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Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
The Adult Books editors have selected the following titles as representative of the year’s outstanding books for public-library collections. Our scope has been intentionally broad, and we have attempted to find books that combine literary, intellectual, and aesthetic excellence with popular appeal.
Arts & Literature
Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock. By Henry Adams. Bloomsbury, $35 (9781596914209).
In this absorbing, carefully reasoned inquiry into a profound relationship between two painters, Adams reclaims the wrongfully maligned Benton and recalibrates our perception of Pollock and his masterpieces.
Cheever. By Blake Bailey. Knopf, $35 (9781400043941).
Perhaps a Cheever renaissance will result from this magnificently understanding and understandable biography, riveting from page one, based on copious research, and destined to be the definitive life treatment of this tortured writer for many years to come. (Top of the List winner—Adult Nonfiction.)
City Boy: My Life in New York during the 1960s and ’70s. By Edmund White. Bloomsbury, $26 (9781596914025).
In a special invitation to a world gone by (New York City in the 1970s), distinguished novelist and biographer White weaves two major threads into his life story: a toughly won writing career and the emerging gay culture that he not only observed but also heavily participated in.
Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor. By Brad Gooch. Little, Brown, $39 (9780316000666).
With great fondness and understanding, esteemed biographer Gooch corrects the false impression, which has lasted for decades, that Flannery O’Conner, the much celebrated Georgia novelist and short story writer, was an “eccentric recluse.”
Gabriel García Márquez. By Gerald Martin. Knopf, $37.50 (9780307271778).
This well-researched, authorized biography offers total immersion in the famous Colombian writer’s life and career, and, unlike many of his novels, it is a relatively uncomplicated and quick read and a brilliant and lasting biographical treatment.
John Milton: A Hero of Our Time. By David Hawkes. Counterpoint, $28 (9781582434377).
The brilliant seventeenth-century English poet and controversialist was a lifelong iconoclast, Hawkes argues, so prophetic of modern predicaments that he is virtually our contemporary.
Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years. By Cari Beauchamp. Knopf, $35 (9781400040001).
A penetrating portrait of the political dynasty’s patriarch as a movie mogul who, while ignorant of filmmaking, made millions of dollars at the height of the Depression.
Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times. By Ralph Stanley and Eddie Dean. Gotham, $26 (9781592404254).
The recollections of the bluegrass singer and banjoist Stanley, transcribed by Dean with consummate art, constitute one of the great vernacular autobiographies in American literature.
The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart. By Mary S. Lovell. St. Martin’s, $22.99 (9780312587338).
Lovell debunks myths and theories about iconic aviator Earhart’s rocky start, patchy abilities, high-profile marriage, and sad fate in this fresh, striking, and fully dimensional portrait.
The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom. By Graham Farmelo. Basic, $29.95 (9780465018277).
In a first-rate scientific biography, Farmelo combines an accessible presentation of the achievements of Paul Dirac, a founder of quantum mechanics, with intriguing appreciations of his private life and quirky personality.
Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector. By Benjamin Moser. Oxford, $29.95 (9780195385564).
First-time biographer Moser demonstrates remarkable acumen in this richly contextualized telling of the dramatic life story of neglected Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, a “penetrating genius.”
The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. By Douglas Brinkley. HarperCollins, $34.99 (9780060565282).
Gifted historian Brinkley foregrounds Roosevelt’s profound passion for nature in a biography as expansive as the glorious landscapes Roosevelt, a poetic warrior on a “great wildlife crusade,” zealously preserved.
The American Civil War: A Military History. By John Keegan. Knopf, $30 (9780307263438).
Keegan’s formidable reputation as a premier military historian is further cemented with this fascinating analytical narrative about myriad aspects of the civil war, including the dramatic battles, appalling costs, and decisive historical results.
America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story. By Bruce Feiler. Morrow, $26.99 (9780060574888).
Feiler chronicles how the figure of Moses has affected all levels of American society in all eras, from before the creation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to beyond the creation of Superman.
The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America. By William Kleinknecht. Nation, $26.95 (9781568584102).
In a welcome reassessment of the popular fortieth president’s domestic record, Kleinknecht reveals Reaganism’s devastating effects on the small-town, small-enterprise America he supposedly championed.
