Best Books of 2012

BEST BOOKS OF 2012
b
y Clarence V. Reynolds
Freelance editor Clarence V. Reynolds reads thousands of books every year. Mosaic Literary Magazine asked him to whittle that list down to the best of the year. After much discussion here’s his list of nine stellar titles.

FICTION

13608914By Love Possessed: Stories
by Lorna Goodison
Amistad/HarperCollins
In twenty-two enchanting stories inspired by her Jamaican homeland, poet and author Lorna Goodison presents a cast of lively characters and love stories that explore the complicated and sometimes quixotic adventures of the romantic heart. The tales are oftentimes downright entertaining and at other times meditative, yet the narratives about harnessing affectionate feelings that runs through each story captures the tenderness, passionate emotions, heartaches, and, of course, the wishfulness that become ones companions along the journey of love’s pathways.

13030260The Devil in Silver
by Victor LaValle
Spiegel & Grau/Random House
LaValle’s stories are bold and mind-blowing to say the least. In his latest novel, he mixes themes of courage, friendship, and religion and comes up with a stew of comedy and suspense. Pepper, a hefty furniture mover, finds himself in NewHydeHospital, a shabby psychiatric institution, where he has been brought in by police and placed under observation, supposedly for three days. Although Pepper is not mentally ill, he is unable to leave. It’s not long before he becomes aware of the bizarre surroundings that includes a bison-headed monster that roams the halls at night, and he befriends a few of the patients with a plan to take down the beast.

13235659Freeman
by Leonard Pitts Jr.
Agate Bolden
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Leonard Pitts Jr. has created a brave protagonist and introduces both a fresh voice and a surprising story line to the already imagined and written narratives about slavery and the various frames of mind throughout the nation after it ended. Sam Freeman, an intelligent escaped slave, leaves his job at Library Company of Philadelphia and embarks on a parlous journey through the South with the hopes of reuniting with his wife, whom he had left more than decade earlier. Freeman is a compelling love story that portrays its characters’ bravery and self-determination with richness, while also examining their interpretations of freedom.                                                                                                            

12693886Half-Blood Blues
By Esi Edugyan
Picador
Set against the backdrop of World War Two, Edugyan’s suspenseful tale about friendship, love, rivalries, and music offers an unexpected plot. The title of the novel comes from the name of a tune, “Half-Blood Blues,” which was recorded by The Hot-Time Swingers, a multiethnic jazz band that performed in Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but was forbidden to play as the Nazis moved into France and Germany. The time shifts to 1992, and two of the band’s former members take off for Berlin to attend a film festival in which a documentary is scheduled to honor their onetime now-legendary trumpet player, an Afro-German, who had been arrested by the Gestapo and mysteriously disappeared some fifty years earlier.

13503109This Is How You Lose Her
by Junot Díaz
Riverhead
Yunior, the lead character who has had top billing in many of Diaz’s hilarious-as-heck and endearing stories that examine a slice of his Dominican culture, is an irresistible guy and a hopeless romantic. He longs for love, and, more times than not, the outcome of situations are obstructed by his own recklessness. The charming tales in This Is How You Lose Her also express the mixture of feelings that a person faces when he—and she—confesses to his own self-discoveries about intimacy and truths about relationships. As with his previous celebrated works, Díaz’s distinct and vibrant style and his use of face-paced dialogue burst forth with unflinching honesty and fervent emotional outpouring in his storytelling.

13155297Three Strong Women
By Marie Ndiaye
Knopf 
Three African women: Norah, a lawyer who has an encounter with her estranged father; Fanta, who contends with her disillusioned husband; and Khady, a widow who is forced to make it on her own after being ousted from the house by her in-laws are the heroines in Ndiaye’s novel, which reads almost like three separate short stories. The fates of these women are united by their endurance and strength to survive the disappointments and humiliations that have surfaced in their lives. Overall, it is Ndiaye’s elegant and perceptive style and her expressive storytelling that weaves together these tales of recognizing ones self-worth.

12798259We Are Taking Only What We Need
by Stephanie Powell Watts
BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City
With stories set in North Carolina, Watts’s impressive debut is a collection of short stories about women discovering their own strength, recognizing their vulnerabilities, and coming to terms with the decisions they make and the relatives and situations that influence those outcomes. The story “UnassignedTerritory,” about a young Jehovah’s Witness who canvases from door-to-door, is a clear representation of the author’s verve for creating memorable characters and of her being a keen observer of the touching moments and the ordinary surroundings that she finds worth paying attention to.

 

NONFICTION

13426042American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama
by Rachel L. Swarns
Amistad/HarperCollins
New York Times reporter Swarns describes her book as one of “hard history” as she traces the family history of the first African-American First Lady, beginning in 1865 with her great, great, great grandmother. Although Swarns was unable to obtain any information directly from Mrs. Obama or include any thoughts from her about newly uncovered details about her ancestors, the in-depth research she presents in the fascinating book reveals the complex experiences and racial backgrounds that comprise her family tree. While American Tapestry beautifully represents the bloodline of a singular family history, the compelling narrative also offers the chance to reflect upon the interconnectedness of many American families.

13588385There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra
by Chinua Achebe
The Penguin Press
The renowned writer Chinua Achebe, who has written and or edited close to twenty works, is often considered the father of modern African literature. Of writing, he says, “It has always been a serious business for me.” In his latest book, the author of the classic Things Fall Apart shares the experiences and events living in his native Nigeria and the personal ideals that shaped him as a writer. He also chronicles the events that led to the Biafran War, the civil war that gripped the country for three years. His memoir is an engaging blend of history, prose, and poetry.

 

Clarence V. Reynolds, an independent journalist, is the assistant director at the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, and a contributing writer for The Network Journal.

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