The Five "Best" Books of 2012

When we speak of literary taste, we may imagine we refer to preferences regarding subject matter, genre, form and the varieties of narrative prowess. But much of what taste in reading boils down to is less conducive to objective analysis, less neatly parceled into scholarly-sounding brackets. Simply, it’s the extent to which we take pleasure in the company of the author — or rather, a facsimile thereof, a phantom version composed of and subsisting on words alone. Leah Hager Cohen

‘Tis the season for the Best Books of the Year. The 10 Best, the 100 Best, the absolutely all time ever Best. In the spirit of the season, I reviewed the books I read this year, and while it wasn’t exactly a stellar year, at least for me, I did find five that I can call my favorites.

To say they are the Best, of course, is presumptuous; the Best for one reader might very well be the Worst for another. So I call them, my Favorites and no sooner do I say that than I ask what constitutes a favorite Book.

As I try to answer the question, I realize it is probably the one I remember most vividly and that I am likely to recall a year or so down the path. But it must also contain a goodly number of ideas and those special truths that I find in literature. A few is usually sufficient; a great many is a great good fortune

I did enjoy and was greatly amused by one of the top five, but I doubt I’ll recall much about the story for very long. On the other hand, the remaining four were either so grim or provocative, that it would be inaccurate to say they were pleasurable.

But I digress…as usual. Here are the Favorite Five of 2012, listed alphabetically by author with a link to the blog I wrote about each one:

Jennie Erdal, The Missing Shade of Blue
Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth
Elliot Perlman, The Street Sweeper
Eyal Press, Beautiful Souls
Irvin Yalom, The Spinoza Problem

With the exception of Beautiful Souls, they are novels, to a large extent philosophical novels. After mulling this over for a while, I have concluded that Eyal Press’s Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times, is the book I rank number one.

It is the book I am most likely to consult again, not only because it has led me in a new research direction, but also because it describes individuals who command my respect. I will not forget the effort of Paul Gruninger to enable Jews fleeing the Nazi’s to seek safety in Switzerland. Or the Israeli, Avner Wishnitzer, a solider in the IDF who refused to serve in the occupied territories. Neither can I forget the whistleblower Leyla Wyder who exposed the Ponzi scheme at the Sanford Financial Group.

Press describes the courageous acts of these and other individuals with great skill that reflects a good deal of research and first hand interviews. Not surprisingly his book is not on anyone’s list of the best books of the year, regardless of the size of the list, but for me it was the most notable book of 2012.