Since the world is going to end this year and everything, it’s never been a better time to follow the advice of P.J. O’Rourke, who recommends that you “always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” Not that anyone will be around to see you, we guess. Luckily, there are a ton of really exciting books coming out this year, including many that we’d be racing to read apocalypse or no, and good looks aside. Since publishing schedules are not often announced super-far in advance, and they’re subject to change based on a million factors, this is really a first half of 2012 list, heavy on spring releases, to be followed by a second-half of the year list in the summer. Click through to check out the books we’re most looking forward to in the first half of this year (boy was it hard to narrow it down to just ten!), and let us know which others you’re having trouble waiting for in the comments.
The Flame Alphabet , Ben Marcus (January)
If we could submerge ourselves in Ben Marcus’s language, we would — although, if we subscribe to the logic of this newest novel, where the words and voices of children begin to rapidly poison the bodies of the adults around them, we should probably be a little more careful about how we interact with the stuff. We can’t help it, though — this affecting, cerebral horror story about love and language is Marcus’s best work yet.
Threats , Amelia Gray (February)
“Before long, there will be statues of Gray in various corners of the literary world,” Emma Straub predicts, and we’re willing to bet on that. We’ve loved everything that’s come out of her weird, surreal brain thus far, and we’re fairly certain her newest novel will be no different: it’s the tale of a man whose wife has died for seemingly no reason, and while he tries to figure out what has happened, he finds a series of escalating threats and missives hidden in random places around his home, all of this bizarre seeking rendered in Gray’s signature striking prose, strange, perfect, and stingingly bare.
Hot Pink , Adam Levin (March)
Adam Levin is no slouch — after all, his debut novel, The Instructions , is a giant of a thing, soaring past 1000 pages. Amazingly, as soon as we got through it, we found ourselves groping around for more Levin, and now it’s finally here, in the form of his first collection of short stories. Having read several of them already (we are excellent gropers, tell your friends), we can pretty much promise its excellence.
When I Was a Child I Read Books , Marilynne Robinson (March)
“When I was a child I read books,” Robinson writes. “My reading was not indiscriminate. I preferred books that were old and thick and dull and hard… I looked to Galilee for meaning and to Spokane for orthodonture, and beyond that the world where I was I found entirely sufficient.” In this book of essays, the visionary and much-lauded writer shares her views on reading, faith, and the modern life — and as far as we’re concerned, it should be required reading for everyone.
The Moon Over High Street , Natalie Babbitt (March)
Like anyone else raised on Tuck Everlasting and The Search for Delicious, we’re suckers for anything by Natalie Babbitt, and her newest novel seems destined to become yet another enduring delight. From the publisher: “Joe Casimir needed help with the choice he had to make. But how do you choose the person who will help you choose? Mr. Boulderwall, the millionaire, knew exactly what he wanted Joe to choose. And millionaires are experts at making choices. Well, aren’t they? But Vinnie, the number-two man down at Sope Electric, didn’t much approve of millionaires. He said to Joe, ‘Listen, kid, all of ’em act like they’re the only ones with a ticket to the show!’ But he didn’t have any real advice to offer. Joe’s Gran didn’t either, as it turned out, and neither did Aunt Myra. The good advice was there, though. Right across the street. Just waiting right across the street. There are a lot of good things just waiting. You’ll see.”
The Secret of Evil , Roberto Bolaño (April)
You’d think the literary world might get tired of Roberto Bolaño, but we don’t imagine it ever will. This collection of items Bolaño was working on before his death is as much a triumph as his other works, described by Jonathan Lethem in The New York Times as “a once-in-a-blue-moon rhapsodic reading experience.” From the publisher: “A North American journalist in Paris is woken at 4 a.m. by a mysterious caller with urgent information. For V. S. Naipaul the prevalence of sodomy in Argentina is a symptom of the nation’s political ills. Daniela de Montecristo (familiar to readers of Nazi Literature in the Americas and 2666) recounts the loss of her virginity. Arturo Belano returns to Mexico City and meets the last disciples of Ulises Lima, who play in a band called The Asshole of Morelos. Belano’s son Gerónimo disappears in Berlin during the Days of Chaos in 2005. Memories of a return to the native land. Argentine writers as gangsters. Zombie schlock as allegory…”
The Newlyweds , Nell Freudenberger (May)
One of The New Yorker‘s recently selected 20 Under 40 fiction writers, Freudenberger hasn’t released a book since her debut novel, The Dissident, in 2006. However, we think her newest effort will be well worth all of that sighing and waiting by the phone we’ve been doing — at least judging by the excerpt that ran in The New Yorker last year.
Batman: Death by Design , Chip Kidd (June)
It’s no secret that we’re super obsessed with amazing book jacket designer Chip Kidd — and it’s no secret that he’s been obsessed with Batman since the ripe age of three. Now, he has written a full-length graphic novel about the superhero, illustrated by Dave Taylor. In an interview with CBR, Kidd explained, “I actually came up with the title first. I thought, ‘If it’s me and you know who I am and what I do, then I’m going to come at this whole thing from a design standpoint.’ I’ve said for many years that Batman himself and especially the way he’s evolved is brilliant design. It’s problem solving. And we get into that in the story. Beyond that, it became about me going ‘What if?’ What do I want that I haven’t seen? And really, the overall Art Direction for the book is ‘What if Fritz Land made a Batman movie in the late 1930s and had a huge budget? Go!’ There’s the visual platform.”
Daniel Fights a Hurricane , Shane Jones (July)
We were completely blown away by Shane Jones’s 2010 debut novel Light Boxes , a surreal, fabulistic tale of a village revolting against its never-ending February, so we couldn’t be more excited for his sophomore novel, which he describes as “a novel of hallucinations.” Sounds dreamy.
Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon (Fall)
We don’t know much about this book yet, but we have high hopes for the author of our beloved Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. In an essay for The Atlantic early this year, Chabon gave a smidgen of insight: “For the past couple of years I’ve been working on a novel about — my hometown, I was about to say, meaning Berkeley, California, where I’ve lived since the spring of 1997, where three of my four kids were born, where I wrote most of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and every book after that. But the new book – -it’s called Telegraph Avenue — is actually set as fully in Oakland as in Berkeley. Each of those cities (Watson and Mycroft respectively to the showboating Holmes of San Francisco) has its own distinct character, or set of characteristics, its unique inheritance of grace and problems. Yet the line between them, a block and a half from my house, ambles. It blurs. At times it all but vanishes — or maybe, generalizing wildly, Oakland with its history of tough-mindedness and Berkeley with its mania for insight, together conspire to expose the arbitrariness of all such hand-drawn borderlines.” We know we’re biased, but sounds awesome to us.