Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia
Figes whirls you around the lavish ballroom of Russian culture
during the past 300 years. There’s some of everything, from
Leo Tolstoy’s majestic novel War and Peace to Tarkovsky’s
sci-fi movie Solaris (the original). Figes tells stories
you’ve never heard before and anecdotes that will make you
laugh out loud. So the book is more than 800 pages. So you
get a little confused with all the names. Give yourself over
to Figes and you’ll have a terrific time.
The Fourth Treasure
Shows what can be done when the story, characters, and book
itself are all part of one unified art form. Plus Shimoda’s
got several marvelously intricate plots, all of which come
to satisfying conclusions.
A Mind of its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis
Has more interesting information than you’d believe possible
on this subject, fascinating as it is, and he’s a very entertaining
writer to boot. So it’s the second “cultural history” on this
list—they are completely different and utterly absorbing.
The Eyre Affair
This novel takes place in a time-shifting, alternative universe
where everyone’s deliriously obsessed with literature. Even
thugs trade bubblegum cards of characters in Henry Fielding
novels. There’s evil afoot—someone’s altering the text of
classic novels—and our heroine, Thursday Next (whose uncle
has invented a way to send pizza by fax), sees the hand of
Acheron Hades, the third most evil man in the world, at work.
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
This brilliantly written memoir has great insight into colonialism
in Africa. Fuller’s tale of growing up marshmallow in a black
world is totally unsentimental, unsparing, and deeply moving.
It’s also one of the year’s funniest books, and that’s a real
triumph, given the subject matter.
Critic: Carlo Wolff
What Should I Do With My Life?
Great journalism, great idea: beautifully written accounts
of self-discovery by a reporter fully engaged in the process
Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker
This gripping biography of trumpeter Baker retools and updates
the notion of cool by tracking the devolution of a bebop legend
from matinee idol to monster junkie.
Hello to the Cannibals
This wonderful novel showcases Bausch’s exceptional grasp
of the feminine by linking the lives of Lily Austin, an insecure,
gifted mother and playwright of the late 20th century, and
her subject and role model, 19th-century explorer Mary Kingsley.
Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention
of the Holocaust
Rhodes breaks searing ground in this exploration of the Nazi
death squads that murdered millions of Jews, Slavs and others
whom Adolf Hitler and his henchmen viewed as obstacles to
their megalomaniac plans.
Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War
This life of the famous American outlaw clarifies the development
of modern violence and proves the simplistic Jesse James of
the movies falls far short of the historical mark.
Jolie Blon’s Bounce
Detective Dave Robicheaux encounters the Devil in an enthralling
mystery that doubles as an exploration of morality. The writing
Chasing the Dime
Thriller writer Connelly steps out of his Harry Bosch character
to explore computer wizardry and wrong numbers. Tight as a
drum, this transcends genre.
The Fruit of Stone
A western novel with high cheekbones, unforgettable characters
and an unusual grasp of domesticity.
No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home
Offutt is so good he makes his engrossing memoir a profound
inquiry into the notion of home.
Critic: David Greenberger
Inflating a Dog
The latest installment in the ever-expanding meta-novel of
the life of Peter Leroy is a loving portrait of his mother,
which is to say Kraft’s loving portrait of his mother.
Dream Brothers: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley
This dual biography rings with the lure of music as well as
the melancholy heart of frail beings.
Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters
A tale rich with hijinks, humor and dignity, as well as travails,
fractious circumstances, deceit and sadness—in short, it is
imbued with the same substance that empowers its core subject:
One Hundred Demons
Barry’s best yet, as she questions a lifetime of often-conflicted
impulses, urges and desires common to us all. I must also
note that my daughter Norabelle shows up in one of the chapters
as a real character, though that in no way changes the truth
of my previous statement.
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002
Third in this annual series draws from writings on hiphop,
jazz, country, rock and some hard-to-classify roots and branches.
Highpoints include “The Many Faces of Korla Pandit” by R.J.
Smith and “A Long Strange Trip,” Michael Hall’s sad but honorable
portrait of Roky Erickson.
Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of
the WarnerMusic Group
Cornyn with Paul Scanlon
Warner Bros. was an oasis of honest, innovative and lasting
music from the late ’60s through the ’70s, and Stan Cornyn
gleefully spun in the midst of it all, heading up what was
loosely called Creative Services. It’s a testament to Cornyn
and Scanlon that the former’s innate wit and charm comes shining
through over the course of this rather lengthy tome.
Warm Voices Rearranged: Anagram Record Reviews
Kearney and Gregg Turkington
Short and sweet, here’s a few samples: “Glib Repeater” (Peter
Gabriel), “Matured? No, unable” (Madonna True Blue)
and “ELP release a gross, dreary album. Mankind ran!” (Emerson,
Lake and Palmer Brain Salad Surgery).
