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2012's fave? Mantel takes up the mantle

If you're buying books as Christmas presents and you trust the views of critics, a few titles have been frequently mentioned in newspaper and magazine lists of the year's best.

Fiction-wise, Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, her Man Booker-winning follow-up to the Man Booker winner Wolf Hall, has got the most mentions by Irish and British critics, followed by Richard Ford's Canada and Zadie Smith's NW, with John Banville's Ancient Light and Colm Toibin's The Testament of Mary getting approving nods, too.

In non-fiction, Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain, which concerns the wartime fate of Poland, has been almost universally praised, but Robert Macfarlane's book about walking, The Old Ways, was a favourite, too, along with Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, about life in a Mumbai slum.

The most praised biographies have been Artemis Cooper's book about travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and the latest volume of Robert Caro's monumental study of Lyndon B Johnson.


In a characteristically quirky column written for the Guardian, Irish fiction writer Kevin Barry reveals that he googles himself constantly to see how he's selling on Amazon and that he checks his email at least 150 times a day because "maybe somebody I know is up late in San Francisco and wants to make me fatally rich and world-renowned".

He's already heading that way, with yet another darkly comic story – Ox Mountain Death Song – in The New Yorker (October 26 edition, if you want to find it), but he finds it difficult to get through the books of others.

"It is a rare occurrence for me now to finish a book," he writes. And the classics pose the most problems: "I had a go last winter at Madame Bovary and it took me three weeks to get through about 60 pages of the horrible thing before I flung it across the room."

In this he thinks himself "typical of the current multitude, and the coming multitudes will be worse again – they won't even try to read such books". I hope he's wrong.

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