It is that time of year when newspapers ask the great and the good of the literary world to select their favourite books of the past twelve months, and some wonderful titles can be discovered by trawling through these Best of 2012 lists but they are, let's be honest, often a bit worthy and curiously devoid of any genre fiction. Where are the crime novels, the SF, the fantasy, the mass-market or commercial fiction? Surely some of these deserve a place in the end of year round-ups?
So here's the plan. I want to compile an alternative Best of 2012 list and you are all invited to contribute. All types of book are welcome. Any genre. Any author. Any publisher - big, small or self.
No self-promotion please. No books by your mates. No authors with whom you share an agent or publisher (if you are fortunate enough to be a published author yourself). We want to know what books you read for pleasure this year and really, truly loved.
I am going to try to drum up interest for this on Twitter as I have noticed some great authors of genre and commercial fiction complaining, quite rightly, of the literary bias in the round-ups this year, as in every year. I'll see if I can persuade some of them to post their picks here. Do please spread the word yourselves.
And I want this to be a list that grows and grows over the coming weeks, a resource for all, so I will do my best to take as many of the blog comments as I can and repost them up here in the main blog between now and Christmas.
Over to you...
Jojo Moyes: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Tight, fresh, unexpected, and beautifully written. The ending seems to divide readers, but I loved it - and so did my non-fiction-reading husband.
Charlotte Otter: Horns by Joe Hill. Dark, dirty, brilliant.
Rachel Green: Iain Banks' Stonemouth.
Emma Townshend: Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson is an absolutely stunning book, I thought - a retelling of all the old twoddle about EH's life, but through a completely different lens, and with tons of wonderful tangential social history too about Long Island boatyards and aspiring young writers who got old never having published anything. Superb book for any dads.
DJ Kirkby: When She Woke by Hilary Jordan (I am still feeling big LOVE for this book).
Roland Bates: Sátántango by László Krasznahorkai... because it exists, and because it finally exists in English (props to George Szirtes). And The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus for the same reason, apart from not being translated by George Szirtes, because it's already in English.
Andrea Speed: I think the book I most enjoyed this year was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Sam Baker: Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple.
Jenny Colgan: I'll second Gone Girl. The Twelve by Justin Cronin was a worthy follow up to The Passage, especially the first half. Broken Harbour by Tana French was a wonderful thriller, Liz Jensen's The Uninvited, and like most people I fell in love with Wonder by RJ Palacio. Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers was such a good non-fic too.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood: S May's Life! Death! Prizes!. Funny and touching, also sweetly bleak. Also, I'd like Jake Arnott's The House of Rumour, but we do share agents (and it needs a bloody good edit).
Jess Ruston: Another vote for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Also Broken Harbour by Tana French for amazing atmosphere, Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann for brilliantly clever structure, The Good Father by Noah Hawley, The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman.
Jill Mansell: Two favourites from me: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Two girls in WW2 - a pilot and a member of SOE. A stunning achievement - I was bereft when I finished it. The Knot by Mark Watson. Didn't expect to like it - absolutely LOVED it. Just brilliant.
Eva Stalker: I loved Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway! I'd also recommend Gwendoline Riley's novel Opposed Positions. An unsettling and merciless examination of the people we are supposed to love. And I'm going to second Andrea's vote for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It's great fun.
Gill Alexander: The Wicked Girls. One summer day, three little girls meet for the first time. By the end of the day, two will be charged with murder. Absolutely one of the best books I've read this year. Life, Death and Vanilla Slices. Black humour, sharp observations, terrific plot. Can't recommend highly enough.
Sarah Franklin: No surprises here: Where'd You Go, Bernadette, which had me howling from the blackberry bush incident onwards. And also Kerry Hudson's Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. This book tripped me up with how much I loved it. It's the painful, mesmerising details & Janey Ryan's voice that have you gripped even when you want to stop. Oh! And in a year when I've read hundreds of short stories, DW Wilson's Once You Break a Knuckle still astonishes me. Vulnerable men and unknowable nature. It's amazing.
