con man while teenagers, a man who soon left town and not long thereafter died. The boy returns to his mothers’ hometown to tie things up after the death of his grandfather, where he soon remembers his crush on the Turkish neighbor girl, Yesim, as she has come home, as well. There commences a period of revisiting the past, uncovering long-held secrets, and finding direction for the future. A quirky cast of characters adds to the reading experience, although the resolution may not be entirely satisfying.

9. Jessica Dorfman Jones | Klonopin Lunch (Crown)

This one showed up unannounced, but I’m a sucker for a music-based memoir, so I dove right in. The story is this: Approaching 30, the wife of a mild-mannered (read: boring) husband indulges her wild side by embarking on a tumultuous relationship with her guitar teacher, Gideon. The book begins extremely strong, with some of the best-worded descriptions of lust and longing of recent memory: “This guy was sex. Not sexy. Actual sex. For the first time in my life I really understood what pheromones were all about. I fully appreciated what it meant to smell sex emanating from another person—not the remains of a sexual encounter but the indisputable chemicals that flowed out of his pores and made my stomach lurch and my palms clammy.” I eagerly kept turning pages through their hookup—and then the real “fun” began. Jessica is soon, by and large, living with Gideon, who has revealed himself to be a cocaine addict, a hobby in which she all-too-readily indulges. Meanwhile, her poor sap of a husband sits home alone, saying nothing. You’ll lose respect for Jessica before the halfway point, but the beginning firmly establishes her as a writer to watch.

10. Rachel DeWoskin | Big Girl Small (Picador)

High schooler Judy Lohden is growing up, ultimately having to face some hard truths about the world, and herself—that’s the big girl part. She’s also a dwarf—that’s the small. Also on the small side are many of the decisions she makes, putting herself in situations where you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she does not belong—yet, somehow, she doesn’t see this. Her expectations are too, too high, as well, especially when it comes to her fixation on the hottest boy in school. While the first-person narration sometimes bugged me, this was a good enough read to have warranted a few words. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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