Public Picks 2013

Since we launched Public Books twelve months ago more than a hundred essays and reviews have appeared on the site, discussing works in a striking variety of genres and media, and our editors have ...

Since we launched Public Books twelve months ago more than a hundred essays and reviews have appeared on the site, discussing works in a striking variety of genres and media, and our editors have considered nigh on a thousand candidates for review. It would seem an occasion to look back and take stock. At the same time, summer has come, when many of us—especially those tied to the academic calendar—might finally expect to catch up on some of our reading after a busy year.

Thus was conceived Public Picks, a selection of the books and art that have most interested and excited our editorial staff over the past year: thirty fiction, nonfiction, and art and media titles that appeared in the US between May 1, 2012, and April 30, 2013. Some of these titles have been reviewed on the site; others will be featured in forthcoming reviews; others got away, until now.

Not all of our choices are counter-intuitive, but we did aim to do more than tell readers what they already know. We are happy to endorse such widely acclaimed works as Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies and George Saunders’s Tenth of December, Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree; fantastic beach reads like Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl; and films such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Michael Haneke’s Amour—but we suspect that even the busiest among us did not fail to hear of these titles.

We offer you a list that combines the best of the best with more idiosyncratic works that you may have missed. Some, like NW, we’ve picked because we think they are major achievements, works to read and re-read. Some, like Plutocrats, offer cogent analyses of pressing issues. Some, like Life after Life, are provocative experiments. Others, like A Free Man, develop a compellingly original voice, or, like Through the Eye of a Needle, are monumental works of scholarship that are also highly readable. Some, like People Who Eat Darkness, open up fascinating new worlds. Whatever your preference, we hope you come away with a few more titles for your book bag or e-reader this summer, and return to let us know what you thought in the comments section below.


•  Kate Atkinson, Life after Life (Reagan Arthur)
•  Louise Erdrich, The Round House (Harper)
•  Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco)
•  Intizar Husain, Basti, translated from the Urdu by Frances W. Pritchett (New York Review Books Classics)
•  Amélie Nothomb, Life Form, translated from the French by Alison Anderson (Europa), and Barbe Bleue (Albin Michel)
•  Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (Viking)
•  Zadie Smith, NW (Penguin Press)
•  Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon)
•  Christa Wolf, City of Angels; or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud, translated from the German by Damion Searls (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


•  Mark Binelli, Detroit City is the Place to Be (Metropolitan Press)
•  Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD (Princeton University Press)
•  Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (Faber and Faber)
•  Judith Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (Columbia University Press)
•  Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain (Oxford University Press)
•  Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (Penguin Press)
•  Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Harvard University Press)
•  Harvey Molotch, Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger (Princeton University Press)
•  Richard Lloyd Parry, People Who Eat Darkness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
•  Emily Raboteau, Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora (Atlantic Monthly Press)
•  Aman Sethi, A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi (Norton)
•  Sonia Sotomayor, My Beloved World (Knopf)


•  Yann Arthus-Bertrand, A Thirsty World (Hope Production, directed by Thierry Piantanida and Baptiste Rouget-Luchaire)
• “Jimmie Durham: A Matter of Life and Death and Singing” (M HKA, Antwerp, May 24–November 18, 2012)
•  Robert Heinecken: Copywork, with text by Kevin Moore (Ridinghouse)
• “Wade Guyton OS” (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October 4, 2012–January 13, 2013)
• Abbas Kiarostami, Like Someone In Love (Euro Space and MK2 Productions)
•  Christian Marclay, The Clock (Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 2012–January 2013)
•  “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980” (MoMA PS1, New York, October 21, 2012–March 11, 2013)
•  Tino Sehgal, These Associations (Tate Modern, London, July 24–October 28, 2012)
• “Rosemary Trockell: A Cosmos” (New Museum, New York, October 24, 2012–January 20, 2013)