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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
The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece. By Eric Siblin. Atlantic Monthly, $24 (9780802119292).
A former pop-music critic embarked on a journey—part historical, part personal—to discover for himself the music that has remained a pillar of the cello repertoire since Pablo Casals recorded the suites in 1936.
The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution That Will Begin the World Again. By Robert McChesney and John Nichols. Nation, $25.95 (9781568586052).
Respected journalists McChesney and Nichols offer historical perspective on the death of newspapers while arguing passionately for radical solutions and also presenting an exhilarating vision for the direction of American journalism.
Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection. By Robert Coles. Random, $26 (9781400062034).
In his direct and engaging style, acclaimed psychiatrist Coles examines just how it is that literature influences moral meaning in our lives. A joy to read as much for the snippets of great literature as for Coles’ interpretations and the new perspectives he offers.
Imagination in Place. By Wendell Berry. Counterpoint, $24 (9781582435626).
Berry’s new essay collection includes tributes to other writers, meditations on living and working in the same place for 40 years, and inquiries into the Civil War, religion, and science.
The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Ed. by Ilan Stavans. Norton, $59.95 (9780393080070).
This beautifully clarifying keystone anthology covers five centuries and the full spectrum of Latino literature rooted in Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban American, and Dominican American cultures.
Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty. By Phoebe Hoban. St. Martin’s, $35 (9780312607487).
Hoban is the first to tell the full story of artist Alice Neel (1900–1984) and how she “radicalized portraiture.” A dramatic biography of a rebel, painter, and humanist.
Colonel Roosevelt. By Edmund Morris. Random, $35 (9780375504877).
Morris completes his fully detailed, dynamic triptych of the restless, energetic, on-the-move first President Roosevelt, continuing to make TR a figure of endless fascination.
Fab: The Life of Paul McCartney. By Howard Sounes. Da Capo, $27.50 (9780306817830).
Sounes seems to have spoken to every living person with any connection to McCartney to create this comprehensive warts-and-all biography of the former Beatle and enormously influential musician.
Galileo. By John Heilbron. Oxford, $34.95 (9780199583522).
Heilbron illuminates Galileo’s largely overlooked love for literature in this uniquely insightful portrait of the pioneering astronomer.
Grant Wood. By R. Tripp Evans. Knopf, $35 (9780307266293).
Art historian Evans’ fascinating biography reveals how Iowa artist Grant Wood, best known for American Gothic, felt compelled to camouflage his homosexuality in a harshly intolerant world.
Hitch-22. By Christopher Hitchens. Twelve, $26.99 (9780446540339).
Writing in an appealing, whiskey-warmed voice, contrarian Hitchens turns storyteller in this bracing, droll, and very candid memoir.
The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars. By Patrick Hennessey. Riverhead, $16 (9781594484797).
In this revealing military version of Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), British soldier Hennessey describes his experiences in Iraq—the book club was formed to fight boredom—and Afghanistan, where near-constant combat replaced reading.
The new book by the author of the glowingly received Alexander Hamilton (2004) is a vastly enlightening, overwhelmingly engaging treatment of a great man.
Health & Medicine
Ah-Choo!The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold. By Jennifer Ackerman. Twelve, $22.99 (9780446541152).
Ackerman addresses the causes and consequences of the common cold and the quackery it inspires with curiosity and dry wit and presents striking findings.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. By Siddhartha Mukherjee. Scribner, $30 (9781439107959).
Mukherjee tells the tale of cancer, an enigmatic disease, through the voices of people who have lived, toiled, and died under cancer’s inexorable watch in a surprisingly accessible and encouraging narrative.
Slow Death by Rubber Duck:The Secret Danger of Everyday Things. By Rick Smith and others. Counterpoint, $25 (9781582435671).
A galvanizing and informative investigation into the many foods and products, including the innocuous rubber duck, that carry a poison soup of phthalates that now “permeate the environment and humans.”
Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War. By Megan K. Stack. Doubleday, $26.95 (9780385527163).
Journalist Stack takes readers to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, chronicling with soaring imagery and exceptional humanity the insanity, innocence, and inhumanity of wars without end.
