Book Keeping: A Reader's Community

The Best of the Best: Books of 2012

Sam Byers


Some reading years feel more successful than others, for some reason, and 2012, perhaps by dint of my having more time to read, has been particularly exciting. As always, I bought far more than I read, but these are my five stand-outs.

1. Lightning Rods by Helen Dewitt: My hands-down book of the year. Hysterically funny and utterly damning in its dissection of contemporary corporate culture, dehumanising management speak and misogyny.

2. Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway: A startling book. A fragmentary, eerie hallucination of an anti-detective story.

3. 81 Austerities by Sam Rivière: The most original and exciting voice I’ve come across in a long time. Riviere’s poetry seems to speak directly to our uncertain, failing present.

4. Unmastered, by Katherine Angel: I think the highest compliment you can pay any book is that it is unafraid. Angel’s fiercely intelligent and moving memoir of sexuality and desire is a challenging, vital work.

5. The Yips, by Nicola Barker: Hurrah for Nicola Barker – as eccentric, funny, perverse and readable as ever. There’s something delightfully English about her cast of misfits, and something very touching about the tenderness with which she explores their lives.

What I Want for Christmas

People rarely buy me books for Christmas these days, sadly. I think they assume I will judge them (the books, I mean, although perhaps they feel I will judge them as people too). But if I were to request some reading for the holidays, the Neil Young autobiography would probably be my top choice. I’m also itching to read the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s enormous literary project, which from what I’ve heard would serve as a nice counterpoint to all the inevitable festive cheer. What I’m most looking forward to, though, is some uninterrupted time spent with Chris Ware’s extraordinary Building Stories, which I may well be buying for everyone I know.

Books I’m Looking Forward to in the New Year

1. The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte
2. The Tenth of December by George Saunders

The only reason I put these two together is that they are two of my all-time favourite writers and, I think, two of the funniest, most daring voices we have available to us. To have them both releasing new collections so close together is incredibly exciting.

3. TV Comedian by Stewart Lee: For about twenty years now Stewart Lee has been producing the most consistently artful, hilarious, challenging and intelligent stand up comedy you’re likely to encounter. Recently, he has branched out into books by producing transcripts of his sets annotated with fascinating, brilliantly erudite footnotes. They’re master classes in comedy, and anyone with any interest either in comedy or in becoming (and remaining) an artist should read them.

4. The Infatuations by Javier Marías: Marias’s command of his long, recursive, probing sentences is nothing short of a wonder. This is one of those books that feels like an event.

5. Speedboat by Renata Adler: NYRB Classics is reissuing this weird, impressionistic and quite brilliant little novel next year, and not before time. Written in sharp, wry fragments, it coalesces into a unique evocation of New York in the nineteen seventies.

SAM BYERS is the author of the novel Idiopathy. He is a graduate of the master’s program in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. His fiction has been published in Granta and he regularly reviews books for The Times Literary Supplement. He was born in 1979.

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