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Top 5 books in 2012: First-time novelists, nonfiction top list

Coming up with a "best books of 2012" list is a daunting task, given that something upwards of half a million books were published this year.

But I can pick a few favorites from among the 150 or so books I read in 2012. The year saw a good crop of books by first-time novelists and nonfiction authors, and here are five I particularly enjoyed.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House) by Katherine Boo is a riveting nonfiction account of life in a Mumbai slum that reads like a really good novel; it won this year's National Book Award for nonfiction.

The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown) by Kevin Powers is another Iraq war novel, this one written by one of its veterans and filled with bleakly beautiful description and harsh emotional realities.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ecco) by Ben Fountain is a wickedly funny and fiercely outraged satirical novel about a squad of soldiers hailed for their heroism in the Iraq war — and rewarded with an appearance at an NFL game.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Knopf) by Ayana Mathis is a darkly lyrical portrait of three generations of an African-American family. (See review in this Sunday's Latitudes section.)

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (W.W. Norton) by Florence Williams is an engagingly written and often astounding nonfiction book about the history, science and politics of the human breast.

Top 5 books in 2012: First-time novelists, nonfiction top list 12/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 3:30am]
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