George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I. By Miranda Carter. Knopf, $30 (9781400043637).
The slippery slope into horrific armed conflict is a tale often told about WWI, but this author’s take on the antecedents of the European war of 1914–18 is distinct and irresistible.
The Grace of Silence. By Michele Norris. Pantheon, $24.95 (9780307378767).
Norris, cohost for All Things Considered on NPR, presents an investigative family memoir of rare candor, wit, and artistry that dramatically reveals essential yet hidden aspects of African American life.
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss. By Edmund de Waal. Farrar, $25 (9780374105976).
Artist de Waal tells the riveting history of his father’s Russian-rooted, cosmopolitan Jewish family, the Ephrussi, in an astute and involving tale of extraordinary accomplishment, loss, and resurgence.
Come on All You Ghosts. By Matthew Zapruder. Copper Canyon, paper, $16 (9781556593222).
Zapruder’s liquid and magnetizing poems are ordered by dream logic that melds the familiar with the mysterious to provocative effect.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. By Rebecca Skloot. Crown, $26 (9781400052172).
Skloot tells the astonishing story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American mother of five who died of cancer and saved countless lives by, unbeknownst to her or her family, donating the “first immortal human cells,” code-named HeLa, to science. (Top of the List winner––Adult Nonfiction.)
Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization. By Steven Solomon. Harper, $27.99 (9780060548308).
Solomon’s brilliantly discursive and compelling inquiry into the science and politics of water seeks to awaken a deeper understanding of this essential resource and the need to use water wisely.
Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. By David Abram. Pantheon, $26.95 (9780375421716).
Ecologist and philosopher Abram writes with transfixing precision about sensory experience and why attention to the living world matters in this boldly recalibrating blend of stories, reflections, and discoveries.
Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business. By Gary Rivlin. Harper, $26.99 (9780061733215).
Award-winning reporter Rivlin presents powerful analysis of the boom in the “fringe financial sector” as pawnshops and pay-day lenders have blossomed, gone public, and gained a measure of respectability, all by targeting their overpriced services to the working poor.
The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth. By Eric Pooley. Hyperion, $27.99 (9781401323264).
In his engrossing behind-the-scenes exposé of the multifactioned ecology-versus-economy debate waged on Capitol Hill and Wall Street, Pooley profiles Machiavellian players and renders policymaking fascinating.
Delia’s Tears: Race, Science, and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America. By Molly Rogers. Yale, $37.50 (9780300115482).
A cache of photographs from 1850 of seven African Americans—likely slaves—taken in the nude is the impetus for Rogers’ fascinating book. A powerful examination of the intersections of power, ideology, and imaging.
For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History. By Sarah Rose. Viking, $25.95 (9780670021529).
Through the adventures of Robert Fortune, a nineteenth-century plant hunter, the reader enjoys a delicious brew of information on the history of tea cultivation and consumption in the Western world.
In the Empire of Ice: Encounters in a Changing Landscape. By Gretel Ehrlich. National Geographic, $28 (9781426205743).
Ehrlich reports on her most recent circumpolar journey with her signature eloquence and explains how the disappearance of sea ice and concomitant demise of Arctic culture will affect everyone.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. By Isabel Wilkerson. Random, $30 (9780679444329).
In this sweeping look at a watershed event in U.S. history, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson offers a broad and penetrating analysis of the Great Migration, a movement without leaders or precedent.
Agaat. By Marlene van Niekerk. Tr. by Michiel Heyns. Tin House, paper, $19.95 (9780982503096).
Seventy-year-old Milla de Wet is slowly dying of paralysis and in the care of Agaat. The two women—white and black—are living on a farm in South Africa during a pivotal moment in the nation’s history. This novel stuns with its powerful sense of the rigors of farm life and the comfort of a long and complex relationship.
The Ask. By Sam Lipsyte. Farrar, $25 (9780374298913).
Lipsyte’s darkly humorous story of sons and fathers is both realistic and convulsively hilarious. Starring a “fund solicitor” who “learned long ago how to refine raw guilt into sweet, granulated resentment,” this is seriously funny in the manner of Dave Eggers.
