John Powers: A tug of war between social comedy and morality
play — or is it between Wings of the Dove and Brideshead Revisited?
— Alan Hollinghurst’s Booker Prize–winning The Line of Beauty uses the
story of a social-climbing gay -aesthete to capture ’80s London in its soaring
-cadenzas of Thatcherite amorality and wrenching undertones of loss when AIDS
quietly, but lethally, lowers the boom.
Brendan Bernhard: It was a big year for Philip Roth, but
for me the Roth of the Year was the Viennese elegist Joseph Roth (1894–1939)
and his saga of the von Trotta family in the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire: The Radetzky March and The Emperor’s Tomb. Also, the out-of-print
spy novels of Charles McCarry (The Secret Lovers, The Tears of Autumn
and The Last Supper), along with one he published this year (Old Boys).
Coincidentally, the Roth books have been brought out in paperback by the excellent
Overlook Press, which will soon be reissuing the novels of McCarry.
Dave Eggers: Robert Newman’s The Fountain at the Center
of the World makes the anti-globalization movement very entertaining and
Joy Nicholson: Ask the Pilot, by Patrick Smith —
manna for masochists who fear flying. The nonfiction book explains whether a
jumbo jet can land without any engines, if the contents of airplane toilets
are jettisoned during flight, and if anyone has ever actually survived
a crash by donning a flotation vest. For nervous fliers, reading it is like
extreme S/M — except you laugh a lot more.
Vendela Vida: Russell Banks’ The Darling. The scope
of the book is tremendous, and Banks’ first-person female narrator is utterly
convincing. Most of all, I admire this book because Banks took a lot of writerly
risks, and, for me, they all paid off.
Michelle Huneven: In her modestly brilliant, technically
stunning and completely beguiling novel, Heir to the Glimmering World,
Cynthia Ozick pays homage to Jane Austen and George Eliot by appropriating their
methods of creating profound literary pleasure and applying these methods to
the story of a smart, intrepid, unloved orphan as she sets out in life and promptly
is waylaid in the crowded home of a passionate, uprooted and increasingly unhinged
rabbinic scholar, his depressed, bedridden wife and many adrift children.
Joshuah Bearman: Real Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja
Book, by Robert Hamburger. There are so many questions in this world, none
of them answered in this book. But what you will discover, perhaps, is that
ninja-ness is life-changing in the eye-opening way, like scuba diving. Explore
Real Ultimate Power as you would the depths of the reef.
Geoff Nicholson: The Photobook: A History, by Martin
Parr and Gerry Badger. Martin Parr adds to his reputation as photographer, subversive
and ironist by showing that he’s also a scholar. Most of the books featured
come from his own collection — he owns everything — and the work is a gorgeous
celebration of the richness that comes when photographs are organized and ordered
within the confines of a book.
Diana Wagman: Our country went to hell this year, but at
least there were a lot of good books written about it. The best, for me, was
Generation Kill, by (Weekly contributor) Evan Wright. It was horrible
to read and absolutely compelling. I cried, I was nauseated, and I haven’t felt
the same since about our soldiers in Iraq.
Robert David Jaffee: Hendrik Hertzberg’s new book, Politics.
One of the country’s deans of political commentary, Hertzberg provides us with
nearly 40 years of his best essays, including a special section that delves
into the failings of the Constitution and our electoral system, and a concluding
chapter on 9/11. After discussing the influence of the late author Philip K.
Dick on our present dystopia, Hertzberg writes, “Bush doesn’t know Dick.”
Jonathan Gold: Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays
from France, 1925–1939, by Joseph Roth. Joseph Roth in a cheerful mood should
be like Henry Miller impotent or Henry James as action hero, but this collection
of essays from his time in France (which may bear the same relation to his body
of work that “Homage to Catalonia’’ does to Orwell’s) is about as lyrical
as he got, history as nostalgia informed by the kind of closely observed detail
that can make other writers consider careers in accounting.
Erin Aubry Kaplan: The best of The Onion. In a year
in which headlines have recorded the meltdown of our national character and
discussions of political trifles like gay marriage with not a shred of irony,
parody has become a fine art. Nobody does it any better than the online mock
tabloid (yes, mock tabloid) The Onion. Read it and weep.
Joe Donnelly: Tijuana Straits. It’s more than just
another of Kem Nunn’s hard-boiled, surf-adjacent character studies; it’s a vivid
indictment of environmental and human degradation.
Deborah Vankin: The re-release of Zöe Heller’s Everything
You Know. She manages, with precision and hilarity, to get inside the heads
of two drastically different characters: an aimless, sexually promiscuous British
teen and a nasty, if somewhat perverted, aging Hollywood scribe — and they both
come off as charming. Their story is sad, dark and bitterly funny.