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Best Books: 2012 

1. Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru

Lisa and Jaz Marathu are devastated when their young autistic son Raj goes missing in the Mojave Desert. Their quest to find what happened to him is the central thread of the book, but the novel intersperses their story with characters ranging from a Franciscan priest in the 18th century to the story of a '50s UFO cult. The desert acts as a blank slate on which various characters project their perceptions of reality. Technology and mystery are fused and confused and revelation is just beyond reach. Kunzru gives his visionary novel the shock of the new, but it's still deeply rooted in place.

2. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

An intensely told novel of one soldier's experience in Iraq. Powers effectively uses a fractured chronology to build suspense and mirror the tortured psyche of private Bartle and his guilt over the loss of a comrade. A tense, tightly coiled nightmare of a book, poetic and powerful.

3. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe

The tale of the fluctuating fortunes of the company that reinvented the superhero myth for modern times is told with charm and wit. Howe shows how a last ditch effort by a faltering publisher of monster and romance comics evolved into a pop cultural juggernaut. Original creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are rightfully at the center of the story, but he also illuminates the triumphs and travails of the later artists and writers who picked up the torch.

4. Hav by Jan Morris

In this unique novel, Jan Morris creates a fictional travelogue describing a fascinating city that exists only in her imagination. Hav is a city both secluded and cosmopolitan, one that straddles cultures and religions. Morris carefully invents architecture, ethnic groups and traditions (most notably, a wildly dangerous rooftop foot race across the city), and scatters quotes from the famous and infamous who've supposedly visited Hav. The second part of the book charts her return to the city after 20 years, by which time cultural homogenization and political authoritarianism have changed the city she remembered beyond recognition.

5. Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

This slim volume is a testament to Hitchens' bravery and clear-eyed facing of facts, even when that meant his almost certain demise. In an account of his treatment for terminal esophageal cancer, Hitchens reiterates his refusal of the false comforts of religion, but also of necessity reveals a heretofore unseen humility and humanity. Sharply observed and poignant.

6. HHhH by Laurent Binet

7. I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts by Mark Dery

8. Suddenly, A Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret

9. Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

10. The Hive by Charles Burns 

Jay Aubrey-Herzog sells books for a living.

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Jay Aubrey-Herzog

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