Barnacle Love. By Anthony De Sa. Algonquin, paper, $13.95 (9781565129269).
The emigrant-immigrant experience from Europe to the New World is not a new theme, but the particular circumstances that De Sa creates to let that theme play out give his tale its distinction.
Beautiful Maria of My Soul. By Oscar Hijuelos. Hyperion, $25.99 (9781401323349).
Hijuelos’ sequel to The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989) tells the story of beautiful Maria, about whom Nestor Castillo wrote his famous bolero. A moving story, awash in lush language, of grand passion—found, lost, and mourned.
Bloodroot. By Amy Greene. Knopf, $24.95 (9780307269867).
Bone Fire. By Mark Spragg. Knopf, $25.95 (9780307272751).
Spragg returns to high-country Wyoming and the struggles of a group of self-reliant individuals to come to terms with their vulnerability and need for connection. Essential reading for anyone interested in the literature of the West.
By Nightfall. By Michael Cunningham. Farrar, $25 (9780374299088).
In this exquisite and sly drama of a Soho gallery owner longing for “some terrible, blinding beauty,” Cunningham entwines eroticism with aesthetics to orchestrate a resonant crisis of the soul.
Day for Night. By Frederick Reiken. Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, $24.99 (9780316077569).
From Florida to Utah to Israel, marine biology to medicine to the Holocaust to radicalism, Reiken creates an intricate, six-degrees-of-separation tale shaped by the beauty, continuity, and mystery of nature.
The Dead Path. By Stephen M. Irwin. Doubleday, $26 (9780385533430).
Driving on the Rim. By Thomas McGuane. Knopf, $26.95 (9781400041558).
McGuane’s latest novel is a funny, elegiac, and profound book, from a clear-eyed observer of modern life.
Elegies for the Brokenhearted. By Christie Hodgen. Norton, $23.95 (9780393061406).
Hodgen’s absorbing novel about identity quests tells the story of Mary Murphy, who has, along with her older sister, Malinda, endured their vivacious, feckless mother’s five marriages.
The Elephant’s Journey. By José Saramago. Tr. by Margaret Jull Costa. Houghton, $24 (9780547352589).
In 1551, King Joao of Portugal gives Archduke Maximilian of Austria his elephant, and the beast must walk from Lisbon to Vienna. The result is an extremely amusing, historically resonant, fablelike, and technically challenging narrative.
Freedom. By Jonathan Franzen. Farrar, $28 (9780374158460).
Franzen begins with the troubled marriage of Minnesotans Patty and Walter and constructs a vital and delving epic of American life that explores family failings, fame, environmental conundrums, and the many complications of freedom.
Great House. By Nicole Krauss. Norton, $24.95 (9780393079982).
This stunning novel tells a profound story of loss and sorrow through the voices of five people, including an éminence grise who wraps things up—but not too tightly.
Ilustrado. By Miguel Syjuco. Farrar, $26 (9780374174781).
In this dazzling debut novel, Syjuco portrays the history, politics, and arts of his native Philippines in the semiautobiographical story of two Filipino authors. A literary landmark for the Philippines and beyond.
The Invisible Bridge. By Julie Orringer. Knopf, $26.95 (9781400041169).
In a hugely ambitious undertaking, Orringer has every detail under control, from the architectural currents in Europe in the 1930s to the day-to-day struggle in a work camp.
Lean on Pete. By Willy Vlautin. HarperPerennial, paper, $13.99 (9780061456534).
Vlautin transforms what might have been TV-movie treacle into the tough-and-tender saga of a boy, a bighearted horse, and a mostly unforgiving world. Vlautin’s spare, knifelike prose slices deep into the hearts of his struggling, lonely characters.
Lord of Misrule. By Jaimy Gordon. McPherson, $25 (9780929701837).
Gordon brings the language of the racetrack to vivid life in this moving and lyrical tone poem about the inhabitants of the “backside” at a no-account West Virginia track.
Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories. By Barry Hannah. Grove, $29.95 (9780802119681).
