The last few years, I wrote and wrote. A lot. And read, too, but certainly not as much as I wanted to. This last year, though, was different. I was working on a novel, and I was also busier, more distracted in good and bad ways for all kinds of reasons. But maybe because I couldn’t write as much, there has been so much reading. Oh yes, there has been a good deal of reading. Reading for research, reading for pleasure, reading for catch-up, reading heavy stuff and lighter stuff and all the stuff in between. Poetry and prose and prose-poetry and lord-knows-what-this-is-but-I-love it. Devouring ink on a page (and e-ink on a Kindle) with firm and committed abandon.
This is why we all do this, no? Because somewhere along the way we fell deeply in love with other people’s words? So this year has been a return with zeal to the obsessive and greatest pleasure of my life. And it’s been particularly rewarding to focus primarily, though not exclusively of course, on the small press world and the long-anticipated works of many writers I know and respect. And here, then, are the fruits of my very subjective research on the subject of damn good literature.
Best Novels: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt; There is No Year by Blake Butler; How the Days of Love and Diptheria by Robert Kloss; Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell; Freight by Mel Bosworth; The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer
Best Short Story Collections: The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals by Rae Bryant; Normally Special by xTx; Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory; Ayiti by Roxane Gay; Stories V! by Scott McClanahan; Tongue Party by Sarah Rose Etter; The Great Frustration by Seth Fried; We Others: New and Selected Stories by Steven Millhauser; Volt by Alan Heathcock
Best Translation: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis
Best Writing about Translation: Lydia Davis on translation in The Paris Review
Best Poetry: If I Falter at the Gallows by Edward Mullany; Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith; The Trees the Trees by Heather Christle; Trees of the Twentieth Century by Steven Sturgeon; Negro League Baseball by Harmony Holiday; I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon for Anything I Done by Sasha Fletcher
Best Sad/Beautiful Love Story: Us by Michael Kimball; A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed by J.A. Tyler
Best Unclassifiable: Grim Tales by Norman Lock; Entrance to a Colonial Pageant in Which we All Begin to Intricate by Johannes Goransson; Fables by Sarah Goldstein
Best New Lit Blog: The Lit Pub
Best Indie Lit Promoters: Christopher Newgent, Molly Gaudry
Best New Readings Series: The Three Tents Series curated by Mark Cugini of Big Lucks, in Washington, D.C.
Chapbook/Novella: The Last Repatriate by Matthew Salesses; The Mimic’s Own Voice by Tom Williams; They Could No Longer Contain Themselves by Elizabeth J. Colen, John Jodzio, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Sean Lovelace, and Mary Miller
Non-fiction: Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt; A Book of Secrets by Michael Holroyd; China in Ten Words by Yu Hua
Best Non-2011 Books I Read: Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada; Hav by Jan Morris; Stoner by John Williams; The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth
Best New-to-Me Author Discovery that Everyone Else in the World Had Already Discovered: John Barth and William Gass
Best New Presses: Solid Objects; Tiny Hardcore Press; Atticus Books
Books I Haven’t Read Yet But I’m Sure Would Have Been on This List Had I Read Them: East of the West by Miroslav Penkov; God Bless America by Steve Almond; Train Dreams by Denis Johnson; There but for the by Ali Smit; Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens
Most Anticipated Books of 2012: Threats by Amelia Gray; Hill William by Scott McClanahan; The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss; The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus; Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon; Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell; Shut Up/Look Pretty by Lauren Becker, Erin Fitzgerald, Kirsty Logan, Michelle Reale (and me)