Middling Folk: Three Seas, Three Centuries, One Scots-Irish Family. By Linda H. Matthews. Chicago Review, $24.95 (9781556529696).
Matthews traces 300 years of her family’s history, the story taking us from Scotland to the U.S. and through the American Revolution and the Civil War. A fascinating, gracefully written portrait of the founding of a country as seen through the eyes of its middle-class citizens.
The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War. By James Carl Nelson. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (9780312551001).
Orienting the narrative around his veteran grandfather, Nelson profiles a U.S. infantry unit that lost 84 men killed in action, from the American debut at Cantigny to the mud, fog, and forest of the Meuse-Argonne.
The Spiders of Allah: Travels of an Unbeliever on the Frontline of Holy War. By James Hider. St. Martin’s/Griffin, paper, $14.95 (9780312565855).
Hider views the conflicts in the Middle East through the perspective of an atheist, keenly observing current geopolitics in the context of tangled religious history in reporting that is at times hilarious and at other times harrowing as he examines the volatile mixture of religion and fanaticism in world politics.
The Third Reich at War. By Richard J. Evans. Penguin, $40 (9781594202063).
This final volume in the author’s trilogy tracing the history of the Third Reich is a massive, comprehensive, yet easily readable and engrossing chronicle. Evans brilliantly recounts how the war was waged.
Vicksburg, 1863. By Winston Groom. Knopf, $30 (9780307264251).
In a superior example of general-interest Civil War history, Groom does skillful work, presenting the military difficulties posed by the geography of Vicksburg while grasping commanders’ options and dramatizing their choices in vivid present-tense prose.
Poems from the Women’s Movement. Ed. by Honor Moore. Library of America, $20 (9781598530421).
Poetry was vital to the women’s movement, and the wild, strong, free, and freeing work that came out of the movement remains demanding and invigorating.
Sonata Mulattica: A Life in Five Movements and a Short Play. By Rita Dove. Norton, $24.95 (9780393070088).
Dove brings to glinting life mixed-race violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower and Napoleonic Europe in a mischievous and sensuous cycle of linked poems that explores genius and power, class and race.
Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day. By Diane Ackerman. Norton, $23.95 (9780393061734).
Ackerman contemplates the many faces of dawn, “always a rebirth, a fresh start,” by way of her inimitable mesh of science and art, the personal and the historical.
Eating Animals. By Jonathan Safran Foer. Little, Brown, $25.99 (9780316069908).
Foer brings extraordinary artistry, clarity, and compassion to his in-depth investigation into the ethics, horrors, and dangers of factory farming and the role of food in society.
The Making of Mr. Gray’s Anatomy: Bodies, Books, Fortunes, Fame. By Ruth Richardson. Oxford, $29.95 (9780199552993).
The most famous teaching text of the modern era was the product of three years’ work that Richardson triumphantly illuminates, with particular attention paid to illustrator H. V. Carter, a thoroughly decent fellow.
Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. By James Hansen. Bloomsbury, $25 (9781608192007).
Brimming with invaluable insights into both the geophysics and the geopolitics of climate change, famed climatologist Hansen’s provoking manifesto is the most comprehensible, realistic, and courageous call to action yet.
You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe. By Christopher Potter. HarperCollins, $26.95 (9780061137860).
From the fiery primal explosion that generates the rapidly inflating expanse of space through the appearance of a curious hominid on the African savannas, Potter charts the evolution of the universe across time. A marvelously capacious book that will attract serious readers everywhere.
Chasing Medical Miracles: The Promise and Perils of Clinical Trials. By Alex O’Meara. Walker, $25 (9780802716965).
Clinical trial participant O’Meara chronicles his experience and sweeps through the $24-million-per-annum clinical-trials industry, which generally escapes media scrutiny. Includes an invaluable checklist for prospective trial participants.
Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation. By Elissa Stein and Susan Kim. St. Martin’s/Griffin, $27.99 (9780312379964).
A plainspoken, comprehensive, and witty compendium of information and reference, so good that it begs the question of why we have waited so long for it or anything like it.
Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. By Ken Auletta. Penguin, $25.95 (9781594202353).
In this engrossing, critical look at Internet giant Google, veteran reporter Auletta presents original research on the company’s intensely private founders and the quirky staff of engineers whose obsession with efficiency led to the creation of the powerhouse search engine.
Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America. By Rich Benjamin. Hyperion, $24.99 (9781401322687).
In a thoroughly engaging and eye-opening look at an urgent social issue, Benjamin examines the growth of “whitopias,” racially and socioeconomically exclusive communities, from the exurb of St. George, Utah, to the inner-city enclave of Carnegie Hill in Manhattan.
When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers on and off the Streets. By Timothy Black. Pantheon, $29.95 (9780307377746).
Sociology, economics, history—and powerful human emotions—are all layered in this fascinating look at poverty and the life of one American family.
Why cant U teach me 2 read? Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test. By Beth Fertig. Farrar, $27 (9780374299057).
Fertig offers a view of the crisis in education through the heartbreaking struggles of three young adults who can barely read subway signs but long for careers.
All Other Nights. By Dara Horn. Norton, $24.95 (9780393064926).
In telling the story of Jacob Rappaport, a Jewish soldier in the Union army during the Civil War, Horn unearths a fascinating, relatively unexplored aspect of American history and delivers a novel rich in both human emotion and ambiguity.
American Salvage. By Bonnie Jo Campbell. Wayne State Univ., $18.95 (9780814334126); Norton, paper, $13.95 (9780393339192).
Campbell’s knockout short stories about postindustrial rural Michigan portray damaged, discarded, and busted-broke people rich in yearning, forgiveness, and love.
The Coral Thief. By Rebecca Stott. Spiegel & Grau, $25 (9780385531467).
In Paris in 1815, naive Daniel Connor falls in with a ring of philosopher thieves who have some radically new ideas about evolution. Stott, a supremely elegant stylist, creates a hybrid novel of ideas and action that is riveting on all fronts.
Far North. By Marcel Theroux. Farrar, $25 (9780374153533).
In a postapocalyptic world where civilization is a thing barely remembered, one man in Siberia sees a plane overhead and sets off in search of the place where planes still have fuel to fly. Theroux’s haunting meditation on annihilation gives his novel the power of grief-stricken mourning.
The Four Corners of the Sky. By Michael Malone. Sourcebooks/Landmark, $24.99 (9781570717444).
When jet pilot Annie Peregrine Goode’s con artist father, Jack, turns up, on the run again, she is swept back into the maelstrom of his life. Malone, a master of Dickensian character building, imbues his showstopping heroes with unquenchable spirit in this rollicking novel about embracing the ebb and flow of experience.
A Gate at the Stairs. By Lorrie Moore. Knopf, $25 (9780375409288).
Wisconsin college student Tassie Keltgin is hired as a child-care provider by two sophisticated transplants from the East Coast, who are in the process of adopting a child. Through the events of one year, Tassie discovers that the adult world has “grim and gruesome” fairy tales of its own.
Generosity. By Richard Powers. Farrar, $25 (9780374161149).
A Chicago writing teacher ponders why one of his students, an African refugee, seems so happy. Can happiness survive our desperate need to quantify, commodify, and own it? Another intellectually challenging yet emotionally engaging novel from a writer who sees the world with brilliant clarity.
Homer & Langely. By E. L. Doctorow. Random, $26 (9781400064946).
Doctorow creates an ingenuous, microcosmic, mythic, and haunting tale of compulsion, alienation, and dark metamorphosis inspired by the famously eccentric Collyer brothers of New York City.
How It Ended: New and Collected Stories. By Jay McInerney. Knopf, $24.95 (9780307268051).
McInerney’s splendid short stories concern the same people and places as his more famous novels. In this career-spanning collection, he focuses on the appurtenances of his characters: that is, the personal accessories that give away the characters’ social status and intentions.
The Humbling. By Philip Roth. Houghton, $22 (9780547239699).
Roth uses concise language to convey the sadness of famous actor Simon Axler’s increasing insecurity about his talent. Roth’s voice, long heard and long appreciated, remains profound.
In the Kitchen. By Monica Ali. Scribner, $26 (9781416571681).
In this fascinating evocation of the din and drama of a hotel kitchen, Ali tells the story of a London chef facing chaos on both professional and domestic fronts. A deft interweaving of multiple plots, held together, improbably, by a powerful portrayal of a man whose life is spinning out of control.
