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Liberty's picks

Liberty's Picks

I'm here because I love books! I lean towards the grim and strange, but, really, I'll read anything. Bukowski, Vonnegut, and Atwood are my all-time favorites, and I've recently enjoyed reading McCarthy, Stephenson and Brockmeier. I speak geek pretty well, too - science fiction and graphic novels are my favorite sections. When I'm not working with books and deciding what to read next, I'm reading. When I'm not reading, I'm either asleep or wondering why Chip Kidd doesn't return my calls.

The Reapers Are the Angels

by Alden Bell

Has the story of people trying to survive after a zombie apocalypse been done before? Many, many times. But it's not what you say, but how you tell it that counts, and Bell does zombies right. The characters are realistic, the plot never drags, and there's tons of gore. I heart zombies.



by Nick Harkaway

Joe Spork leads a quiet life of a tinker. But then his friend is murdered. And then he falls in love. Alas - someone has unleashed world-ending mechanical bees upon the planet, so unless Joe and his friends, and an octegenarian spy named Edie Bannister, can stop Shem Shem Tsien, the Baddest Bad in the history of bad guys, none of it will matter. This book is crazy-fun, like eating-pixie-sticks-on-the-Tilt-a-Whirl fun. I laughed, I cried, I squealed - I love Nick Harkaway.


The Vanishers

by Heidi Julavits

WHAT FUN. Julia, a student at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology, flees the school after coming under psychic attack. As she attempts to regain her health and her strength, her travels take her across the Atlantic, where she encounters filmmakers, porn stars, plastic surgery fanatics, and other strange characters who may have known her mother, who died when Julia was an infant. "The Vanishers" is delightfully strange and original. 


Rat Girl

by Kristin Hersh

One of my favorite memoirs: Hersh, a founding member of Throwing Muses, used her journals to recount the year she started a band, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and found out she was pregnant. This book is magical. If we were all able to express our thoughts and feelings so coherently as teenagers as Hersh was, the world would be a different place.


The Monstrumologist

by Rick Yancey

ZOMG! I almost lost my lunch three times just reading the first 25 pages of this book. Is that good? HELLZ, YES! On top of being wonderfully written and deliciously scary, ‘The Monstrumologist’ is clever, disturbing fun. PS - This is the first book in the series, and they are all equally awesome.


Mr. Fox

by Helen Oyeyemi

The tale of Mr. Fox, a mystery novelist with a penchant for killing off his female protagonists, and the bizarre triangle between him, his wife, Daphne, and his imaginary muse, Mary. Brilliant and weird.


We the Animals

by Justin Torres

Torres takes the oft-done autobiographical first novel and uses it to create a visceral, gorgeous book about family, poverty, and dependence. 'We the Animals' smolders from the first sentence, and the ending erupts into a full-blown inferno.


The Sisters Brothers

by Patrick deWitt

I recently discovered, much to my surprise, that I have a favorite genre: Post-Civil War westerns. ‘Lonesome Dove,’ ‘Blood Meridian,’ ‘Warlock’ – I love them all. And deWitt can proudly add his hat to the ring with his tale of two henchmen brothers sent to California to find a man who crossed their boss. 


Blueprints for Building Better Girls

by Elissa Schappell

Incredibly funny and clever interconnected stories about eight women in different stages of their lives. This book would break your heart if it hadn’t already bubble-wrapped it in laughter. Excited to read more from Schappell.


Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead

by Sara Gran

Gran brings the 21st century the kick-ass female detective it has been waiting for: Claire DeWitt, an unconventional private eye hired to investigate a crime in post-Katrina New Orleans. Like all the best detectives, she has her demons and vices. I’m excited for more books in this series.


The End of Everything

by Megan Abbott

I read eight novels this year centered around missing girls, but this one blew them all out of the water. Goodness grape juice! Abbott is a masterful storyteller, a keen observer, and she writes sentences with Banville-like precision.



by Bonnie Nadzam

A middle-aged man takes an eleven-year-old girl on a road trip to try and teach her about life. Yes, it will make you uncomfortable, but sometimes being uncomfortable is good for you, and Nazdam has written a really beautiful story. She’s a hell of a writer.


The Report

by Jessica Francis Kane

Kane’s fictional telling of the true tragic occurrence in a London tube station during WWII reads like an actual account. She handles the tragedy with sensitivity and intelligence. ‘The Report’ has a hushed grace to it.


The Foremost Good Fortune

by Susan Conley

Conley’s account of her move to China with her family is at
times humorous and heartbreaking. Living with two young children in a country whose language she doesn’t speak, she is then forced to learn another language - that of cancer. Conley is a natural at storytelling, with an amazing memory for detail.


The Sherlockian

by Graham Moore

Baker Street nerds rejoice! This book is SATURATED in Doyle
and Holmes knowledge. Based on actual events, the book flips back and forth between the suspicious death of a Sherlock fanatic, and mysterious murders in 1893, investigated by none other than Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle. Wonderfully written, and SO much fun!


The News Where You Are

by Catherine O'Flynn

I love this book equally as much as O’Flynn’s First book, ‘What We Lost’ – her writing has an easily accessible, comforting quality to it. While the subject is often sad, she is also VERY funny. It’s like she just can’t help herself – she needs to make the reader laugh. O’Flynn is wonderful.


