Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson – Petterson chisels a gripping, slow burning drama out of family secrets and the remote Norwegian forest.
Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather by Gao Xing Jian – Despite the simple, sparse prose, Gao Xing Jian winds up with a collection that is raw, tense and emotional.
Cities on the Plain by Cormac McCarthy – After roughly a thousand pages spent with John Grady Cole and Billy Parnum saying goodbye is like a gut punch. Cities of the Plain is a particularly painful McCarthy to read in which all the tragedies from All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing culminate in a devastating end. In Cities on the Plain, McCarthy is at his most brutally gorgeous.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – Loss has never been more erudite, more vivid, more beautiful. Didion strips herself bare and gives the reader an audience with her grief.
Tracks by Louise Erdrich – With Tracks clocking in at just over 250 pages, Erdrich eviscerates colonialism and the stranglehold of Christianity within Indigenous communities. In Tracks she is at her most vivid, most hilarious and at her most powerful.
It's Bigger Than Hip Hop by MK Asante – Both a love letter to the most misunderstood musical genre and a call to consciousness, It's Bigger Than Hip Hop informs, inspires and rouses to action. At only 30 years old, Asante is a voice of a generation.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer – Reading ZZ Packer's stories is like listening to Bach's Suite No. 3 for the first time: the virtuosity is nearly overwhelming. Packer belongs in the canon alongside Chekhov and Munro.
Brother, I am Dying by Edwidge Danticat – Brother, I am Dying tells the deeply emotional story of Danticat's Haitian family, splintered by immigration laws, violence and disease. Her's is a haunting story of loss, love and the ties that bind. A perfect memoir.
Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer – In Gathering Moss, Kimmerer, an Indigenous Bryologist, writes a love story to mosses. A book that will have even the most urban dwellers looking for the green life force in the cracks of the sidewalk.
Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris by Leanne Simpson – A story told only through the items up for auction left over from a failed love affair, the reader feels every up and down, every smile and every sob, every happiness and every disappointment.
Zone One by Colson Whitehead – Whitehead gives a worn, rotting and festering genre new life with a zombie novel that feels as claustrophobic, tragic and devastating as an actual zombie apocalypse. More akin to The Road than to Resident Evil, Zone One is a story about the strength of the human condition.
The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes – Langston Hughes paints a target above the heart and then fires with abandon. With surgeon like precision, Hughes has written 14 stories that expose the stark racism in America. Just as relevant now as it was in 1934.
The Red Pony by John Steinbeck – In a genre as overused as the bildungsroman, Steinbeck seems to tread fresh ground in a story about a boy, his pony and the difficult crossroad between childhood and adulthood.
Kindred by Octavia Butler – Butler pulls exactly zero punches in this scarring portrait of slavery and its legacy of racism, discrimination and destruction. While reading Kindred, the reader must purposely remember to breath. The importance of this novel cannot be overstated.
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov – The greatest novel in the English language.
Plus Two More That I Haven't Read Yet:
Antigonick by Ann Carson – Carson slayed me with The Autobiography of Red and with even more Greek mythology under my belt now, I can't wait to read her take on Antigone.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich – Erdrich can do no wrong.
You'll find the rest of our stuff of 2012 here.
Alex Snider is just two books away from her goal of 52 books. Her website is What Fresh Hell is This and her Twitter handle is @what_freshhell.