You already know Chis Ware's Building Stories is the achievement of the decade (thanks, New York Times!), but some other people wrote some pretty great books this year too.

Detroit City Is the Place To Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli (Metropolitan Books) :: Any city whose post-apocalyptic ruins lend themselves to misery tours and RoboCop sets seems hopeless. But Detroit native Mark Binelli — author of the excellent novel Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! — makes a compelling, darkly funny case that his calamitous hometown has some life in it still.

Familiar by J. Robert Lennon (Graywolf) :: The plot kicks off when the protagonist slips through a crack in the space-time continuum. By the time the reader is through, she'll feel like she has too. Lennon has rendered a magically compulsive and brilliant novel that combines elements of speculative fiction, postmodern zaniness, psychological realism, and the social novel — it's nothing less than miraculous.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions) :: Each of Elena Ferrante's novels has the ability to pummel the reader into a sublime despond. My Brilliant Friend, an allegory of postwar Italy, is no exception, but its sumptuous depictions of '50s Neapolitan village life provide a unique and glorious respite from complete devastation.

The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits (Doubleday) :: While serving as editor of The Believer, Heidi Julavits has managed to crank out incredibly smart and disquieting books every few years. The Vanishers, her latest novel — and her most accessible to date — is set at a college for psychics; it offers a half-surreal meditation on female friendship and feminism's ritual matricide.

How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (Harper Perennial) :: The unsparing honesty and infectious ebullience with which British journalist Catlin Moran approaches her personal account of why feminism matters seems lacking Stateside, with a few notable exceptions. (Confidential to Lindy West: write a book already.) How To Be a Woman should be compulsory reading for teenage girls.

Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld (Harper) :: A novel about Tribeca's moneyed hipsters has a strong likelihood of being excruciating. Against all odds, Triburbia is anything but. Instead, it's an incisive, moving, and very funny take on how even Manhattanites can be provincial as all get-out. A bonus: Greenfeld writes like Jonathan Franzen without all the painful riffs.

Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece by Michael Gorra (Liveright) :: Heavenly as it is, The Portrait of a Lady did not emerge fully formed from another, higher plane. Scholar Michael Gorra recreates the life of Henry James as he wrote the novel, interspersing biographical details with a close reading of the text. As painstakingly thorough as Gorra gets, his writing — like his source material — is pure delight.

The Lifespan of a Fact by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal (W.W. Norton) :: When this back-and-forth between journalist and fact-checker debuted in January, critics were captivated by the unlikeliness of its readability and the elegant way it presented the complex relationship nonfiction writers have with the truth. None could have guessed how timely it would prove, except perhaps Mike Daisey and Jonah Lehrer.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Stage worthies: The best theatrical productions of 2012, Heat and Light: Classical concerts of 2012, Finding out what makes the Meat Puppets tick with a new oral history, More more >
  Topics: Books , Books, arts features, yearend2012,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   IS BOSTON RIGHT FOR WRITERS?  |  March 05, 2013
    Boston, the birthplace of American literature, boasts three MFA programs, an independent creative-writing center, and more than a dozen colleges offering creative-writing classes.
    George Saunders: satirist, humanist, and — after 20 years, four magisterial short story collections, a novella, and a book of essays — now a bestselling author.
  •   INTERVIEW: THE PASSION OF MIKE DAISEY  |  February 14, 2013
    Last January, storyteller Mike Daisey achieved a level of celebrity rarely attained among the off-Broadway set when the public radio program This American Life aired portions of his monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs .
  •   GETTING BOOKED: WINTER READS  |  December 21, 2012
    Who cares about the fiscal cliff when we'll have authors talking about Scientology, the space-time continuum, and Joy Division?
  •   BRILLIANT FRIENDS: GREAT READS OF 2012  |  December 17, 2012
    You already know Chis Ware's Building Stories is the achievement of the decade (thanks, New York Times!), but some other people wrote some pretty great books this year too.

 See all articles by: EUGENIA WILLIAMSON