This wonderland of stories, selected from Hannah’s four collections, is not so much a monument to the late author’s achievement as it is a living presentation of active, vibrant, nearly throbbing fiction.
Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger. By Lee Smith. Alonquin/Shannon Ravenel, $23.95 (9781565129153).
All of us, in different garb, appear at some point in a Smith story, and that is the great attraction of her work.
Nashville Chrome. By Rick Bass. Houghton, $24 (9780547317267).
Out of the true-life stories of the top-of-the-charts country trio Maxine, Bonnie, and Jim Ed Brown, Bass spins a mythic novel of rebirth infused with the glory of music and nature.
Nemesis. By Philip Roth. Houghton, $26 (9780547318356).
This fourth in the great and undiminished Roth’s recent cycle of short novels takes readers on a staggering visit to a time and place when a monumental health crisis dominated how people led their day-to-day lives.
Occupied City. By David Peace. Knopf, $25.95 (9780307263759).
One Day. By David Nicholls. Vintage, paper, $14.95 (9780307474711).
Peep Show. By Joshua Braff. Algonquin, $13.95 (9781565125087).
Caught in an interfamilial culture clash of epic proportions, teenager David Arbus must straddle the chasm that separates his mother’s Hasidic world from his father’s Times Square burlesque house. A powerful, sensitively told coming-of-age story.
Percival’s Planet. By Michael Byers. Holt, $27 (9780805092189).
Byers’ wry historical novel about the unconventional astronomer whose research led to the discovery of Pluto is as much about human nature as it is about outer space. Tickles the mind and grabs the heart.
In this master storyteller’s hands, rural Ireland becomes the cosmos in which every one of us feels at home. Avid fiction readers will dip repeatedly into this deep reservoir of stories.
Skippy Dies. By Paul Murray. Faber and Faber, $28 (9780865479432).
In this darkly comic novel of adolescence, Murray tells the story of an Irish boy named Skippy who dies, but he also reflects on science, metaphysics, and the interconnectedness of past and present. Hilarious, haunting, and heartbreaking.
Snakewoman of Little Egypt. By Robert Hellenga. Bloomsbury, $25 (9781608192625).
In this melancholy love story rich with the emotional power of felt life, Hellenga paints a beguiling portrait of the comfort and shared intimacy of domestic life set against the “wider sea of courage, risk, and adventure.”
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. By David Mitchell. Random, $25 (9781400065455).
A first-rate literary novel and a rousing good yarn, this innovative historical epic explores intercultural relations, trust and betrayal, racial and gender boundaries, the search for identity, and unexpected love in a changing world.
Three Days before the Shooting . . . By Ralph Ellison. Modern Library, $50 (9780375759536).
Ellison’s eloquent, dreamlike writing fills more than 1,000 pages of this book, his long-awaited—still unfinished—novel after the acclaimed Invisible Man. An incredible story of identity and authenticity, sin and atonement.
To the End of the Land. By David Grossman. Tr. By Jessica Cohen. Knopf, $27.95 (9780307592972).
In this scorching antiwar novel, acclaimed Israeli author Grossman serves up a powerful meditation of war, friendship, and family, writing directly from the heart.
Turbulence. By Giles Foden. Knopf, $25.95 (9780307592774).
Challenging in its intellectualism and impressive in its artistry, this magnificent WWII novel is impossible to resist.
The Unnamed. By Joshua Ferris. Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, $24.95 (9780316034012).
In this strikingly original novel, Ferris provides a devastating metaphoric take on the struggles of commitment, brilliantly channeling the suburban angst of Yates and Cheever for the new millennium.
Egan tracks the members of a San Francisco punk band and their hangers-on over the decades in a hilarious, unnerving, enrapturing, and original mosaic of a novel that explores the mysteries of emotions, time, and technology. (Top of the List winner––Adult Fiction.)
World and Town. By Gish Jen. Knopf, $26.95 (9780307272195).
In Jen’s wise and funny novel of compassion, Hattie Kong seeks peace in a small New England town, but instead she becomes involved with a traumatized Cambodian immigrant family and embroiled in community conflicts.
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