Juliet, Naked. By Nick Hornby. Riverhead, $25.95 (9781594488870).
In this tale of rock ’n’ roll and love on the rocks, a has-been musician and the wife of a music critic engage in a revelatory e-mail correspondence. Hornby’s musically obsessed characters may be marinated in melancholy, but there’s a ray of hope somewhere. Wise, witty, and bittersweet.
Last Night in Twisted River. By John Irving. Random, $28 (9781400063840).
Irving’s bighearted novel, full to bursting with story, character, and emotion, follows a cook and his son over 50 years as they are pursued by an abusive sheriff. In his twelfth novel, Irving proves once again that he is a natural-born storyteller with a unique and compelling authorial voice.
Let the Great World Spin. By Colum McCann. Random, $25 (9781400063734).
McCann’s wise and elegiac novel, set in beleaguered 1970s New York, dramatizes the unexpected ways beauty and tragedy bring people together, even as they balance above the abyss.
Mathilda Savitch. By Victor Lodato. Farrar, $24 (9780374204006).
As the young narrator investigates her sister’s mysterious death in a world of terror, first-time novelist Lodato indelibly captures the vulnerability and bravado, confusion and hope of adolescence.
Miles from Nowhere. By Nami Mun. Riverhead, $21.95 (9781594488542).
Mun’s explosive coming-of-age tale about an unflinching 13-year-old runaway girl confronts the poison of racism, the suffering of the unloved, and the fierceness and radiance of youth.
The Museum of Innocence. By Orhan Pamuk. Tr. by Maureen Freely. Knopf, $28.95 (9780307266767).
Three decades of tumultuous Turkish politics stand behind this highly creative, diligently developed new novel about obsessive love by Nobel winner Pamuk.
My Father’s Tears and Other Stories. By John Updike. Knopf, $25 (9780307271563).
This last collection of vibrant short stories by the late American master of the form should not to be regarded as a career summation but, rather, as evidence of a career interrupted.
Once on a Moonless Night. By Dai Sijie. Tr. by Adriana Hunter. Knopf, $24.95 (9780307271587).
A French student in China falls in love and learns about a long-missing ancient Buddhist scroll in Dai’s dreamlike tale of epic quests, the resonance of translation, and the transcendence of stories.
Pygmy. By Chuck Palahniuk. Doubleday, $24.95 (9780385526340).
In a time of justifiable concern about terrorism, Palahniuk has written a hilarious novel about a terrorist cell made up of foreign-exchange students. The story, which unfolds in a series of dispatches from a 13-year-old agent dubbed “Pygmy,” leaps enthusiastically over the line of good taste but lands squarely on its feet.
Too Much Happiness. By Alice Munro. Knopf, $25.95 (9780307269768).
Munro is in full stride here: her famous evenhanded yet astonishingly acute psychological depictions of ordinary mothers, fathers, lovers, and neighbors, which she relays to her readers in her trademark placid but sonorous prose style, display her supreme mastery of the form. (Top of the List winner—Adult Fiction.)
The Unit. By Ninni Holmqvist. Tr. by Marlaine Delargy. Other, paper, $14.95 (9781590513132).
Holmqvist’s chilling debut novel, set at the Second Reserve Bank for Biological Material, offers unnerving commentary on the consequences of designating certain people as dispensable.
The Weight of Heaven. By Thrity Umrigar. HarperCollins, $25.95 (9780061719998).
Michiganders Frank and Ellie move to the rural Indian city of Girbaug, where Frank will manage a company called Herbal Solutions. A bold, beautifully rendered tale of cultures that both clash and coalesce.
Wonderful World. By Javier Calvo. Tr. by Mara Faye Lethem. HarperCollins, $27.95 (9780061557682).
The protagonist of this extravagant absurdist novel is an antiques dealer embroiled with two gangs of art thieves. Overlaid with a patina of Tarrantino-like violence and pop culture, this surreal, sexy, wildly funny novel is a cult favorite in the making.
The Year of the Flood. By Margaret Atwood. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $26 (9780385528771).
Atwood’s mischievous, suspenseful, and sagacious dystopian novel intersects with Oryx and Crake (2003) and follows the trajectory of current environmental debacles to a shattering possible conclusion.
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