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New York Times Notable Books of 2012: Fiction & Poetry

Notable fiction & poetry selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
A young hacker on the run in the Mideast is the protagonist of this imaginative first novel.

Almost Never by Daniel Sada
In this glorious satire of machismo, a Mexican agronomist simultaneously pursues a prostitute and an upright woman.

An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer
In a novel vividly evoking the multilayered world of espionage, Steinhauer’s hero fights back when his C.I.A. unit is nearly destroyed.

Arcadia by Lauren Groff (eBook)
Groff’s lush and visual second novel begins at a rural commune, and links that utopian past to a dystopian, post-global-warming future.

At Last by Edward St. Aubyn
The final and most meditative of St. Aubyn’s brilliant Patrick Melrose novels is full of precise observations and glistening turns of phrase.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (eBook)
Walter’s witty sixth novel, set largely in Hollywood, reveals an American landscape of vice, addiction, loss and disappointed hopes.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
The survivors of a fierce firefight in Iraq are whisked stateside for a brief victory tour in this satirical novel.

Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie
The best stories in Alexie’s collection of new and selected works are moving and funny, bringing together the embittered critic and the yearning dreamer.

The Book of Mischief: New and Selected Stories by Steve Stern
Jewish immigrant lives observed with effusive nostalgia.

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (audio download, CD book, large print book)
Mantel’s sequel to “Wolf Hall” traces the fall of Anne Boleyn, and makes the familiar story fascinating and suspenseful again.

Building Stories by Chris Ware
A big, sturdy box containing hard-bound volumes, pamphlets and a tabloid houses Ware’s demanding, melancholy and magnificent graphic novel about the inhabitants of a Chicago building.

By Blood by Ellen Ullman (audio download)
This smart, slippery novel is a narrative striptease, as a professor listens in on the sessions between the therapist next door and her patients.

Canada by Richard Ford (CD book, eBook, MP3 CD)
A boy whose parents rob a bank in Montana in 1960 takes refuge across the border in this mesmerizing novel, driven by fully realized characters and an accomplished prose style.

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw (large print book)
Anshaw pays close attention to the lives of a group of friends bound together by a fatal accident in this wry, humane novel, her fourth.

City of Bohane by Kevin Barry
Somewhere in Ireland in 2053, people are haunted by a “lost time,” when something calamitous happened, and hope to reclaim the past. Barry’s extraordinary, exuberant first novel is full of inventive language.

Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert
In orderly free verse constructions, Gilbert deals plainly with grief, love, marriage, betrayal and lust.

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
This volume offers further proof of Munro’s mastery, and shows her striking out in the direction of a new, late style that sums up her whole career.

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
LaValle’s culturally observant third novel is set in a shabby urban mental hospital.

Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison
Harrison’s splendid and surprising novel of late imperial Russia centers on Rasputin’s daughter Masha and the hemophiliac ­czarevitch Alyosha.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (eBook, large print book)
An Appalachian woman becomes involved in an effort to save monarch butterflies in this brave and majestic novel.

Fobbit by David Abrams
Clerks, cooks and lawyers at a forward operating base in Iraq populate this first novel.

The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli
In Soli’s haunting second novel, a mysterious Caribbean woman cares for a cancer patient on an isolated California ranch.

Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden
Three generations of black women confront floods and murder in Mississippi.

Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru
Related stories, spanning centuries and continents, and all tethered to a desert rock formation, emphasize interconnectivity across time and space in Kunzru’s relentlessly modern fourth novel.

HHhH by Laurent Binet
This gripping novel examines both the killing of an SS general in Prague in 1942 and Binet’s experience in writing about it.

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (CD book, MP3 CD)
Eg­gers’s novel is a haunting and supremely readable parable of America in the global economy, a nostalgic lament for a time when life had stakes and people worked with their hands.

Home by Toni Morrison (audio download, eBook)
A black Korean War veteran, discharged from an integrated Army into a segregated homeland, makes a reluctant journey back to Georgia in a novel engaged with themes that have long haunted Morrison.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander
Hilarity alternates with pain in this novel about a Jewish man seeking peace in upstate New York who discovers Anne Frank in his attic.

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
The narrator (also named Sheila) and her friends try to answer the question in this novel’s title.

In One Person by John Irving
Irving’s funny, risky new novel about an aspiring writer struggling with his sexuality examines what happens when we face our desires honestly.

A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash (audio download, eBook)
An evil pastor dominates Cash’s mesmerizing first novel.

Married Love: And Other Stories by Tessa Hadley
Hadley’s understatedly beautiful collection is filled with exquisitely calibrated gradations and expressions of class.

NW by Zadie Smith
The lives of two friends who grew up in a northwest London housing project diverge, illuminating questions of race, class, sexual identity and personal choice, in Smith’s energetic modernist novel.

On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths by Lucia Perillo
Taut, lucid poems filled with complex emotional reflection.

Pure by Julianna Baggott (audio download)
Children battle for the planet’s redemption in this precisely written postapocalyptic adventure story.

The Right-Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman
A dark, magisterial novel set on a Chesapeake Bay estate.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich (eBook)
In this novel, an American Indian family faces the ramifications of a vicious crime.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (eBook)
A pregnant 15-year-old and her family await Hurricane Katrina in this lushly written novel.

San Miguel by T. Coraghessan Boyle
Two utopians from different eras establish private idylls on California’s desolate Channel Islands; this novel preserves their tantalizing dreams.

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
This thought-provoking debut novel presents a geeky astronaut and his pregnant wife.

Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber
The stories in Serber’s first collection are smart and nuanced.

Silent House by Orhan Pamuk
A family is a microcosm of a country on the verge of a coup in this intense, foreboding novel, first published in Turkey in 1983.

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
Dermont’s captivating debut novel, whose narrator is a boarding school student and a sailor, takes pleasure in the sea and in the exhilarating freedom of being young.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (CD book, eBook, MP3 CD)
The true subject of this smart and tricky novel, set inside a cold war espionage operation, is the border between make-believe and reality.

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
In this spare, disturbing and frequently funny novel, a troubled young woman tests the marriages of two couples.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (eBook)
Chabon’s rich comic novel about fathers and sons in Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., juggles multiple plots and mounds of pop culture references in astonishing prose.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
This beautiful work takes power from the surprises of its language and its almost shocking characterization of Mary, mother of Jesus.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
The stories in this collection are about love, but they’re also about the undertow of family history and cultural mores, presented in Díaz’s exciting, irresistible and entertaining prose.

Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye
In loosely linked narratives, three women from Senegal struggle with fathers and husbands in France. This subtle, hypnotic novel won the Prix Goncourt in 2009.

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker
This novel, a sequel to “Life Class,” delves further into the lives of an English family torn apart by World War I.

Watergate by Thomas Mallon
This novelistic re­imagining of the “third-rate burglary” proposes surprising motives for the break-in and the 18-minute gap, and has a sympathetic Nixon.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories by Nathan Englander (audio download, eBook)
Englander tackles large questions of morality and history in a masterly collection that manages to be both insightful and ­uproarious.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
A young private and his platoon struggle through the war in Iraq but find no peace at home in this powerful and moving first novel about the frailty of man and the brutality of war.

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