Critic: Amy Sisson
Stories of Your Life and Others
The unusual second-person, future-tense narrative in this
debut collection’s title story seems brazen, but by the end
you’ll be convinced that Story of Your Life could not
have been told any other way. With that beautifully crafted
tale, Chiang has set himself an almost impossible standard,
but most of the award-winning stories in this book show that
he’s up to the challenge.
Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary
The statue commemorating the great Nevin Nollop, inventor
of the famous pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the
lazy dog,” has lost the letter “z,” kicking off a Council
prohibition against that unfortunate letter. As tiles drop
and letters are excised from the alphabet, Nollopians must
come up with creative new ways to express themselves in this
extremely clever first novel.
Winter, illustrated by Ana Juan
This stunning picture-book biography portrays a much-simplified
version of Frido Kahlo’s artistic life. Utilizing traditional
Mexican folk-art characters, illustrator Ana Juan has successfully
captured Kahlo’s world of self-portraiture, making it suitable
and memorable for children yet appealing to adults.
Tepper Isn’t Going Out
Murray Tepper’s quiet affection for perfectly legal street
parking is eventually noticed by the press, the public, and
a control-freak mayor who wants to prosecute Tepper as a public
nuisance. This gently satiric novel is simply a pleasure to
Leaping to the Stars
In the concluding volume of the “Dingilliad,” Charles Dingillian
and family finally escape the social and economic collapse
of the solar system, but find that special-interest factions
continue to covet the priceless artificial intelligence in
their possession. No weak end to a series, this thoughtful
book continues to explore humanity’s propensity to screw things
Carl Streator is a widower journalist researching SIDS when
he discovers the murderous power of an African culling chant.
In this strange, supernatural thriller, the author of the
cult classic Fight Club becomes accessible to a wider
audience without losing his satiric edge.
With alternating chapters told by four versions of the same
private investigator (one real, three “dittos”), this science-fiction
mystery presents not only an expedited nature-versus-nurture
scenario, but also a playful and effective exploration of
Critic: John Rodat
Bloom examines and traces the notion of genius, as represented
by 100 writers, through the history of Western literature—from
the Yahwist to Ralph Ellison. Bloom groups the hundred geniuses—yes,
mostly white, mostly male, all dead—not chronologically, but
in accordance with metaphorical links suggested by the sefirot,
the 10 symbols of creative power in the Jewish mystical
tradition, the Kabbalah. It’s exactly as obscure as it sounds,
but lit fans interested in the academic conversation surrounding
the canon will dig this. Won’t you, you dusty wackos?
The Last American Man
Magazine writer Elizabeth Gilbert expanded an article she
wrote for GQ into this book-length nonfiction examination
of the life of outdoorsman Eustace Conway, who “left his comfortable
suburban home at the age of seventeen to move into the Appalachian
Mountains, where for the last twenty years he has lived, making
fire with sticks, wearing skins . . .” and so forth. But Gilbert’s
account is no shallow encomium to some rough-and-ready frontier
archetype. It’s an affecting chronicle of a remarkable utopian’s
attempts to spread the word, without being absorbed into the
world he hopes to change.
The Subject Steve
In this fantastic first novel, “Steve (not his real name)”
is diagnosed by his two doctors—the Mechanic and the Philosopher—with
a fatal disease for which they can find no cause, though they’re
eager and media-saavy enough to label it: Goldfarb-Blackstone
Preparatory Extinction Syndrome. The diagnosis sets the protagonist
off on an existential quest, and the author off on a satirical
romp infused with equal parts Orwellian morality and Kafkaesque
absurdity. A very funny skewering of a society in need of
Breaking Open the Head
There’s no shortage of first-person drug-experience books,
the psycho-pharmaco-travelogues. And though I tend to enjoy
the fictionalized accounts, all the nonfiction entries in
that category have generally left me cold. Breaking Open
the Head benefits from author Daniel Pinchbeck’s winning
combination of the traits of the Beatnik searcher and the
Gen-X skeptic: He recognizes that his mission is hinged on
“the impossible, the embarrassing, the ultimate childish question
of Why?” Though, of course, the childish nature of his quest
in no way deters him from traveling around the world, stuffing
his face full of drugs, er, sacraments (yagé, DMT, iboga),
puking and hoping to meet God.
The Tale of the Rose
Consuelo De Saint-Exupéry
This memoir by the wife of the author of The Little Prince
was found in manuscript form 15 years after her death; since
its original publication in France, in 2000, it has been translated
into 19 languages and has been a global bestseller. The biographical
introduction alone justifies the hubbub. The Salvadoran woman
born Consuelo Suncin Sandoval in 1901 is like a character
out of a Marquez or Cortazar novel: strong, intelligent, poetically
perceptive and intensely passionate. Her story—the story behind
the love story in her husband’s most famous book—adds
force to the legend Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, but stands equally
well solely on its on merits.