Flic Everett: I liked Tuesday's Gone by Nicci French. Good, gripping psychological crime thrillers are rare.
Sophie Hannah: Broken Harbour - best book of year by a distance. Tana is my friend, and we share publisher but this IN NO WAY invalidates my point of view (what with it being the objective truth and all that.)
Gerry: Osama by Lavie Tidhar. A strange slipstream novel which captures the tone of a really grizzled noir novel and then takes it to very strange and dark places.
His Paulness: Hats off to Geoff Dyer for deliberately appealing to as few people as possible. In Zona, he has described, pretty much scene-by-scene, an obscure Russian sci-fi film from the seventies interspersed with autobiographical footnotes. Nobody will pick it up, fewer will buy it, fewer still will read it but those who do will agree, by the end, that Tarkovski's Stalker is the greatest film ever made.
Mark Billingham: Yet another vote for Gone Girl. A beautifully written, audacious and twisted peek into the dark heart of marriage. Best non-fiction for me was Moranthology; a collection of Caitlin Moran's Times columns. By turns hilarious, furious and hugely moving, proof if it was needed that Moran is consistently the best columnist we have.
Chris Ewan: I'm joining the Gone Girl chorus. Narrative gymnastics and an astonishingly powerful voice from both lead characters. But I can't ignore Megan Abbott's Dare Me - dark, stylish and brilliant, like all her work. (And if it wasn't for your same publisher ban, I'd be raving about Stav Sherez's A Dark Redemption, too!)
Mark Edwards: The Twelve by Justin Cronin was even better than The Passage - a huge, Stand-like blockbuster that had me sitting up through the night. Favourite crime novel was A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez because it has everything you could want from a thriller and is even better-written than his tweets. And I would choose James Smythe's The Testimony but we share an agent and publisher so am not allowed.
CrimeFicReader: Three stand-outs in my 2012 reading, two in fiction and one non-fiction: Alex Marwood – The Wicked Girls. Incredible tension and reflecting issues we are not comfortable with in society today: rehabilitation and media manipulation. Stav Sherez – A Dark Redemption. Outstanding and a fresh eye is cast over London, from an immigrant’s POV. Books to Die For – John Connolly and Declan Burke (editors) An essential text for the crime aficionado to luxuriate in. Kept me reading to 3am too!
Bob Burke: Slaughter's Hound by Declan Burke (no relation). A suitably twisted, darkly humorous noir novel with a uniquely Irish twist. Crime novel of the year and a great read.
Ellie Warren: I have read so many great books this year, so hard to narrow them down (and I usually refuse to do this sort of thing until 31st December but as Scott asked so nicely...). Novel: The Testimony by James Smythe - clever use of multiple narratives to explore differing beliefs when the world hears a voice in the sky. Short stories: Diving Belles by Lucy Wood - beautiful and enchanting stories combining Cornish mythology and every day life. Non fiction: The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean - fascinating and immensely readable history of DNA. Young adult: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry - what sounds like yet another girl meets bad boy story turns out to be raw and realistic story-telling tackling mental illness and custody issues with the overriding desire to be normal.
Dom Kippin: The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman. Emotionally draining but so, so good. Loved it so much that it's going to be the Portsmouth City Read in 2013, with free copies across the city! Also, Wildwood by Colin Meloy. Big fan of The Decemberists do was bound to like this, but was really satisfying to read a book for young people that didn't talk down to them.
Shaun Durham: For me, The Good Father by Noah Hawley deserves mention. From the first line – ‘He bought the gun in Long Beach’ – I was hooked into the story of a father’s quest to save his son. Emotional and compelling, it stayed with me long after I’d finished. (A book I wouldn’t have read had it not been for a recommendation whilst browsing in Goldsboro Books.)
Curzon Tussaud: Gifted by anonymous. The story behind the 10 anonymous book sculptures which appeared in various Edinburgh arts institutions over a period of a year. £8.99 at Amazon, £10 elsewhere, and a present you could give to almost anyone.
Richard Blandford: Retromania by Simon Reynolds. A great exploration of how and why we're culturally slowing down and drowning in nostalgia.
