Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

January 5, 2013 

The year 2012 was memorable for the literary world in many ways.

E.L. James boosted the languishing profile of erotica with her best-selling “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy. The books have sold more than 35 million U.S. copies, print and digital, earning every Random House employee a $5,000 holiday bonus. For the first time, e-books sales topped print sales, according to the American Association of Publishers. Philip Roth announced his retirement. The Pultizer judges decided no fiction deserved a prize this year, snubbing such terrific 2011 novels as Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder” and Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot.”

Meanwhile, a look back at our favorite books of the past year:

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter: This unforgettable novel manages to satirize Hollywood and tell a wickedly funny story about love, greed, fate and redemption that flows across decades and continents. Everything you seek in a great novel can be found right here. There’s nothing more you need, except to tell everyone you know to read it, too.

Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel: The sequel to Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning “Wolf Hall” won a Booker, too, and with good reason. She dives deep into Tudor history as seen through the eyes of her fascinating protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, the right-hand man of Henry VIII. (Spoiler alert: Things don’t go so well for Anne Boleyn in this installment.)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo: Journalist Boo’s National Book Award-winning account of the residents of a Mumbai slum is nonfiction, but it reads like a compelling novel. It’s so fascinating you will wish it were longer.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed: This true account of Strayed’s attempt to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail isn’t just another outdoor adventure; it’s a refreshingly honest take on grief, growing up and moving on.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple: Humor is sadly underrated when readers and critics hand out accolades, but few novels will make you laugh aloud the way Semple’s satiric take on a disintegrating Seattle family does.

Canada, by Richard Ford: A teenage boy leaves Montana and his family’s troubled past for Saskatchewan – and more trouble – in Ford’s noir masterpiece.

Elsewhere, by Richard Russo: In this memoir, the author of “Empire Falls,” “The Risk Pool” and “Nobody’s Fool” recalls life with his demanding mother.

Dear Life, by Alice Munro: The master of the short story returns – and wows us all over again with her lyricism and insight.

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East, by Anthony Shadid: The New York Times journalist’s story about attempting to rebuild his family home in Lebanon was made all the more poignant by Shadid’s death in February from an acute asthma attack while reporting on the Syrian conflict.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, by David Quammen: Forget Justin Cronin’s scary vampires in “The Twelve.” Quammen’s quest to learn more about where pandemics begin – and where they might strike next – is the true stuff of nightmares.

Connie Ogle, Miami Herald

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service