The year 2012 was memorable for the literary world in many ways.
Let us start with the item that makes us the most uncomfortable: E.L. James boosted the languishing profile of erotica with her bestselling “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy and became a publishing sensation. The books have sold more than 35 million U.S. copies, print and digital, earning every Random House employee a $5,000 holiday bonus. And James was named Publishing Person of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly. The literati can complain all they like, and many did, but she is allegedly at work on book four, and half the people you know are going to buy it.
For the first time in 2012, ebooks sales topped print sales, according to the American Association of Publishers. Philip Roth announced his retirement. After a two-year hiatus, Oprah Winfrey revived her book club, naming as her first picks Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” and Ayana Mathis’ novel “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.” Weirdly, 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.”
But oh, the books of 2012: Historian Robert Caro offered the fourth installment of his Lyndon Johnson biography with “The Passage of Power.” Gillian Flynn had spouses eyeing each other suspiciously after reading her thriller “Gone Girl.” Tom Wolfe angered many in the art world with his “Back to Blood” (See review on Page E4).
We got dark, gorgeous stories from such newcomers as Megan Mayhew Bergman (“Birds of a Lesser Paradise”) and Claire Vaye Watkins (“Battleborn”) and old pros like Junot Diaz (“This is How You Lose Her”). We endured luminous, fictional end-of- world nightmares from Lauren Groff (“Arcadia”) and Karen Thompson Walker (“The Age of Miracles”). We lived through the horrors of war from Kevin Powers (“The Yellow Birds”) and others.
Favorite books of the year:
“Beautiful Ruins,” Jess Walter: An unforgettable novel satirizes Hollywood and tells a wickedly funny story of love, greed, fate and redemption.
“Bring Up the Bodies,” Hilary Mantel: The sequel to her Man Booker Prize-winning “Wolf Hall” won a Booker, too. She dives deep into Tudor history as seen through the eyes of her fascinating protagonist, Thomas Cromwell.
“Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” Katherine Boo: Journalist Boo’s National Book Award-winning account of the residents of a Mumbai slum.
“Wild,” Cheryl Strayed: A true account of Strayed’s attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail is an honest take on grief, growing up, moving on.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” Maria Semple: Few novels will make you laugh like this satiric take on a disintegrating Seattle family.
“Canada,” Richard Ford: A teen leaves Montana and his troubled past for Saskatchewan. A noir masterpiece.
“Elsewhere.” Richard Russo’s memoir recalls life with his demanding mother.
“Dear Life.” Alice Munro wows us again with her lyricism and insight.
“House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East.” Journalist Anthony Shadid’s story is made more poignant by his death in February from asthma while reporting the Syrian conflict.
“Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.” David Quammen’s quest to learn about where pandemics begin, and where they might strike.