Special Issue: Favorite Books 2008: Fiction and Poetry

All of It Singing

New and Selected Poems

By Linda Gregg


Though these poems -- influenced by the poet’s years in Greece -- find Gregg alone in a landscape deserted by a man, she isn’t despairing but contemplative, wry, amused.

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A Mercy

By Toni Morrison

Alfred A. Knopf

Morrison looks at America in the 1680s and 1690s, “a young, wild country where a fog, often slightly mephitic, envelops the world,” our reviewer wrote, and orphans and other outcasts struggle to build lives for themselves.

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By Neal Stephenson

William Morrow

Scientific scholarship is restricted to a select few, cloistered from a society that gorges on consumer distractions. Yet when a crisis threatens, these ascetics must find a solution.

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The Boat

By Nam Le

Alfred A. Knopf

A diverse debut story collection that traverses the globe and follows characters who are in transit, people who, for one reason or another, have come unmoored.

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The Book of Getting Even

By Benjamin Taylor


Taylor’s novel traces the relationship between Gabriel Geismar and the Hunderts, whom the author describes as “Hungarian Jews who fled to apparent security and success in America and yet have found themselves in a kind of physical and emotional peril from which there is no real refuge.”

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Dear American Airlines

By Jonathan Miles

Houghton Mifflin

Miles’ first novel takes the form of a letter from a disgruntled flier stranded at O’Hare, waiting, like Vladimir and Estragon, to be delivered from the existential nightmare of the terminal.

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Dictation: A Quartet

By Cynthia Ozick

Houghton Mifflin

Four stories crackling with Ozick’s wit and insight explore the meanings of art, faith and language in the lives of actors, charlatans and others, including Joseph Conrad and Henry James.

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By Julia Leigh


A castle in France becomes an uneasy haven for Olivia, our reviewer said, “beaten up for the last time by a brutal husband,” and her brother, Marcus, whose wife, Sophie, “clutches her recently stillborn baby to her breast.”

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The Flying Troutmans

By Miriam Toews


An aunt convinces her niece and nephew to load the van and hit the road in search of their father. Neither kid asks “Are we there yet?” because the journey is the joy.

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From A to X: A Story in Letters

By John Berger


A novel of letters between a prisoner and his beloved asks us: What are messages between lovers but the invention of a shared, secret world?

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The God of War

By Marisa Silver

Simon & Schuster

Ares, 12, seeks refuge from a heavy burden, believing his mute brother Malcolm’s brain damage is his fault. Their mother’s frequent disappearances leave Ares to face adulthood on his own.

* *Home

By Marilynne Robinson

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Glory Boughton of “Gilead,” Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, returns home to care for her dying father and finds that her brother Jack has returned as well, which unsettles both of them.

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How the Dead Dream

By Lydia Millet


T., the main character in Millet’s sixth novel, is a cold-hearted capitalist who turns bullying into a business. But as he struggles for meaning (in a career, relationships, caring for animals), he becomes a man whose weaknesses actually empower the reader.

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How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone

By Sasa Stanisic


Aleksandar embraces magic and the powers of the imagination until civil war erupts in the Balkans, destroying the fabric of normal life. His attempts to make sense of catastrophic change yield funny misapprehensions and devastating insights.

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Knockemstiff: Stories

By Donald Ray Pollock


A portrait of 50 years in a small Ohio town, where the down-and-out live on the margins, written in language that is cutting, raunchy and always fully of empathy.

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My Revolutions

By Hari Kunzru


Michael Frame looks like any suburban husband and father, but he is really a 1960s revolutionary gone underground -- until his secret is uncovered.

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Ms. Hempel Chronicles: Stories

By Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum


Ms. Hempel is a middle-school teacher overwhelmed by charges the author describes as “just old enough to have discovered their souls, but not yet dulled by the ordinary act of survival.” Both excellent at her job and unsure of her worth, she is vulnerable, necessary, human: like us all.

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Old War: Poems

By Alan Shapiro

Houghton Mifflin

Tragedy and triumph travel side by side in these poems. “I couldn’t tell you where the Lord was traveling,” Shapiro writes. “And as he passed I saw / he no more thought of me / than a train thinks / of the sparks scattering / under its iron weight. . . . “

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Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories

By Tobias Wolff

Alfred A. Knopf

In writing direct and unflourished, “Our Story Begins” includes many stories that “are as good as it gets.” A master of the form, Wolff executes seamlessly: “My mother read everything,” he writes, “except books.”

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Shadow Country: A New Rendering of the Watson Legend

By Peter Matthiessen

Modern Library

Matthiessen’s latest book, a reworking of three earlier novels, takes place in the Florida Everglades at the turn of the last century, detailing the saga of E.J. Watson, his family and a country that is brutally raw, tragic and ravishing.

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By Zachary Lazar

Little, Brown

This novel interweaves the tragic story of Brian Jones with those of filmmaker Kenneth Anger and Bobby Beausoleil, a would-be rock star turned Charles Manson acolyte, to shine a light on the darker side of the 1960s.

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The Turnaround

By George Pelecanos

Little, Brown

Race, ethnicity and manhood are traced through the lives of youths -- black and white -- who as men will find salvation and reconciliation through work and must also atone for their sins.

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By Roberto Bolano

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

This masterpiece by the late Chilean-Mexican writer combines literary pyrotechnics with the stark and murderous reality that is daily life on the Mexican border.

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Unaccustomed Earth

By Jhumpa Lahiri

Alfred A. Knopf

With lives jolted by the distance of oceans or the gap of generations, Lahiri’s characters in these stories are adrift not because they are at odds with the culture but because they must live with each other.

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The Waitress Was New

By Dominique Fabre


Not much happens in this unassuming tale of a Paris barman, yet Fabre creates a vivid portrait of human evanescence, all of us, he says, “rushing together toward a big, not completely black hole.”