‘The Address Book’
11 Images

Best of 2012: David L. Ulin’s top 10 books

‘The Address Book’
by Sophie Calle
(Siglio: 104 pp., $29.95).

Never before published in its entirety in English, Calle’s 1983 inquiry into (assault on?) privacy — she photocopied an address book she found in a Paris street and then contacted the people listed there to create an impressionistic portrait of its owner — raises questions about art, ethics, curiosity and even prurience, all of which is utterly relevant in our hyper-networked, social media age. (Siglio)
‘Building Stories’
by Chris Ware
(Pantheon: boxed, unpaged, $50)

When is a book not a book? Ware’s magnificent opus, a graphic novel told in the form of 14 related but distinct comics stories, is a kind of epic do-it-yourself adventure; we literally determine the shape of the story by choosing the order in which we read it. (Random House)
‘Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace’
by D.T. Max
(Viking: 356 pp., $27.95)

The first biography of the novelist, who committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46, Max’s book is neither hagiography nor reassessment but something much more subtle and difficult: a consideration of the artist as a human being. (Viking)
‘Gods Without Men’
by Hari Kunzru
(Knopf: 384 pp., $26.95)

Kunzru’s fourth novel may be his finest — a consideration of time, coincidence and meaning, taking place for the most part in the Mojave and moving back and forth across two centuries. (Knopf)
‘The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire’
by Ted Gioia
(Oxford University Press: 528 pp., $39.95)

This exquisite book brings both context and passion to the 250-plus songs that make up the jazz canon, blending research, criticism and a musician’s understanding to frame an informal history of the form. (Oxford University Press)
by Lydia Millet
(Norton: 256 pp., $25.95)

The third volume in a trilogy that also encompasses “How the Dead Dream” and “Ghost Lights,” Millet’s novel is about nothing less than the conundrum of survival, and the question of meaning in an existence bound inevitably by extinction and death. (W.W. Norton and Company)
by Zadie Smith
(Penguin Press: 402 pp., $26.95)

In her fourth novel, Smith returns to the northwest London territory of her 2000 debut, “White Teeth.” But don’t be fooled: This story of four thirtysomething Londoners is no sequel. Rather, it offers a thrilling homage to modernism, and a stirring meditation on the blurry boundary between inner and outer life. (Penguin Group)
‘On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present’
by Alan Ryan
(Liveright: boxed, two volumes, 1,114 pp., $75).

Spanning more than 2,500 years, Ryan’s masterpiece (he’s been working on it for more than three decades) frames the entire history of Western political thinking in the tension between two ideas: personal liberty and responsibility to the state. (Simon Lee / Liveright Publishing)
‘Our Kind of People: A Continent’s Challenge, A Country’s Hope’
by Uzodinma Iweala
(Harper: 228 pp., $24.99)

A physician as well as a novelist, Iweala looks at the specter of AIDS in sub-Saharan African, and especially his native Nigeria. Sober, thoughtful, yet never anything but empathetic, he leads us to confront our assumptions by constantly questioning his own. (Harper)
‘These Dreams of You’
by Steve Erickson
(Europa: 310 pp., $16 paper)

Erickson’s 10th novel may also be his finest: the story of a Topanga Canyon family who finds their universe complicated by both the fallout of the mortgage crisis and the arrival of an adopted daughter from Ethiopia who hears a kind of cosmic music, as if she were a celestial receiver in human form. (Europa)
In case you missed it photos and video...