Today the National Book Critics Circle announced its finalists for the 2012 publishing year (click here for their release). The winners will be announced on February 28:


  • HHhH, by Laurent Binet, tr. from the French by Sam Taylor
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain
  • The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson
  • Magnificence, by Lydia Millet
  • NW, by Zadie Smith


  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo
  • Private Empires: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll
  • Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story, by Jim Holt
  • Spilover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, by David Quammen
  • Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon


  • Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, by David Ferry
  • On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths, by Lucia Perillo
  • Fragile Acts, by Allan Peterson
  • Landscape, or A Guide for Boys, by D.A. Powell
  • Olives, by A.E. Stallings


  • The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande
  • My Poets, by Maureen N. McLane
  • House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East, by Anthony Shadid
  • Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton
  • In the House of the Interpreter, by Ngügï wa Thiong’o


  • The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert A. Caro
  • All We Know: Three Lives, by Lisa Cohen
  • Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece, by Michael Gorra
  • Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography, by Lisa Jarnot
  • The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss


  • Reinventing Bach, by Paul Elie
  • Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture, by Daneil Mendelsohn
  • Madness, Rack, and Honey, by Mary Ruefle
  • Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, by Marina Warner
  • The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, by Kevin Young
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By | 2013-01-14T14:51:07+00:00 January 14th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|10 Comments


  1. Trevor January 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Does any one have any favorites? I don’t have many of these on my radar. I have actively avoided HHhH due to negative reviews I believed. I’m not particularly interested in Ben Fountain’s book, though it’s everywhere. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of The Orphan Master’s Son, but I’m not particularly interested in it. I am interested in Lydia Millet and Zadie Smith, but it will be a while before I get to them, if I ever do.

    I am currently reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and I can see why it should keep winning in the nonfiction category.

  2. Jan January 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    It’s Katherine Boo, not Book.

  3. Trevor January 14, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Ah, thanks Jan. Corrected.

  4. lascosas January 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    For the fiction I’ve read Fountain, Johnson & Smith. No clue why Fountain’s book shows up on so many best-of lists. In my Amazon review I called it a novella that just kept going and going and going.

    I was hugely looking forward to Johnson’s book, which received much press before publication because it is about North Korea. There are very, very few books published on that subject that I haven’t read in the last decade, so devoured this on publication day. But it actually took me almost 2 months to finish the thing. Seemed more an excuse to have a setting where all rules of civilization have dissolved than an actual novel set in the real country of North Korea.
    And way too violent for its own sake. Big disappointment.

    I very much enjoyed NW. It is big and messy, so not a tidy package that a Booker panel enamoured of Mantel would appreciate, but I think she is evolving as a novelist in ways that are gutsy and innovative. She is a novelist whose career arc I anticipate will continue to evolve and surprise.

    I didn’t care much for Boo’s book. I have the most popular negative review of the book on Amazon US. I realize I am one of the only people on the planet who feels that way, but so be it.

    I thoroughly enjoy Coll’s writing style, and found this to be a nuanced look at the oil giant. But unlike his books on Getty Oil and ATT, htere isn’t much of a story line. Little drama, just around-the-world with ExxonMobil.

    Robert Caro is a biography god. I was so excited about the latest volume of the LBJ biography finally being published that I stayed up until midnight to buy the Kindle version and basically did nothing but read for 24 hours. Then sadness crept in as I realized I would need to wait years for any more Caro.

  5. Betsy January 15, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Thank you for this rich (reminder) list, Trevor. Out of the 30 books, at the very top of my list is Michael Gorra’s “Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece”.

    But I am also interested in Kevin Young and Andrew Solomon. Zadie Smith, of course. And Boo’s “Mumbai.”

    I have no recollection of ever encountering any of the poets – is that me, or is that the state of poetry? Probably me, but poetry seems to suffer from too much of a muchness, a lack of good press with the exception of David Orr, and an almost psychotic interiority. So “My Poets” by Maureen McLane and “Madness, Rack, and Poetry” both beckon.

  6. Trevor January 15, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    lascosas, people often ask me how I read so much, but you blow me out of the water! Thanks for taking the time to write up your thoughts here. I’ve been interested in Caro’s work for some time, but that he has you staying up for 24 hours straight means I must seek him out. I’m particularly interested in the LBJ biography because I’m not sure what there is myth and what is verifiable.

    I’ll also seek out your review of the Boo. I am still at the early part in the book (I had to put it down to read some other things), but I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I’m curious about your criticisms. I’ll try to get my review up in the near-term.

    Betsy, I forgot above to mention how interested I’ve been in Gorra’s book. I had it scoped out well before it was published but I haven’t got it yet. I have heard great things about it, though, even from people who don’t particularly like Henry James (why are they reading this book then? I don’t know).

  7. lascosas January 15, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I’m retired Trevor, that is my secret of reading so much. I used to spend 10 hours a day reading and writing legal documents, reading for pleasure at the odd off hour. Now it is all pleasure reading, all day every day.

  8. Trevor January 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    I hope I follow your path, lascosas. I’ve got the “reading and writing legal documents” right, so I’ll aim for “all pleasure reading, all day every day.” Thankfully, my wife has similar dreams for our retirement.

  9. Thomas January 15, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    I read Millet’s Magnificence a few weeks ago and was completely delighted by it–a really well-written book. Seemingly scattered on the surface, but so tightly constructed underneath it all. This worked quite marvelously for the majority of the novel, until the final thirty or so pages when it seemed like Millet felt the urge to tie everything together (it’s a book that hinges on big metaphors). I’ve noticed this tendency in writers and when it works it works WELL, but when it doesn’t it can be quite irritating and disappointing. I think what happens is that with a looser ending the reader is able to project on to the page more of his own experiences and personality and draw his own conclusions, fill in the blanks with connections that might not have even been intended. But when you try so hard to “wrap things up” it becomes easier for the reader to spot the congruency issues between the metaphors and ideas you are trying to bring together. It’s kind of like those optical illusion tests where you have two shades of the same base color, that vary only slightly from one another. Spaced out, they look like the same color, but the closer they’re brought together, the more impossible it becomes to not notice the differences between the two. If that makes any sense whatsoever, that is sort of what happened to Magnificence. Still, it was a wonderful read and one I’d thoroughly recommend. I plan on reading Ghost Lights next (I’m so bad, reading them in the wrong order).

  10. Trevor January 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    I’m glad to hear good things about it, Thomas, and I also appreciate knowing that it may not be entirely successful. Brings my expectations down, and I’m more likely to enjoy it that way.

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