This is the time of year when “best book” lists are everywhere. Professional critics aside, the hallmarks of what makes a book stand out can vary wildly for individual readers. Recently, we conducted a staff “best books of 2012” survey, and while the results were scattered, there was one book that garnered multiple votes for best mystery or thriller. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn swept this category for its fast-paced, page-turning story featuring two completely unreliable narrators: a wife, who has gone missing, and her husband.
“Best book” declarations can be very subjective. There are times when I’ve come to a complete stop because of the sheer beauty of the way something has been worded. Authors who have repeatedly done this to me include Junot Diaz, Anne Enright, Karen Russell, and Deborah Levy, among others. A “best book” can be a book that has made me laugh out loud (“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” or “Bossypants”); or it can be a book that brings me closer to knowing myself. Often, a "best book" is one in which an author has created a world to which I am entirely transported. 2012 has been a year of stellar selections that have hit me squarely in the middle. Here are some of those books:
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple
Bernadette, a MacArthur genius grant winner and suburban Seattle wife and mother, has disappeared, and her daughter, Bee, is determined to find her. Princeton moms with affection for offbeat humor and satire will devour this book. Written by a former “Arrested Development” screenwriter, this quirky missing mom mystery will leave readers laughing out loud, and wanting more. From run-ins with the PTO to utilizing an India-based virtual personal assistant to her marriage to a Microsoft guru and TED star, Bernadette is a character readers won’t soon forget.
“Swimming Home” by Deborah Levy
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Deborah Levy plunges readers into this contained and controlled world that feels crystalline and surreal. Swimming in this dream world that is littered with sharp edges, and a steady, off-kilter, pulsing rhythm, there is a compulsion to follow the beats that propel you to its tragic end.
“The Forgotten Waltz” by Anne Enright
With adultery resulting in broken marriages as the pivotal plot point, “The Forgotten Waltz” brings to life characters that seem so authentic; it feels as though you know them even if you don’t like them. Enright does a breathtaking job of articulating gut-wrenching emotions and feelings that evolve in the complexities of love and interpersonal relationships.
What defines a “best book” for you? Let us know which books made your list.