(For all the lists in the 2012 "Year in Books" series, please click here.)
CCLaP was happy to be joined this year by Karl Wolff; but since Karl didn't have nearly the time to write reviews of every single book he read last year, for this best-of list I've asked him instead to merely share with us his ten favorite reads of 2012 regardless of whether a review got written. Here's his report below.
Best International Thriller Tom Clancy Didn't Write: Flat Spin, by David Freed. The first book in the new Cordell Logan mystery series published by the Permanent Press. The story follows Cordell Logan, a veteran of Alpha (think an uber-secret version of Delta Force), who is a failed Buddhist and part-time flight instructor. Drawn into investigating the murder of his ex-wife's husband, he discovers a world of intrigue in his placid LA community, including oil deals in Central Asia and corporate malfeasance.
Best Investigative Journalism: The Cage, by Gordon Weiss. Weiss, a former UN aid worker, gives a harrowing account of the Sri Lankan government's final military crackdown of the Tamil Tigers. In this investigation of Obama's first foreign policy disaster, he unravels the torturous relationship between the Sinhalese and Tamils and explains the function and failings of international aid organizations. He likens the United Nations to a global Parent Teacher Association, with its cliques, in-fighting, and bureaucratic paralysis.
Best Novel That Didn't Win a Pulitzer Because No Novel Won the Pulitzer This Year Because the Pulitzer Novel-Selection Process is Broken: Make It Stay, by Joan Frank. A tightly written nuanced tale about two couples living in north California wine country, experiencing the ups and downs of middle age and heartbreak. This summary sounds a bit twee, but the novel pulls no punches with an unreliable narrator and personal devastation wrought by wrong-headed presumptions.
Best Novel for Misanthropic Comedy: The Redemption of George Baxter Henry, by Conor Bowman. Want to read about an adulterous American lawyer who takes his shrill wife, backstabbing mother-in-law, crackpot daughter, and junkie son to the French Riviera to patch things up? Imagine Clark Griswold with the mouth of Bill Hicks who views humanity through his cold dark heart. Not for everyone, but a quick funny read for those who enjoy the black comedy of Louis-Ferdinand Celine or Thomas Bernhard.
Best Novel About Bureaucracy: The Investigation, by Philippe Claudel. A series of suicides occur in a small town. An investigator is sent to puzzle out the dilemma. Part Ionesco, part Doctor Who nightmare, part bureucratic purgatory a la Terry Gilliam's Brazil. For those who enjoy the Apatow-esque comedy of discomfort, look no further.
Best History: The Long Night, by Steve Wick. Wick, a journalist writing history, tells the story of CBS correspondent William L. Shirer, who wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer was also a journalist who wrote history. Wick tells of Shirer's danger and frustration covering events in the CBS Berlin news desk. This is history that reads like a political thriller and makes explicit the value of journalism as historical witness.
Best Biography: The Passage to Power, by Robert Caro. Robert Caro's penultimate volume of his biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson follows LBJ's ascent from Speaker of the Senate to his first term as President. Along the way, we see LBJ clash with the Kennedys and then, following the assassination of JFK, pass the greatest civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. He did so with a combination of intelligence, insider knowledge of the US Congress, and the sheer brute force of his personality. If the Occupy movement wants to get anything done in real legislative terms, they should start by reading this book.
Best Epic Fantasy Novel: The White-Luck Warrior, by R. Scott Bakker. Technically published in April 2011, I'm grandfathering it into the list. This is epic fantasy at its best, at once verbally opulent, politically brutal, and narratively complex. The second book of Bakker's second trilogy has an empire facing internal disintegration, a war against an inhuman foe that is quickly annihilating the greatest army ever assembled, and enough political intrigue to rival the Godfather, Part II.
Best Fiction of the Year: Building Stories, by Chris Ware. It is hard to write about Chris Ware's latest without pummeling the reader with superlatives. A boardgame-sized box contains 14 interrelated stories that can be read in any order. The stories come in a variety of formats, in everything from tiny strips to magazines and pamphlets to a mock-Little Golden Book. Formally daring and heartbreaking without lapsing into crass sentimentality, Ware shows that Chicago is on the forefront of narrative innovation and technical virtuosity.
And that's it for today; but make sure to stop by again tomorrow, when we'll be looking at a random selection from the plethora of amazing books that came out last year by Chicago artists, as well as personal friends of CCLaP staff members.