To re-state the rules: These are not books published this year that I think are AWESOME AND COOL. Some of these books may have been published ages ago. It's just these are the books I've read this year that I feel are deserving of the AWESOME AND COOL labels of labeling.
One thing to note: I've been reading more and more in ebook format on my Nook Color. Yes, even graphic novels are now available in ereader format, so...
Best Fiction Book
Raylan, Elmore Leonard
Leonard is the master of simple prose crime thrillers. He started off writing westerns but soon turned to modern noir (there is, oddly, very little difference between the outlaws of the Wild West and the outlaws of the urban streets) and hit it big writing about desperate violent criminals and cops in places like Detroit and Miami. Raylan is a novel dedicated to one of his minor cop characters turned into prime-time television superstar: a US Marshal reassigned to his home county in Kentucky after a questionable shoot-out in Miami. The beauty of Leonard's work is the vivid characterization for even the smallest role: his criminals (even the college-educated ones) tend towards stupid and reckless, but you can see how and why they think the way they do. And even the most stupid of them are capable of a moment of pure clarity and profound thought... right before they do something even dumber that gets them caught or dead. Raylan himself is not a white-hatted good guy - even though he wears an iconic beige cowboy hat - but he is at least the most sane character running around shooting up half the countryside.
I got into reading Leonard while working in Broward County libraries - during the period a lot of his books were getting turned into shows and movies - especially falling in love with his book Out of Sight (alongside watching the film of said book, it is one of my favorite non-scifi movies ever). I watch Justified - the television show this novel is a spinoff of, expanding the fictional universe of Harlan County - enjoying the characterization and depth of narrative. The novel is akin to reading short stories or episodes not produced for the screen, in Leonard's perfect style.
Best Non-Fiction Book
Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, Eric Foner
Once you finish reading McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, you need to read Foner's Reconstruction covering the aftermath of the Civil War and the sorrows and miscues that befell the nation. Documenting the failures of the North to ensure the rights of freed ex-slaves right after the war ends - due to Andrew Johnson's reveal to be more interested in retaining the southern power structure (Johnson hated slave-owners more for their aristocratic airs than for their ownership of humans) - up to President US Grant's struggles to stop the Klan and cope with corrupt state-level Republican governance, Foner notes where the failures took place and why: above all a level of expediency and short-sightedness on the part of Northern politicians who quickly found the rebuilding efforts of the South too time-consuming and divisive among voters back north. If you want to understand why we had 100 plus years after the Civil War of southern historical revisionism, Jim Crow humiliations making blacks into second-class citizens even with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in place, and why we've still got serious problems with racism in the United States to this very day... you gotta read this history.
Best Graphic Novel
I've read several but haven't really felt the need to compliment any of them by declaring them "best." My big problem right now is that the universe I follow - DC - is undergoing yet another universal revamp called "The New 52" aka Nu52. A lot of it has to do with what I call "Universe-Shattering Crossover Fatigue" where every year the comic book universe is rocked with earth-breaking catastrophes in which heroes die, heroes get reborn, and any recent continuity changes get rewritten just to satisfy a minor faction of head editors who want things done their way without realizing how bad their changes are gonna be. Batman for example getting a never-before-seen secret conspiracy known as The Court of Owls even with 80/40/20 years of established history never once hinting at such a thing. It gets tiring, all these EPIC re-inventions. For once I want stories of honest-to-goodness one-issue-length, no more 12-issue storyarcs, no more vast ground-shaking revelations, no more what-the-hell plot twists. Give me comfort food for a year, people, just stop with the "what a twist" stupidity.
Best Book By Someone I Know And Correspond With On a Regular Basis
Sheryl Nantus has been busy this year, I'll tell you what. She's got Heroes Without, Monsters Within finally up for sale as her follow-up to the Blaze of Glory novel I recommended awhile back. I haven't gotten it meself yet, but I should be getting a few BN.com gift cards for the Nook this Saturnalia...