Best Books of 2012: Friends of LitReactor Edition with Irvine Welsh, Jack Ketchum, Douglas Coupland, and Stephen Graham Jones

We've already given you our staff picks for the Best Books of 2012, as well as a supplemental Genre Edition for the geeks, but who the hell cares what a bunch of nobodies have to say when some real, live authors are willing to tell us what to read?

Seriously, though, we've had the privilege of making friends with some amazing writers, and we figured what better way to close out the year than with a special Friends of LitReactor best of list. So we reached out like a grubby urchin begging for alms and they were kind enough to share their favorite reads of 2012 with us.

Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh'Sweet Jesus' by Christine Pountney

This is a very beautifully observed road trip book about two sisters and their adopted kid brother in search of spiritual enlightenment in modern America. Nice to read a book about faith that is neither ranting propaganda or derisive sneer.

Buy Sweet Jesus from

'The Panopticon' by Jenni Fagan

A poetic, heart-breaking book about a fifteen year old girl in care of the state. What literature should be: angry, subversive, beautiful and unique. Best book of the year.

Buy The Panopticon: A Novel from

'Tales From the Mall' by Ewan Morrison

A genre bursting collection of stories, genuinely innovative in content and form. Is a bird or a plane? Who cares - it's excellent.

Buy Tales from the Mall from

'Cold Hands' by John Niven

I'm quite sparing in my consumption of genre fiction, which is often reactionary, signposted pish written to satisfy a market -- the X Factor of literature. Sometimes though, one comes along that is so good, you are happy to surrender to the beat. I could feel the tension ripping through me reading this thriller.

Buy Cold Hands from

'In One Person' by John Irving

John Irving is one of my favorite writers. He produces sprawling epics with all the loose ends tied up. He's an incredible storyteller. His latest book is a bold celebration of sexual difference, replete with his customary compassion and vision.

Jack Ketchum

Jack Ketchum'Talk Talk' by T. C. Boyle

Boyle's sole "thriller" was considered minor by the critics but I beg to disagree -- it's thoroughly accomplished and peopled with wonderfully original characters  -- so screw the critics.

Buy Talk Talk from

'Psychos' edited by John Skipp

An absolutely rock-solid collection, and with a lot of great competition, to my mind easily the best of the year.

Buy Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane from

'Wake Up Dead' by Roger Smith

It doesn't come more hard-boiled than this, and Smith's Cape Town setting is fresh, vivid, and damn scary.

Buy Wake Up Dead (Cape Town Thrillers) from

'Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes' by Stephen Sondheim

The most brilliant lyricist ever is also a brilliant prose-writer, plus it's a great crash-course in lyric-writing.

Buy Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes from

'11/22/63' by Stephen King

Because I could never have done this in a million, million years.

Buy 11/22/63: A Novel from

Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland'Gods Without Men' by Hari Kunzru

I read this to do a review of it and loved it — it made me feel as though I was in the near future in an exciting Christmas morning kind of way.

Buy Gods Without Men (Vintage Contemporaries) from

'The Sugar Frosted Nutsack' by Mark Leyner

This made my brain turn inside out — others I've asked had the same reaction. It's an endurance read, and once it's over, you really feel as if you've been on a voyage. I pity its translators.

Buy The Sugar Frosted Nutsack: A Novel from

'Washington: A Life' by Ron Chernow

I read this because it has no technology in it — that made my head feel good, too.

Buy Washington: A Life from

I'm appalled by how little I read this year. I'm going to read more in 2013. Cheers from Vancouver!

Stephen Graham Jones

Stephen Graham Jones'The Weird' edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

Which is on everybody's list, of course. As it should be. The book's supposed to be a survey, a sampler plate, but I think in ten years or so we're going to look back at it as much more. Like, Dangerous Visions kind of more.

Buy The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories from

'Locke and Key: Clockworks' by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Not only is this the best comic happening, it's the best series in a long, long while. Since Y: the Last Man, I'd say. And it's almost over.

Buy Locke & Key: Clockworks, Vol. 5 from

'Edge of Dark Water' by Joe Lansdale

Lansdale's got more speeds and modes and gears than anybody else writing today. This one's his The Bottoms speed. So good you'll be jealous. Lansdale's been at the top of his game for a while, now. We can all learn from him.

'The Shadowed Sun' by N.K. Jemisin

Her follow-up to The Killing Moon. These Dreamblood books destroyed me. They took me apart and put me back together, and left me all intimidated. In the best way. Fantasy doesn't get any better than this.

Buy The Shadowed Sun (The Dreamblood) from

'11/22/63' by Stephen King

This engrossed me. It made 'engrossed' a verb, not an adjective. And then it ends so well. When I was done with it, I wanted to erase it from my head, just so I could read it all over again.

Buy 11/22/63: A Novel from

Agree? Disagree? Agree to disagree? That's what the comments are for. Don't be afraid to voice your opinion just because these guys are more successful than you are. And don't agree with them just to look cool. Here's to another year of great reads in 2013!

Jacey Cockrobin

Column by Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of He is the author of ‘Kanye West—Reanimator’ and the story collection 'Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape.' His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Clash Books, Pantheon Magazine and Broken River Books. Follow him on Twitter at @jaceycockrobin. More info at

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GillianG's picture
GillianG from Melbourne, Australia is reading The Peter Grant series January 1, 2013 - 3:31am

I have to agree with Ketchum about 'Talk Talk', even though T.C. Boyles author photos are some of the creepiest things I've ever seen...ever.

Matthew Janiak's picture
Matthew Janiak from Detroit, MI is reading Foundation January 1, 2013 - 11:19pm

I don't really have an opinion of any of these books yet. You gents, however, have given me a great list of "need to reads" for the next few months. Cheers!