The Last Crossing
Western with cosmic overtones, it covers a remarkable amount
of territory, both geographical and psychological, without
On one level, this is a series of parables. But it’s not wooden
or formal, because it’s also pure stories, informed by singular
viewpoints, single narrators, a sense of release, and extraordinarily
In the Shadow of No Towers
This is a cry that would outshout chaos, an attempt to contextualize
an event that seems to defy history. No Towers is Spiegelman’s
attempt to stand firm against a world that continues to collapse
around him. Small but eloquent comfort, it’s original, provocative,
and populist art.
Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible
Sharlet and Peter Manseau
This book is a mystical soufflé, a sensual, cosmic marinade.
It surely stokes the metaphor fire. It’s a spiritual guide
for jazzbos, riffers, makers of mix tapes, dub masters and
surfers of highways both actual and digital.
As detailed as a tapestry and as deep as the Moscow subway
system, Conspirators examines the relationships between
Gentiles and Jews in the haute bourgeoisie of a rural province
between 1912-1914. In so doing, it illuminates the shadows
of the fading Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Chronicles: Vol. One
affirms Dylan’s idiosyncrasies and his mastery of the vernacular.
As his best songs also show, he’s a great reporter with a
talent for vivid detail.
Resonant and knowing, this comedy of manners and mores attests,
above all, to an astonishing imagination. Its many voices,
points of view, jokes and puzzles create a layered, multi-perspective
book that is literally fabulous
Osama: The Making of a Terrorist
Randal is an old, intrepid political hand who suggests in
his book about bin Laden that as long as fundamentalism runs
the world, be it Muslim or Western, there is little chance
that terrorism will be tempered.
Clyde Fans, Book One
This graphic novel is about Abraham and Simon Matchcard, proprietors
of Clyde Fans, a business in a small Ontario town. Drawn with
deft, knowing grace, it details how Abe guilt-trips shy, dreamy
Simon into a business that is dying, like the town. The lunar,
rural downtowns of Seth’s richly imagined landscape feel strangely
familiar and comforting.
on character and texture, Human Capital tells of the
consequences of divorce, warns of the dangers of marriage
and treats adolescence with proper seriousness. It is a kind
of morality tale. It’s also expert social commentary.
A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer:
The Life of William Dampier
and Michael Preston
This biography can’t contain itself within the boundaries
of the genre. Seventeenth- century William Dampier’s life
encompassed adventures that are the stuff of fiction, They
enmeshed him in serious accusations of piracy, but his brilliant
scientific and social observations won him plaudits from the
Royal Academy and the intense admiration of later scientists
like Charles Darwin.
Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories
Mostly the object of juvenile hagiography as the Moses who
led her fellow slaves to freedom, Harriet Tubman suddenly
this year received three careful adult assessments. This one
by Humez, though doubtless destined to be the least known
(it’s from an academic press), is by far the best. It not
only incorporates extensive new research and covers Tubman’s
fascinating work during and after the Civil War, but it also
discusses with great subtlety how different narratives, including
Tubman’s own, were carefully structured to forward specific
A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground,
One Family’s Century of Conscience
This highly readable, witty account tells about the experiences
of the author’s parents in the Weather Underground in the
1970s and of his grandparents’ very different but equally
passionate radicalism a generation earlier. Going well beyond
family memoir, the book highlights how strong the desire to
right social and economic wrongs can be, how much we take
for granted the achievements of past radicals, and how sincere
idealists can become compromised as they try to bring about
In this novel, another idealist, a young missionary, becomes
compromised as his densely innocent naiveté runs smack against
the richly various, highly complicated cultures of Taiwan
and Mainland China in 1989. Although our hero gets pretty
much what he deserves, this satirical high comedy masks a
serious account of intellectual and spiritual transformation.
The Magician’s Study: A Guided Tour of the Life, Times,
and Memorabilia of Robert “The Great” Rouncival
A bravura performance with brilliant prose, this novel draws
you deep into a fabulous life of illusion, sleight of hand,
and scary but luminous magic. Besides recounting the lives
of magician Robert Rouncival, his trusty assistant Sherpa
the Silent, and their mutual love, the heiress Margaret (Minnie
the Pearl), the book also captures the people and the scene
of Jazz Age New York City.
As this novel opens, the hero loses his head—literally—but
then gradually discovers what matters in life, even if finding
out takes him through a race riot, a crazy cult, and mysterious
government-sponsored clonings of Jesus Christ in Roswell,
N.M. Works by Everett are invariably interesting and always
different—he’s a greatly underappreciated (if always published)
The Jane Austen Book Club
It would be hard to find a more masterful comedy than this
engaging story about a book club. Yes, you learn a certain
amount about Jane Austen, but mostly you get to know the club
members, including the one lone male (a sci-fi fan). And,
not surprisingly in a book of this wit and intelligence, there’s
more depth here than you might expect.
The Confessions of Max Tivoli
Sci-fi comes up for real in this novel about a man whose body
lives backwards from old age to infancy even though his mind
and emotional life mature chronologically. Narrative tension
comes from the hero’s lifelong attempt to connect with the
one true love of his life, but the extraordinary writing is
what will seduce most readers.
The Madonna of Excelsior
This novel uses myth, satire, and realistic social criticism
to elaborate the changes in a small South African town from
the trials for miscegenation under the Immorality Laws in
the 1970s through to the corruption of current politics. The
experiences of black Niki and her “coloured” daughter Popi
provide the plot, but it is the luminous paintings of an artist-priest
that bind this world together.
This novel presents a quiet, deceptively simple memoir written
by an elderly dying minister for his beloved 7-year-old son.
Gilead explores many issues of faith, history, and
the complexity of believing in God’s loving providence while
simultaneously hating to depart from the extraordinary actuality—good
and bad—of existence. The precision of the author’s observations
and her intriguing content may distract readers from the fact
that the narrative itself is a tour de force.
the books that appeared this year, they’re not as easily corralled
as CDs, concerts or movies. They’ve blended into my life in
subtler ways, not offering themselves up after the fact as
a song can do. The experience of reading them covers a greater
period of time than the other arts of which I partake. Temporal
in the extreme, they may straddle weeks or even months. In
addition, each book influences the one that follows it. Reflecting
on highlights of this year’s reading, I was struck by the
common thread of mortality that runs through them all:
There aren’t as many of us out there as there should be to
give this man the rewards he deserves, but Kraft’s ongoing
explorations of Peter Leroy simply roll with the punches.
The latest installment layers multiple fictitious alter egos
atop Kraft’s own stand-in, with a hospital and a heart attack
giving rise to complex but utterly humane reveries on life.
A Seahorse Year
This book is like a beautiful ballad played with unblinking
commitment by a quartet of cellos. In this richly voiced work,
the unfailing love of parenthood makes its way through a nighttime
forest path crisscrossed with nettles and brambles.
Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington
This 500-page biography is so meticulously researched that
the unrelenting parade of small details practically overwhelms
the dramatic arc of Washington’s life. But then it all suddenly
comes to a halt with her early death, its force having slowly
built—but with nowhere to go.
Penn has put his own voice into a sock monkey named Dickie.
While this provides him with a framework to bring out countless
pet observations, viewpoints and philosophies, there’s an
undeniable emotional life to the book, with the frailty of
life and the ties of family and friends being paramount.
Presented in sketchbook form, Gregory’s drawings and writings
were his means of making sense of life after it was utterly
changed in the moment his wife was hit by a New York City
subway, leaving her paralyzed.