For immediate release | January 22, 2012

2012 Notable Books List: best in adult fiction, non-fiction and poetry

DALLAS — The Notable Books Council, a group of readers’ advisory experts within the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of the American Library Association, has announced its selections for the 2012 Notable Books List of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Since 1944, the goal of the Notable Books Council has been to make available to the nation’s readers a list of about 25 very good, very readable and, at times, very important fiction, nonfiction and poetry books for the adult reader. A book may be selected for inclusion on the Notable Books List if it possesses exceptional literary merit; expands the horizons of human knowledge; makes a specialized body of knowledge accessible to the non-specialist; has the potential to contribute significantly to the solution of a contemporary problem; and/or presents a unique concept.

The winners were selected by the Notable Books Council, whose members include Nonny Schlotzhauer, Penn State University, chair; Terry Beck, Sno-Isle Libraries; Paul Cammarata, University of South Carolina; Sharon Castleberry, DeSoto Public Library; Julie Elliott, Indiana University South Bend; Bill Kelly, Cuyahoga County Public Library; Elizabeth Olesh, Nassau Library System; Katharine Phenix, Rangeview Library District; Camina Raphael, Westbury Memorial Public Library; Sara Taffae; Valerie Morgan Taylor, Great Falls Library; and Brooke Watkins, New York Public Library.

The 2012 winners are:


Banks, Russell. "Lost Memory of Skin." Ecco. 9780061857638

A surprisingly sympathetic exploration of the lives and treatment of sex offenders and how this reflects on our society.

Barnes, Julian. "The Sense of an Ending." Knopf. 9780307957122

A 60-something retiree living near London searches through his memories to discern what role, if any, he may have played in a decades-old tragedy.

deWitt, Patrick. "The Sisters Brothers." Ecco. 9780062041265

A darkly comic and quixotic quest western tale about two brothers whose divergent world views are presented in sparkling prose and originality.

Goldman, Francisco. "Say Her Name." Grove. 9780802119810

Poetic novelization of the author’s struggle to cope with his young wife’s accidental death.

Harbach, Chad. "The Art of Fielding." Little, Brown. 9780316126694

One man’s failure to attain perfection on the baseball field reveals the pain and beauty that life offers in this psychologically astute novel.

MacLeod, Alexander. "Light Lifting." Biblioasis. 9781897231944

Seven fearless short stories explore the limits of physical and emotional endurance in muscular prose.

Obreht, Téa. "The Tiger’s Wife." Random House. 9780385343831

After the death of her beloved grandfather, a young doctor navigates family history, folklore and love across ethnic barriers in a war-torn country.

Ondaatje, Michael. "The Cat’s Table." Knopf. 9780307700117

An adventurous 21-day ocean voyage filled with a rich assortment of characters and escapades resonates through a boy’s life on his way to a new life.

Phillips, Arthur. "The Tragedy of Arthur." Random House. 9781400066476

In an adulthood marred by family dysfunction, an author who dislikes Shakespeare reluctantly finds himself in possession of the Bard’s lost gem. Or does he?

Russell, Karen. "Swamplandia!" Knopf. 9780307263995

An inventive story set in an alligator theme-park navigates boundaries between childhood and adulthood, imagination and reality, in an American landscape both familiar and surreal.

Torres, Justin. "We the Animals." Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 9780547576725

Searing portrait of a troubled, mixed-race working class family centers on the youngest son as he struggles to find his identity amid affection and abuse.

Trevor, William. "Selected Stories." Viking. 9780670022069

These finely sculpted and timeless stories provide a greater appreciation for finding beauty in the minutiae of daily life.


Adams, Mark. "Right Turn at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time." Dutton. 9780525952244

In this humorous travelogue, the author sprinkles historical anecdote with investigative reporting as he retraces the steps of early explorers into ancient Peru.

Bartók, Mira. "The Memory Palace." Free Press. 9781439183311

Beautifully wrought memoir chronicles the 17-year estrangement of the author and her homeless, schizophrenic mother and the painful reunion that brings them together.

Gleick, James. "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood." Knopf. 9780375423727

This comprehensive study, a melodious interplay between science and literature, documents the transmission of human knowledge from the talking drums to the Internet.

Greenblatt, Stephen. "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern." Norton. 9780393064476

Meditation on the power of literature, examining how a medieval book hunter’s serendipitous discovery of an ancient prose poem provides a theoretical bridge to the Renaissance.

Hillenbrand, Laura. "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption." Random House. 9781400064168

An Olympic runner's physical and inner strength is tested by the experience and aftermath of a plane crash, 42 days at sea and Japanese imprisonment.

Hitchens, Christopher. "Arguably: Essays." Twelve. 9781455502776

Polymath and public intellectual displays his considerable range and biting wit in these thoughtful, incisive pieces that provoke and challenge.

Homans, Jennifer. "Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet." Random House. 9781400060603

Elegant, authoritative work traces the evolution of classical dance from the 16th century to today, highlighting social and cultural dimensions of this traditional art form.

Kahneman, Daniel. "Thinking, Fast and Slow." Farrar, Strauss, Giroux. 9780374275631

Entertaining look at the complexities and oddities that characterize our mental processes from the only psychologist ever to have won the Nobel Prize for Economics.

Marable, Manning. "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention." Viking. 9780670022205

Definitive work on his life and transformation from petty thief to charismatic leader of during the turbulent civil rights era.

Millard, Candace. "Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President." Doubleday. 9780385526265

Era of great corruption and change in U.S. history is illuminated through the tragic story of two men – one destined for greatness, the other a madman.

Mukherjee, Siddhartha. "Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer." Scribner. 9781439107959

The history of these diseases and their treatment is examined through the stories of those seeking to discover a cure and the individuals affected.

Reitman, Janet. "Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion." Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 9780618883028

An investigation of the origins, personalities and controversies of this uniquely American religious movement.


Rimbaud, Arthur. "Illuminations." Translated by John Ashbery. Norton. 9780393076356

A vigorous new translation of the French prodigy’s last poems as rendered by one of America’s finest contemporary poets.

Bartlett, Jennifer, Sheila Black and Michael, Northen. "Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability." Cinco Puntos. 9781935955054

Collection of poems and essays that provides insight into the lives of the estimated 50 million Americans with disabilities.

The Reference and User Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, represents librarians and library staff in the fields of reference, specialized reference, collection development, readers advisory and resource sharing. RUSA is the foremost organization of reference and information professionals who make the connections between people and the information sources, services, and collection materials they need. Not a member, but interested in discounted registration rates on conference, preconferences and other events? Join, renew or add RUSA to your ALA membership at Learn more about the association at


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