Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.
Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2012.
Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.
And thanks, as always, for reading.
|Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain (Ecco) Hilarious without trying, political without being strident, summing up the Bush/Iraq years by barely mentioning them, this brilliant book seems to nail down everything wrong with FOX, endless war, American exceptionalism, football, ingrained ignorance, hero worship, and commodity culture with zero effort or obviousness. Also, it contains the single best portrait of the banality of evil (Jerry Jones) seen in a book since…A Clockwork Orange?|
|Nine Months, Paula Bomer (Soho Press) The real dirt — hysteria, pettiness, and bad behavior included — of a married mother’s unwanted third pregnancy. Even if you’re not a mom, it’s hard not to identify with the seismic changes any pregnancy — unwanted or not — brings to a person’s life.|
|Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo (Random House) Katherine Boo’s skills as a writer are up there with the finest novelists, and her skills as a reporter are equally astounding. A riveting and unforgettable look at life in modern India.|
THE COMPLETE LIST
|Aerogrammes, Tania James (Vintage Contemporaries) The short story collection that follows up James’ debut novel is full of little postcard dioramas — Indians living in the Americas, Americans living overseas, and all that is lost in translation.|
|Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter (Harper) Walter is at the height of his ample powers in this beautiful opposite-of-ruin. The action, which toggles between the past and the present, concerns the making of the film CLEOPATRA—and the making of the modern PR machine. Any novel in which Richard Burton is a character is worth your attention. That Walter manages to find a seamless cameo for his Spokane detective, Alan Dupree, is icing on a very lush and tasty cake.|
|Big Ray, Michael Kimball (Bloomsbury) It’s easy to get sucked in by the emotional power of Kimball’s works. In this, his latest novel, the heartbreak and humanity that exist between a son and his obese, abusive father are incredibly moving. The book is written with economy and poetry, each word chosen carefully, distilling images and sounds to their essential beauty and sadness.|
|The Book of Drugs, Mike Doughty (Da Capo) Mike writes like you’d expect, both terse and limber, staccato jazz, almost Heaven from trip-hop West Virginia, like Burroughs and Biggie in 6/8 time. Like this: “I went to the bathroom. When I returned the band was gone, the dancers were gone, R. Kelly’s ‘Step in the Name of Love’ was playing, and the bar was filled with whores.”|
|Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel (Picador) What Mantel has done with Wolf Hall, Bodies, (and a third to come) is to reinvent the historical novel, using the present tense in a way that for once doesn’t seem precious or out-of-place. She makes the novel about language, and it draws you in as seductively as its subject, Thomas Cromwell, was reputed to do with those who resisted him.|
|Cataclysm Baby, Matt Bell (Mud Luscious Press) Post-apocalyptic stories about dysfunctional families struggling to survive within the dark, grotesque, and fantastic settings of a world gone awry. Bell’s writing is powerfully visual and impeccably crafted. A writer to watch.|
|Crackpot Palace, Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow) Wikipedia will tell you that Jeffrey Ford’s work is ”characterized by a sweeping imaginative power, humor, literary allusion, and a fascination with tales told within tales.” What it won’t tell you is that the guy is a flat-out genius; if you’re smart, you’ll find that out for yourself. ASAP.|
|Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books) Much of the material written for the pre-YA group is ho-hum, but not this. Kinney is a comic genius. You know how sometimes you hear about something, and how it’s really great, and then you get around to reading it or watching to it or listening to it, and you’re like, eh? Not the case here at all. Greg Heffley lives up to the hype.|
|Echolocation, Myfanwy Collins (Engine Books) In brutal, evocative prose, Collins spins the story of a family’s heartrending reunion.|
|Familiar, J. Robert Lennon (Graywolf Press) A book that will make you feel like you’re going crazy. Lennon handles his unreliable narrator masterfully.|
|Heroines, Kate Zambreno (Semiotext[e]) Impassioned and intelligent, enraged and grieving and curious, Zambreno interrogates the lost (erased) history of women writers and muses — the Madwomen of Modernism — and explores her own development as a writer, woman and lover alongside such figures as Zelda Fitzgerald and Viv Eliot. Deeply entertaining, this is a hybrid of the most confessional memoir with the most intense scholarship. Would be worth reading the entire book just for the transcripts of the Fitzgeralds’ couples therapy alone.|
|Holy Ghost Girl, Donna M. Johnson (Gotham Books) Even if you know nothing of the Full Gospel world of tent revivals, Jericho marches and speaking in tongues, you’ll be captivated by the pitch-perfect prose and attention to detail that rivals Dillard at her best.|
|Johnny Future, Steve Abee (MP Publishing) A pure adrenaline rush of a novel that will hurl you laughing through hell and back. And if you can make it to the end without sobbing like a little girl, you don’t have a soul and are the problem with the world.|
|Jonah Man, Christopher Narozny (Ig Publishing) As compelling as it is atmospheric, Jonah Man is above all mercilessly readable. This is the kind of storytelling that keeps you flipping pages against your will deep into the wee hours. Narozny writes like an insider. His prose is lean, mean and razor sharp.|
|Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, Martin Gayford (Thames & Hudson) Grandson of Sigmund Freud, Lucien Freud was a major figure in 20th century British art, someone known as much for his outsize personality as his graphic canvasses of nudes (and of the Queen, which is a whole other story). His art speaks of a reality beneath the surface, and this book describes, almost as a kind of diary, how art historian Gayford sat for his own portrait, how Freud worked, what he talked about, and how the portrait evolved. Absolutely enthralling.|
|The Rules of Inheritance, Claire Bidwell Smith (Hudson Street Press) After losing her beautiful and enigmatic mother, followed by the loss of a father with whom she’d forged a hard-won relationship, Smith finds herself adrift and unmoored in the world. With stark precision, she captures the way grief and loneliness spiral out to impact every area of life, from sexuality to addictions to money. Although the subject matter is heavy, this memoir is unexpectedly sexy and fun, besides being genuinely poignant.|
|Trophy, Michael Griffith (Triquarterly Books) A dude looks back on his life as he’s being crushed to death by a stuffed bear. What’s not to love? Griffith is having a delightful time with language, and it’s contagious. A little bit of Portis, with a modernist slant.|
|A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends, Stacy Bierlein (Elephant Rock Books) If Lorrie Moore and Susan Minot had a love child, it would be Stacy Bierlein. Combining the sexy nostalgia of Minot with Moore’s sophisticated wit and wordplay, this collection unabashedly celebrates female friendship and the heady confusion of sexual desire. Men, in Bierlein’s stories, are largely incomprehensible, yet they pull in the female protagonists with a powerful magnetic force. Though most stories explore some angle of relationships, several stand-outs also delve into grief over lost parents or infertility, and the exotic locales in which the stories are set provide a global lens for these universal struggles of the heart.|
|The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Tor Books) In which the VanderMeers define a literary genre and then back it up with the creepiest evidence you’ll ever read. And with 110 stories spanning 1100 pages, this could well be the only book you’ll ever need.|
|Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed (Knopf) One of the year’s best and most beloved books. All at once, it manages to be an awesome adventure story, finely and passionately told, and also a deeply inspirational tale of loss and love and survival.|
Also receiving votes, although ineligible because they were written by TNB editors and/or were published by our imprint, TNB Books, were: The Beautiful Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Collins; The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison; and Board, by Brad Listi and Justin Benton.