The best books of 2012, as determined by rocket science and Excel and 17 other best of 2012 lists

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Lasted less than an hour.

It’s that time of year again, when you try to buy a cute little Christmas tree-like plant for your apartment—to be festive-like—and the cat knocks it over within like 0.3 seconds, so you spend the evening vacuuming up dirt and the bits of Christmas-tree-like-plant tendrils instead of basking in the feeling of accomplishment slash self-pity that comes with buying Christmas decorations probably only you yourself will see, but so you go out and buy a new mini Christmas tree plant anyway, decorate it, and Instagram it to feel better.

Also known as the holidays.

Cat lady moments notwithstanding, the end of the year brings with it a flurry of “Best of 2012” lists, designed to inform you of all the great writing produced over the last 12 months, and guilt trip you for not having read enough of it. How I’ve gotten through a book every week, and yet somehow managed to avoid reading even one of the NYT’s’ 100 Notable Books, is beyond me. In a related query, how could they have snubbed Sookie Stackhouse No. 12??

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But really, who has time to read all of those lists, what with our busy holiday schedule of eating and napping and contemplating eating again. This is why you guys have me. By combining 17 different BO2012 lists — from, here we go, Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, NPR again, The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani, Janet Maslin, Dwight Garner, Slate, Goodreads, Goodreads again, The Washington Post, Barnes & Noble, Huffington Post, Amazon, The New Yorker, Buzzfeed and Oprah’s Book Club — I have created the ÜBERLIST, the definitive, mathematically and scientifically verified Best Books of 2012.

In all of my “research” (googling, copying, pasting), there were some clear winners. Specifically, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is apparently the best book ever written, appearing on a whopping 10 of my 17 lists. Only a few votes behind was Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, a sequel to 2009’s Wolf Hall, with seven nods. For page-turner of the year (called it) Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl appeared on six lists, followed up by The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (also part of a series).

In a chart (I don’t play), here are the Top 14, by number of nominations:


Here’s a table of every book that appeared on at least three lists (links are to Amazon. Where relevant, I’ve linked to my review).

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai UniversityKatherine Boo10New York Times, Slate, Goodreads/Nonfiction, Washington Post, B&N/Nonfiction, Amazon, New Yorker, Buzzfeed/2012, JM, Oprah
Bring Up the BodiesHilary Mantel7PW, New York Times, Washington Post, B&N/Fiction, Amazon, New Yorker, JM
Gone Girl
[my review]
Gillian Flynn6B&N/Fiction, Huffington Post, Amazon, Buzzfeed/2012, JM, Oprah
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon JohnsonRobert A. Caro5New York Times, B&N/Nonfiction, Amazon, New Yorker, MK
This is How You Lose HerJunot Diaz5Slate, Goodreads/Fiction, B&N/Fiction, Huffington Post, Amazon
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailCheryl Strayed5NPR/Books to Hang On To, Goodreads/Nonfiction, Amazon, DG, Oprah
A Hologram for the KingDave Eggars4New York Times, Amazon, Buzzfeed/2012, MK
Beautiful RuinsJess Walter4Goodreads/Fiction, B&N/Fiction, Amazon, Oprah
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for IdentityAndrew Solomon4New York Times, Amazon, Buzzfeed/2012, DG
QuietSusan Cain4Goodreads/Nonfiction, B&N/Nonfiction, Amazon, Oprah
The Age of MiraclesKaren Thompson Walker4Goodreads/Fiction, B&N/Fiction, Amazon, Oprah
The Fault in Our Stars
[my review]
John Green4Huffington Post, Amazon, Buzzfeed/2012, Oprah
The Round HouseLouise Erdrich4PW, NPR/Book Club Reads, Amazon, Oprah
The Yellow BirdsKevin Powers4New York Times, Huffington Post, Amazon, MK
ArcadiaLauren Groff3NPR/Book Club Reads, Washington Post, JM
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkBen Fountain3Washington Post, Amazon, JM
Building StoriesChris Ware3PW, New York Times, Buzzfeed/2012
CanadaRichard Ford3Washington Post, B&N/Fiction, Oprah
How Children SucceedPaul Tough3Slate, Goodreads/Nonfiction, Amazon
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956Anne Applebaum3PW, Washington Post, Amazon
MortalityChristopher Hitchens3NPR/Books to Hang On To, B&N/Nonfiction, Amazon
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour BookstoreRobin Sloan3NPR/Books to Hang On To, Goodreads/Fiction, Amazon
NWZadie Smith3NPR/Book Club Reads, New York Times, Amazon
People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of TokyoRichard Lloyd Parry3PW, Slate, Amazon
Telegraph AvenueMichael Chabon3B&N/Fiction, Amazon, MK
Tell The Wolves I’m HomeCarol Rifka Brunt3Goodreads/Fiction, Amazon, Oprah
The Dog StarsPeter Heller3Goodreads/Fiction, B&N/Fiction, Amazon
Half-Blood BluesEsi Edugyan3Slate, Amazon, Oprah
The Signal and the NoiseNate Silver3Goodreads/Nonfiction, B&N/Nonfiction, Amazon
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?Jeanette Winterson3Amazon, DG, Oprah
ZonaGeoff Dyer3Slate, Huffington Post, New Yorker

And here’s an Excel file of the full list, which has 224 books total.

You’re. Welcome.

P.S.: Out of the 220 books on the full list that have authors (and excluding one book written by a married couple), 85 of the Best of 2012 were written by women (38.6%), compared with 135 books by male authors. Have at it, Jennifer Weiner.

P.P.S.: Barring some sort of irreparable food coma, I hope to write my own “Best Of” list sometime in the next two weeks. Spoiler: it, too, will pass over Sookie Stackhouse #12.

6 thoughts on “The best books of 2012, as determined by rocket science and Excel and 17 other best of 2012 lists”

  1. Seems like you’re the perfect person to compile a similar master list from the many ‘top 100 books ever’ lists out there. I printed several of them but just couldn’t muster the energy for the cross-referencing : )

  2. This is really awesome. Like your blog – surprised more aren’t reading it! Anybody cool enough to compile and graph the best books of the year is somebody who is always welcome to come sit by me 🙂 (Found you via cannonball FYI)

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