Benjamin Myers: In no particular order, my favourite new reads of 2012 were: Everything's Fine by Socrates Adams. Captivity by Lander Hawes. Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth. Jubilee Hitchhiker (a biography Of Richard Brautigan) by William Hjortsberg. Dirt by David Vann. The White Goddess: An Encounter by Simon Gough. Nod by Adrian Barnes. Skagboys by Irvine Welsh. Grow Up by Ben Brooks. The Adult by Joe Stretch. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. Copendium by Julian Cope. Burning Bright by Ron Rash.
Mary Vensel White: My favorite 2012 book was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. A young man in the 1960s tries to attract tourists to his family's small resort in a sleepy Italian town. One day, the outside world arrives in the form of an actress from Hollywood. The novel travels from past to future and back, tracing the ripples this chance meeting have made. Beautiful writing, masterful construction. Loved it.
JS Colley: I’m going to select a self-published book: Wool by Hugh Howey. This may not be the best book of 2012, but it’s one of the better self-published novels I’ve ever read. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel, where people are forced to live underground in a gigantic silo. It’s my choice, not for the sci-fi aspects—because the feasibility (in my mind) of some of it is questionable—but because of the writing and the characters. (It was picked up by the director, Ridley Scott, to be made in either a TV series or a movie. I hope it’s a hit.) As an aside, (and maybe going against the point of this post, so I apologize in advance), I see a few people selected Tell the Wolves I’m Home. I just finished this book and, while I think it was well done and worth reading, I had a problem with some of the characters. Interesting how readers can have such a different reaction to the same book. To end on a “best of” note: I just finished Black Bread White Beer by Niven Govinden last night, and I am still thinking about it this morning.
Miranda Dickinson: I loved The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Testimony by James Smythe. Two very different books but with such original construction, ideas and stunning execution. I also loved John O'Farrell's The Man Who Forgot His Wife - great characterisation and a surprisingly touching storyline.
Sakura: I really enjoyed Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson, the first volume in his new Malazan trilogy, and totally fell in love with Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles. Both Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng deserve mentions for being beautifully written too.
Amro Gebreel: The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane. A series of sketches of his walks from Cambridge along the various "old ways" of this country, evoking the peoples, times and places, the stories and the songs, the poems and the poets. Beautifully written by this most thoughtful of men, I haven't read anything finer this year.
Pete Clark: Winter Journal by Paul Auster. It's a really good read. It caused me reflect on my life and made me think about the many things that have happened during my lifetime. It's an excellent and very well written book, which I would thoroughly recommend. Auster once wrote that the purpose of a book is to entertain. It certainly does that.
Will Wiles: This "no logrolling" rule of yours is tough, Scott. I'll try. Suzanne Treister's Hexen2.0 Tarot is a beautiful and sinister art project - a tarot deck remastered for the internet age - released as a book by Black Dog. It absolutely blew me away. Jonathan Meades' Museum Without Walls is erudite and hugely entertaining. Verso had a good year: David Harvey's Rebel Cities and Daniel Trilling's Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain's Far Right were both fascinating and troubling. I also enjoyed John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead but for me Mark Dery's I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts was stranger and more satisfying. William Gibson's Distrust that Particular Flavor was another great collection in a very good year for essays.
Kat Stephen: Gone Girl definitely deserves a place as one of the best I've read this year - it's clever, different, sharp and insightful - but actually, I wouldn't say I enjoyed it. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is excellent in all ways. But my favourite discovery this year is Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, found in a charity shop - I had no idea what to expect, and was astonished on almost literally every page.
Sara-Jade Virtue: Without a shadow of doubt, my book of the year has been the wonderful Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. A beautiful love story that had me at hello.
Henry C Krempels: Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan is the best non-fiction I've read in a long time. May We be Forgiven by A.M. Homes and Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway are both fantastic books, but Leaving the Atocha Station deserves the highest praise, I think.
