The Best Books Read in 2012

Submitted just as the window of year-end reminiscences is closing, this post is my chance to look back at the dozen books that stood out most for me in 2012. I hit some kind of reading slump toward the end of the year, my pace of matching 2011’s total of 60-plus books, well in reach around summertime, taking a hit late to settle for 53 books. Better luck in 2013, I guess. Coming up with this list wasn’t too difficult, nor was selecting one of the 12 as my favorite of the year. It was a book I read early in the year, and nothing I read in the remaining months came (anywhere) close to matching it for ambition, scope, and resonance.

Drum roll, please…

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#8: The Assistant (1957), by Bernard Malamud

Morris was incensed by thoughts of the long years he had toiled without just reward.


In the introduction to a recent reissue of  The Assistant, Jonathan Rosen writes, “[Bernard] Malamud was a master of the short story, and it sometimes seems that his characters are too poor to live in longer fiction.”

And how! My edition of The Assistant is 246 pages, a modest length by any standard, and yet there’s enough suffering in it to make a Cleveland sports fan cry uncle. Malamud is ruthless: every time shopkeeper Morris Bober and his family get some shred of good news, be it a few extra bucks in the weekly till, the temporary closing of a rival, or in the case of Bober’s daughter Helen, the realization that she’s in love with the store’s Italian assistant, they get knocked down with a force ten times greater, one cosmic joke served up after another.

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