Our favorite Book Critic, Ellen Heltzel, stopped by to share her picks for the best books of 2012.
NONFICTION PICK OF THE YEAR: "Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity," by Katherine Boo. Award-winning journalist Boo tells a moving tale of life among rats and trash in a slum that lies in view of the Mumbai international airport. The fascinating part is how human striving, envy and love survive even in such a godforsaken setting.
BIOGRAPHY PICK OF THE YEAR: "Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis," by Timothy Egan. Egan's bright and (relatively) short account of Edward Curtis' life opens a lens on Seattle and the Pacific Northwest around 1900, as well as the poor treatment of the Native Americans whose lives he set out to record.
HISTORICAL NOVELS OF THE YEAR: "Bring Up the Bodies," by Hilary Mantel, and "Winter of the World," by Ken Follett. These two books really can't be compared. Mantel's is the more literary, a retelling of the story of Ann Boleyn's ups and downs as she was courted, wed and then executed by the bullying Henry the VIII of England. Follett, meanwhile, is a master storyteller who has created a compelling cast of characters to retell 20th-century European history. "Winter of the World" is the second of three novels, and in this one we deal with the devils Hitler and Stalin. A long, cold winter, indeed.
MOST RELEVANT NOVEL OF THE YEAR: "The Yellow Birds," by Kevin Powers. This short but powerful story about two soldiers serving in Iraq has been compared to "The Things They Carried," Tim O'Brien's novel about Vietnam. It catches all the fatigue and senselessness of a costly war that, like Vietnam, took civilian lives as indiscriminately as it did those of the military.