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Friday, December 28, 2012

The best of 2012 in books


by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian

Do you enjoy seeing the lists of the best books of the year?  I have always loved any kind of best-of, awards, or honor list.  There are just so many books, movies, television shows, and songs out there; I enjoy guides to the best ones.  And of course some of the fun is in the debate about what was chosen and what was left off.

There are many publications and companies that produce lists of their best books of the year.  Publishers Weekly, a trade journal for people who work with books, has a top ten list for the year, plus lists of the best in many categories, including lifestyle, religion, and comics.  Library Journal does the same, but with even more categories beyond its top ten, such as the best sci-tech, young adult literature for adults, and memoir.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune calls its end-of-year book list the holiday gift guide.  That’s uniquely useful to us because they include a list of Minnesota-related books.  And the major booksellers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, produce lists of the best books of the year that they publish on their websites.  You’ll find that we have many of this year’s most wonderful books at the Litchfield Library.  I will highlight for you a few that have been on more that one of these lists this year.

Minnesota author Louise Erdrich’s The Round House won this year’s National Book Award for fiction.  It was also featured by the Star Tribune and named by Amazon as one of the best of the year.  Sometimes compared with To Kill a Mockingbird, this novel tells a story of injustice and vengeance.  An Ojibwe woman is attacked on a reservation in North Dakota and is so traumatized that she will not share the details with anyone.  Her husband, a judge, is unable to bring about justice, so her teenage son sets out with his friends to find the answers. 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity won the 2012 National Book Award for nonfiction.  This is author Katherine Boo’s first book, although she writes for the New Yorker and has won a Pulitzer Prize.  Boo’s husband is from India.  The book tells the stories of people living in a slum next to the Mumbai International Airport, near new, luxurious hotels.  Boo spent three years reporting on the lives of this group of people, whose poverty-stricken existence we can hardly imagine.  This book is on nearly every “best” list of 2012.

Bring Up the Bodies is Hilary Mantel’s sequel to Wolf Hall.  It won the 2012 Man Booker Prize, which is a British book award, and it has been on most American lists of the best books of the year.  This is the second book of a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, but it can be read alone.  It focuses on the arrest, trial, and execution of Anne Boleyn from Cromwell’s point of view.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a modern novel about soldiers at a Thanksgiving Day football game at Texas Stadium.  They have become stars because of news coverage of their firefight with Iraqi insurgents, so they’re on a media tour to boost support for the war.  Billy Lynn and his squad mates rub elbows with wealthy businessmen, Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, a Hollywood producer, and Beyonce, while feeling painfully conflicted about the wartime experiences from which they have just returned.  Author Ben Fountain has been praised for this “inspired, blistering war novel” by the New York Times and others.

When you read one of those lists of the best books of the year and something intriguing catches your eye, take a look in our catalog or ask a librarian for help.  We’ll be happy to loan you a copy to read for yourself.