Sarah: My fav read of this year has been Pig Iron by Ben Myers. Just stunning. I also really enjoyed the stories translated from German collected in Crime & Guilt by Ferdinand von Schirach. The graphic novel Habibi by Craig Thompson completely held my attention at the beginning of the year - beautiful artwork. Other special mentions to The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May.
Rachael Beale: Seconding Amro's vote for Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, a book best enjoyed over several months, my goodness it's beautiful. (As is he. Although, we're readers, we'e not meant to care about that sort of thing *coughs awkwardly*). No one has yet mentioned Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, which I did not expect to like, mainly because I never really properly warmed to Catch-22 and that book is ALL OVER the cover. But by about 2 pages in, I was totally hooked. Yes, there is a bit of wish-fulfilment ending. Yes, there is a hot cheerleader. And Beyoncé (briefly). Yes, Billy seems more articulate than his background and education might lead you to expect. But as a snapshot of the insanity of domestic reactions to war in the States, it's unbeatable. Best enjoyed before watching 4 episodes of Homeland back-to-back.
Kate W: My favourite book of the year was (without question) The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - I didn't want it to end. And no, liking baseball is not a pre-requisite for loving this book. Also deserving a mention is the stunning The Forrests by Emily Perkins (creative writing at its best); Tigers in Red Weather by Lisa Klaussman (because they don't make a gin and tonic, they make a jug); Ru by Kim Thúy (an enexpected gem) and Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (for an Australian element). For a read-it-in-one-sitting-gripping-read, The Dinner by Herman Koch was terrific.
Jennifer Iden: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes because of the emotional attachment to s piece of art and the way it can impact on life.
Richard Green: Not read a lot of stuff that was actually published in 2012 this year, but I thought The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce was really good. Can't see any graphic novels on the list, so would also like to recommend Keys to the Kingdom (pbk) and Clockworks (hbk) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriquez - these are volumes 4 & 5 of the collected Locke & Key which I think is the best ongoing comic currently. Beautifully drawn and full of imagination.
Melissa Cox: Doll's House Sticker Book by Anna Milbourne and illustrated by Ina Hattenhauer, is the best children's sticker book published this year, hands down. Gorgeously illustrated in a soft pastel palette and designed with a phenomenal eye for detail, you can furnish a traditional doll’s house with sticker furniture and household minutiae. This is a dream for entertaining children as you figure out where things go, my favourite scene is Hugo’s Bedroom full of traditional toys - and his sticker bed is complete with suavely reclining teddy bear. A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld, is an absolutely exceptional book. It’s not every week that something this luxurious is published for children and still less that it is also so accessible. The artwork is distinctive if you are familiar with the artist and a wonderful introduction if you are not – it is rich with detail to admire everywhere; from the dust jacket in warm autumnal colours, to the cover beneath, to the endpapers to the bookplate set amongst city pigeons and smoke, to one of the best contents pages that has surely ever been produced, divided into the four seasons. Then we come to the book itself, its pages brimming over with reverence and appreciation for the world around us. Highlights being an entire spread of beautiful apple varieties, gambolling lambs and a charming fox with a list of reasons why you should build a den in the woods. I’ve given this book as a gift over and over – I cannot say enough good things about this book that celebrates both nature and the artform of the illustrated book. Superlative!
Marian Keyes: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is a powerful love story that carries real impact. The characters are written with such authenticity that I really cared about what happened to them. Jojo deals with a taboo subject responsibly and courageously and has created a novel that's genuinely moving. I cried my eyes out. Not many authors can make me do that.
Cathy Rentzenbrink: Gone Girl made me feel sick with fear and I also loved all the stuff about Amy's background and her parents. I don't think the structure is flawless but the main reason why people don't seem to like it is because the characters aren't very nice. I love a walk out with unpleasant, venal types every so often and this delivers that in grand style. Me Before You is an astonishing novel and choice of subject matter and I think Jojo Moyes will continue to do interesting things for the often neglected or patronised arena of commercial women's fiction. My favourite character of the year was the delightful Janey Ryan in Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. Seems almost silly to mention Bring up the Bodies as it has had so much attention but it is a work of art by a writer at the absolute top of her game. Rose Tremain's Merivel: A Man of His Time which didn't get the same level of attention is also stunning. Sorry to have so many - I could carry on and on and on.... The book I most want to read after reading all your comments is Code Name Verity.
