December 31, 2012 12:00 PM

1 Dear Life

by Alice Munro

Munro sticks to short stories, she told the New Yorker, because they’re “all I could do.” No complaints here. Her new collection, piercing tales about provincial dreamers along with four autobiographical pieces, showcases her plainspoken magic. It will take your breath away.

2 This is How You Lose Her

by Junot Diaz

Streetwise but sensitive, the men in Diaz’s irresistible stories talk tough while crumbling inside. Mostly Dominican immigrants, they’re struggling for a foothold in their adoptive land and for romance they won’t destroy. If you’ve ever wondered what that bad boy you love is thinking, this funny, heartbreaking book might give you a clue.

3 The Age of Miracles

by Karen Thompson Walker

Here’s a novel with a nightmare premise: One day, inexplicably, the earth’s rotation begins to slow. Gravity weakens, days and nights stretch on forever, birds fall from the sky. Narrated by a girl growing up amidst the changes, it’s a haunting paean to the world as we know it-and a reminder of all we have to lose.

4 Wild

by Cheryl Strayed

She did it so you don’t have to! Bereft after her mother died and her marriage collapsed, Strayed set out alone to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, hoping the challenge would help her heal. It did, but she also encountered rattlesnakes, hunger, searing loneliness and bears. Her beautifully detailed account is a journey worth taking.

5 Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn

It was the book of the summer: a fast-paced psychological thriller with a Rashomon-like plot built around a chillingly dysfunctional marriage. In short, a little something for everyone. Don’t wait for the film.

6 Behind the Beautiful Forevers

by Katherine Boo

Pulitzer winner Boo spent three years in Annawadi, a settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, researching this portrait of poverty and hope. Focused on three slum dwellers striving toward better lives, it reads like a novel while lifting the veil on the harsh realities of a little-known world.

7 Quiet

by Susan Cain

What’s so bad about being an introvert? Shy, reflective types are stigmatized, says Cain, but studies show they have at least as much to offer society as their outgoing, louder-mouthed peers. An important book that should embolden anyone who’s ever been told, “Speak up!”

8 Bruce

by Peter Ames Carlin

Written with cooperation from the Boss, Carlin’s engrossing bio traces Springsteen’s path from working-class New Jersey to rock superstardom, shedding light on the challenges-depression, divorce-he faced along the way. Dishy and intimate, it’ll do until the memoir (please, Bruce?) comes along.

9 How Children Succeed

by Paul Tough

Tough makes the convincing case that it’s not test scores or even raw intelligence that predict who will triumph: It’s grit, curiosity and persistence, all life skills that can be taught. An eye-opener.

10 Where’d You Go, Bernadette

by Maria Semple

Former TV writer Semple brings sharp humor and brisk pacing to this epistolary novel about a precocious Seattle 15-year-old who’s determined to find her missing mom.

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