Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - November 30, 2012

Local booksellers' top picks for 2012

Staff members from Books Inc., Kepler's, list their year's favorites

The Palo Alto Weekly asked local booksellers Kepler's and Books Inc. to recommend their staff's top five picks for 2012.

Here are some of their favorites.

"End of Your Life Book Club," by Will Schwalbe, Knopf: If you are an avid reader and love books, you will love this one. It's a non-fiction story about a mother going through chemo for pancreatic cancer and her journalist son. They share books and their outlooks on life as she goes through her treatments. Each chapter deals with one of the books they shared, and the variety is amazing. It is very much about what they learn from each other. I loved this book and will read some of the featured books I have not read. (Nancy Salmon, Kepler's)

"Gone Girl," by Gillian Flynn, Crown: A delightfully twisted thriller centered on the discordant marriage of the strikingly smart child book-series star, Amy, and the charming, Midwestern bred Nick. The story starts with Amy's disappearance, and suspicion immediately falls on the husband. While the police are investigating, the reader learns when and how Amy and Nick fell in love, living fabulously as successful writers in New York City. Then the economy collapses, both lose their jobs and realize they're on the brink of bankruptcy. Nick takes Amy back to his hometown in Missouri, using the last of Amy's trust fund money to start up a bar. In essence, no one is happy with this situation, save perhaps Nick's sister Go. The secrets start with a trickle and build to a full-on flood. The story is clever, the telling is exciting and the end is masterful. (Tanya Landsberger, Books Inc.)

"Radical Chapters: Pacifist Bookseller Roy Kepler and the Paperback Revolution," by Michael Doyle, Syracuse University Press: Dense with local history, this well-researched biography celebrates Roy Kepler's life as a conscientious objector, peace activist and bookseller. Stories from the time when Jerry Garcia, Joan Baez and Ira Sandperl were regular fixtures at Kepler's Books & Magazines. (Christin Evans, Kepler's)

"Joseph Anton," by Salman Rushdie, Random House: A memoir no one should have had to write, this is the first-person account of the notorious milestone 1989 fatwa and how its target lived through years in hiding and on the run. He endured the disruption to emerge as much the consummate storyteller he always was. The pen is mightier than the sword. (Melissa Mytinger, Kepler's)

"This is How You Lose Her," by Junot Diaz, Riverhead Hardcover: Short, gritty, direct, expletive-laden bursts of confusion and pain, punctuated by moments of stunning clarity, as Diaz spins his tales of love and loss. "This is How You Lose Her" will leave you breathless. (Amy Stephenson, Kepler's)

"Dear Life: Stories," by Alice Munro, Knopf: Alice Munro is an expert of the ordinary. Her fiction is a delicate probe, and the object of her search — executed through unornamented, subtly asymmetrical language — is a seismograph of internal life: complete, fully formed, an emotional register of the most delicate sort. To read Munro is to wake up to sympathy, intelligence, feeling. (Camden Avery, Kepler's)

"Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore," by Robin Sloan, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: A perfect tale for our tech-driven time set in the Bay Area. Sloan's debut novel is a terrifically agreeable story of words, books, computer science and art with a marvelous mysterious thread throughout, and young love, to boot. Sloane — and Mr. Penumbra — signal a future in which books really do exist simultaneously with all that's "e." (Melissa Mytinger, Kepler's)

"Waging Heavy Peace," by Neil Young, Blue Rider Press: Neil Young is a legend. One of the most important, ground breaking, consistently awesome figures in rock history. Neil gives us an inside glimpse at what makes him tick. An essential for any fan. (Kelly McNerney, Kepler's)

"Red Shirts," by John Scalzi, Tor Books: John Scalzi has the rare gift not only of being a wonderfully funny writer but also a profound one. His latest novel offers up an affectionate look at the original Star Trek series. When the latest recruits on the starship Intrepid begin to notice that they keep dying during Away Missions while nothing ever happens to the bridge crew, they soon realize that their reality is far stranger than they could have possibly thought. What follows is a hilarious look at science fiction tropes mixed with the most thoughtful debate on free will and determinism this side of Sam Harris. Great geek gift! (Steven Sautter, Books Inc.)

"The Art Forger," by B.A. Shapiro, Algonquin Books: "The Art Forger" is based on a real unsolved art heist. An artist who earns her crust by copying famous paintings agrees to forge an oil by Degas — using the stolen original as the template and inspirations. The original seduces her with its luminous beauty, until she starts to notices some of the flaws in the brushwork. Is this really an original Degas? The reader will learn a great deal about the techniques of art forgery and the obsessive love of collectors in this convoluted yet readable novel. One will also be able to amuse family and friends at the holiday table by dropping interesting forgery facts into the conversation. And, while trying to hide that last Brussel sprout under the napkin, one may wonder who stole those priceless canvasses, and where do they hang now? (Linda Reid, Books Inc.)

"Song of Achilles," by Madeline Miller, Ecco: Madeline Miller won a well-deserved Orange Prize for this lushly rendered retelling of "The Illiad." Told from the point of view of Patroclus (Achilles' companion, and, in this version, his lover), the book takes us from the boyhoods of Achilles and Patroclus (including visits from Achilles' sea-goddess mother, Thetis), the beginnings of their life-long relationship (an idea Miller took from Plato and Aeschylus) and through to the Trojan War and its aftermath. Miller's prose is gorgeous and her knowledge of the era (she has a doctorate in Classics) shines through. Ten years in the writing, this debut novel is the perfect gift for the history buff, the lover of all things ancient, and for those always on the lookout for an intriguing and engrossing story. (Lori Haggbloom, Books Inc.)

"The Righteous Mind," by Jonathan Haidt, Pantheon: Building upon certain elements of his previous book, "The Happiness Hypothesis," Haidt delves into what constitutes true civility and reason, and how we may work toward creating a uniting compassion in our lives, especially regarding the overwhelmingly divisive issues of religion and politics. This is a fraction of the deeper meanings and theories examined in the book, often lacking any kind of definitive conclusion as each is discussed. The reader is called upon to weigh each side, view things differently and determine her or his own approach to the queries presented. Everyone will not likely agree with what's said, but one can suppose that could all be part of the point. (Tanya Landsberger, Books Inc.).

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