James Smythe: Removing friends and publishers from the equation: Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway was the best thing that I read in 2012. Powerful, incredibly well written, really superb (and innovative) storytelling, I was utterly blown away by it. I also loved Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, which is a literary mashup, essentially: the locked-room mystery by way of spaceships, asteroid prisons and other SF tropes. Both were incredibly good.
Euan Hirst: Fiction: A short story collection by Kevin Barry, Dark Lies the Island. The words fizz off the page better than any other contemporary writer. Non Fiction: A 21st Century Bestiary by Casper Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings. Real, bizarre creatures illuminate some social history, some pressing issues and what the future may hold. A beautiful, beautiful book.
Chas Newkey-Burden: Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues, by James Fearnley. I loved this vivid, dark and romantic memoir of his time in The Pogues, despite some hellishly pretentious vocabulary. Also loved The Dinner, by Herman Koch.
Clare Hey: I loved The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Not what I expected it to be at all, and really funny and sharp. And I'd echo the recommendations of Tigers in Red Weather by Lisa Klaussman too. I really want to read Gone Girl after all the comments here.
Karen Ings: I found The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng completely captivating, and The Art of Fielding was as satisfying as discovering John Irving many years ago. But since seeing it recommended above I've downloaded Gone Girl myself and can now barely concentrate on anything else.
Shelley Harris: Gah! One of my votes will have you yawning, the other will have you throwing things at me. Mantel's Bring up the Bodies was my all-out favourite in 2012, a book I could jump into and let the waters close over my head. (That's the yawn-inducer - Booker blah blah yadda yadda.) Then there's Harriet Lane's Alys, Always, which had me shuffling from room to room (as my family entered, I left) so I could read it uninterrupted, which I did in a headlong rush, utterly gripped. But she's with my publisher, so - despite my flat-out adoring it - this probably falls foul of Scott's rules.
D Braden: Two books left out of this list so far that really deserve mentioning: Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil and Ghosting by Kirby Gann. Both books are sui generis (maybe that's why they haven't appeared on many "best" lists?)--Thayil's novel is like a weird merging of Bolano and Denis Johnson through an Indian sensibility; Gann's is a rural noir with a unique structure and some of the most vividly realized characters I've encountered in contemporary fiction.
James Green: Looking for something different this Christmas? If you enjoy historical fiction with a twist or are a fan of Sarah Waters then you should really try Silver by Scott Cairns. Think Tipping the Velvet crossed with Crimson Petal and the White and you will instantly draw on the sensual evocation of Victorian London where secrets and lies make startling bedfellows. London, 1911 - The death of Avery Silver, an unremarkable, elderly gentleman should not cause a stir but when his daughter , Imogen, identifies his body a shocking secret is brought to light that not only disrupts her life but also makes her question her own identity. Silver is the story of one man's struggle to come to terms with being born in the wrong body. It is the story of how his daughter, a woman who, when faced with the question of her own heritage, finds some extraordinary answers. It is a novel about identity and love, exploring themes of gender, position, class and sexuality.
Emma Townshend: I've been racking my brains cos your original brief was books that wouldn't go on normal lists - and I have one genre-y thing i want to add - Ben Aaronovitch Whispers Under Ground. If you like a detective novel that also includes magic and a knowledge of the tube network worthy of a Blue Badge guide, he's your man.
John Brassey: Lots of my favourites already on the list. Loved The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry but for pure old fashioned farcical fun it has to be Skios by Michael Frayn.
I will keep updating this list for as long as people leave comments. Thanks to everyone who has contributed so far. It is a great mix of genres and styles.
Also, someone on Twitter told me off for all the Amazon links. I make no apologies as they are a convenient way for people to check out more info on each book without leaving the blog (they should open up in a new window) and I assume you all have the free will to purchase books from wherever you see fit.