ABBC 2012: Literary Fiction

Billy Lynns Long Halftime WalkThe All-the-Best-Books Compilation (ABBC) is finished for 2012! I’ve compiled 180 different best-of-the-year lists and awards into one big spreadsheet, in the process finding over 2700 books that were mentioned as one of the best books published in the U.S. in 2012.

You can download the final ABBC spreadsheet at my other blogging home, Williamsburg Regional Library’s Blogging for a Good Book. My final post on the subject at that site lists all of the titles in every category that received ten mentions or more. Atop this year’s list was Gillian Flynn’s mix of thriller and literary novel Gone Girl, with 65 mentions.

In previous weeks, I’ve highlighted the top books in many of the other categories, today I’ll finish up with a post about the contemporary literary fiction of 2012.

The top spot in this category, with 42 mentions, goes to Ben Fountain’s debut, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Billy is a soldier cited for heroism in Iraq, brought back to the U.S. for a publicity tour, culminating in a halftime show during a Dallas Beautiful RuinsCowboys game. The book captures Billy’s day with the Cowboys’ owner, cheerleaders, film people, and football players and his memories about his history and his comrades from the Iraq War, the day before he gets shipped back there himself. Fountain blends poignant war story with a commentary on the state of America and plenty of dark humor.

In second, with 34 mentions, is Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. Walter follows two connected plots: one from the 1960s, in which Dee, an ailing American actress comes to a tiny town on the Italian Riviera and forms a brief relationship with Whered You Go BernadettePasquale, the young owner of a somewhat comical pensione; the second follows contemporary events that occur when the Hollywood pitch meeting between an unhappy production assistant and a fledgling novelist is interrupted by Pasquale, now much older. Cleverly plotted, and featuring eight memorable POV characters, this is another winner from the versatile author of Citizen Vince and The Financial Lives of Poets.

The third position goes to Maria Semple, with 30 laurels for her book Where’s You Go, Bernadette. It’s the serio-comic story of Bernadette–an architect, the leader of the power-mothers in Yellow BirdsSeattle, and a woman used to getting her way–who develops agoraphobia. A virtual assistant in India has to handle some of her most basic errands. Daughter Bee documents mom’s problems and serves as the main narrator for this clever satire.

In fourth is another debut novel, The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers, with 27 mentions. It’s another Iraq War story, in which two young soldiers navigate a gauntlet of dangers during a perilous battle for the city of Al Tafar. The story then backtracks, following the pair through basic training, and also jumps forward to one of the Round Housesoldier’s struggles after the war. Informed by Powers’ own experiences in the war, this is a powerful, quick-reading book that would make a fine choice for book groups.

One vote back in fifth place with 26 mentions are two books by veteran authors. Louise Erdrich’s latest is The Round House. A 1988 attack on a North Dakota reservation woman has left her unable to cope with the world. Her husband a tribal judge is unable to make progress in the official investigation, so her thirteen-year-old son, thrownTelegraph Avenue by the loss of the mother he knew, goes looking for answers with three friends, a search that involves reservation life, Ojibwe legends, and Star Trek: the Next Generation.

It’s tied with Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. A story of three generations in two connected families, one Jewish, the other African-American, in the Brokeland neighborhood on the edges of Berkeley and Oakland. The husbands run a used record store together, the wives a midwifery practice, but both businesses are struggling, as well as both families. Chabon’s gift with language is well suited to the jazz and pop culture riffs of this unique family saga.

Why stop there? These are just the top five in a list of 214 books in this category. Get the full ABBC spreadsheet to research more of these books, most of which are just coming out in paperback now and would make prime book group selections.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On... Fantasy Fiction and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups.

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