Dan Kois’ 15 Favorite Books of 2012

Other than Katherine Boo’s, obviously.

Illustration by Lilli Carre.

Tuesday: Slate staffers pick their favorite books of 2012.
Wednesday: The overlooked books of 2012.
Thursday: Dan Kois’ 15 favorite books.
Friday: The Slate Book Review Top 10.

Look, of course Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers was amazing. It was the best book of the year or maybe the decade. But we can’t spend our entire December just praising Katherine Boo! Here are 15 other titles from 2012 that moved me, made me laugh, astonished me, and pleasantly confused me.

At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson. Wondrously strange and sinister stories of other worlds, future times, and everyday life gone haywire. Plus: A cat walks 100 miles through Heian-era Japan in the loveliest short story I read all year.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos. A slim and comic debut novel from a Mexican writer written in the voice of a young boy growing up in the most absurd of circumstances: Tochtli, son of a drug baron, who just wants a pygmy hippo for his private zoo.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. As his extraordinary mother lives through end-stage cancer, a lifelong reader discusses books with her every week. Touching and rigorously honest, this memoir is wise about the role reading plays in our lives and deaths.

Everything We Miss by Luke Pearson. A short, haunting comic about what happens when we’re not looking– the evil, the sadness, the anger, the despair. Gorgeously drawn and impeccably bleak.

Familiar by J. Robert Lennon. A spooky novel of lives never led in which a woman finds herself transformed, all at once, into a version of herself whose son never died.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. “It’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck,” explains 16-year-old Hazel about her favorite novel, whose author she’s desperate to meet. Though Hazel, the heroine of Green’s smart and funny YA novel, has cancer, this isn’t a cancer book either. It’s a romance and an adventure and a battle, and it’s great.

Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand by Ramón K. Pérez. Forty years ago, Jim Henson wrote a fantastical screenplay about a man lost in a world of dreams. In this zippy, elegant book, cartoonist Pérez brings it to life with boundless energy and invention.

Lonesome Animals by Bruce Holbert. In the Okanogan Montains along the Canada-Washington border, a dangerous lawman hunts a more dangerous serial killer. This debut novel calls to mind early Cormac McCarthy in its relentless violence and frontier philosophy.

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer. Up in space, a troubled genius builds the robots that will colonize the moon; on earth, his wife and autistic son struggle to achieve normalcy. The story seems familiar but this novel’s writing– vivid and unusual – makes it fresh.

Son by Lois Lowry. The gorgeous, heartbreaking, and essential conclusion to the Giver quartet, this YA novel looks back at that original story’s dystopian community and a birthmother who goes in search of the son she lost.

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner. Beaten down by loss, and failure, Winner struggles with whether religious faith still makes sense in her life. A serious but witty book of days that will be fascinating to anyone, Christian or not, interested in the life of the soul.

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton. An elliptical, well-wrought memoir of a life spent in pools by a talented illustrator, who once dreamed of Olympic gold and still feels most at home in the water.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. Oh, did you forget that Michael Chabon, whose sentences are intricate and long and beautiful and hilarious, wrote a terrific novel about gentrification and soul music and race and love and a parrot? We should be counting our blessings.

Wolf Story by William McCleery. First published in 1947 and resurrected by the New York Review children’s collection, this ridiculously charming book is about a wolf, and a chicken, and a farmer, but really it’s about an exasperated, loving father in midcentury New York telling his very opinionated son a story.

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye. A sublimely creepy novel set in a village in Germany. It reads like the Brothers Grimm with historical resonance and a higher body count.

See all the pieces in this month’s Slate Book Review.
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