A Friend of the Family

by Laura Grodstein

A suspenseful tale about the boundless love of a parent. Pete’s son falls in love with Laura, the daughter of Pete’s best friends. But Laura has a troubled past, and Pete sees her as a serpent poised to strike, as his son’s resentment of Pete grows. Taut and chilling.


My Name is Asher Lev

by Chaim Potok

This is one of those books I wish I had read when I was young – I really believe it would have had an impact on my younger years. ‘Asher Lev’ is INCREDIBLE! Magical, lyrical, all the amazing adjectives you can think to bestow on a book – ‘Asher Lev’ deserves every one. For those of you who had to read it in school – read it again. Right now. Go on. I’ll wait here.


Kings of the Earth

by Jon Clinch

The adjectives ‘astounding’ and ‘haunting’ were invented for this novel. Narrated by multiple characters, it is a story of grace and devastation about three brothers and their little piece of the world. Clinch cannot be human – no one should be able to write like this about a period in time they didn’t live through. Simply, simply gorgeous.


Go With Me

by Castle Freeman, Jr.

What a deliciously evil little punch in the mouth! A young woman is being tormented by the town’s big bad. When the law fails her, a group of townies come to her aid. Clever, nasty, and funny – it will give you whiplash. In a good way.



by Vanessa Veselka

Zazen really made my amygdala purr. Della, a 27-year-old
waitress at a vegan restaurant, fights the future (and a mental collapse) in an unnamed city in not-too-distant America. A fantastic social and political
commentary, Veselka unveils the story at a manic speed that will leave your brain panting. Here is a mini-interview I did with myself:

Me: Will you ever stop talking about Vanessa Veselka's Zazen? 

Me: No. *knocks camera out of self's hands* *shoves self out of the way* 


The Financial Lives of Poets

by Jess Walter

Jess Walter is a riot - this is a hysterical, smart, contemporary novel. Matt's life is starting to unravel - he's lost his job, the bank has foreclosed on his house and his wife is pursuing an online affair with an old classmate on Facebook. To rectify these situations, Matt does the humble (and American) thing - he makes more bad decisions. This book is the "Corrections" of 2009. It's "White Noise"-lite. A wonderful, real read.


Lonesome Dove

by Larry McMurtry

As soon as I started reading this, I was immediately hooked. One thing I didn’t know about Lonesome Dove is how FUNNY it is. The banter between the Texas Rangers is fantastic. And the story is so compelling. I couldn’t put it down – and it’s almost 1,000 pages long. As a Cormac McCarthy fan, I was thrilled by the post-Civil War period I’ve come to love in novels. And the whole time I was reading it, I was struck by the fact that this is how people really used to live. Snakes and scalpings and sandstorms, oh my! When I finished reading it, it was like I lost a friend - I was so depressed that I slept with it under my pillow. (It says third in a trilogy, but this was written first, and works perfectly well as a stand-alone.)


Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West

by Cormac McCarthy

Fans of "Lonesome Dove" who have a taste for the dark side - this is the book for you! This book is the very definition of gritty. A violent, brutal telling of cowboys and indians in the post-Civil War west, full of murders and marauders. McCarthy brings gorgeous imagery to an ugly world. Perfect pick to fill a bloodthirsty need. 


Arkham Asylum

by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean

Come, my little monkeys of darkness, and feast your eyes on one of the greatest graphic novels ever. Sure, it's fabulously dark and disturbing, but even the Care Bears carry shivs now. No, what makes "Arkham Asylum" remarkable is McKean's illustrations. Thinking about the sheer amount of work put into every panel makes my eyes bleed with appreciation. Awesome asylum action. READ THIS.


Scott Pilgrim

by Bryan Lee O'Malley

SCOTT PILGRIM ROCKS! No, really, he does. He's a 23-year-old Canadian slacker who spends his time sleeping, eating, avoiding getting a job and occasionally going to band practice. But now - he's found love! But in order to keep it, he must do battle with her seven evil exes. Awesome, Awesome, Awesome, eh. HURRY - READ THEM BEFORE THE MOVIE COMES OUT!


Father of the Rain

by Lily King

"Father of the Rain" repeatedly punched me in the heart from beginning to end. I haven't cried this much since Bambi's mother died. This book is the perfect example of why I love reading: that someone you don't know can make you feel real emotions about things that haven't actually happened - it thrills me to no end. Lily King is an unbelievable writer - she should be studied under a microscope.


A Mercy

by Toni Morrison

I am seriously ashamed to admit that this is the first Toni Morrison book I've read - but holy smokes, what a book!

Her style of writing, its brevity, is breathtaking, and it's the mark of a true genius when an author can make you love a book with such serious subject matter. Brilliant and gorgeous.


Geek Love

by Katherine Dunn

For fans of the strange and magical, who are not afraid to let their freak flag fly...

A family of circus performers (freaks), created by their parents, try and get by as best they can.

Heartbreaking, humorous and compelling, Dunn has cornered the market on circus books with this wonderful tail. (You'll get the spelling when you read it.) 


When You Reach Me

by Rebecca Stead

Miranda is cozy in the routine of her 6th grade NYC life, hanging out with her best pal Sal and her game show-crazed mom. But all that is about to change, when Miranda finds a note telling her that her friend is in danger, but not to worry, they will be saved. Original, smart and touching.


Sag Harbor

by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead's autobiographical novel introduces us to Benji, an upper middle-class black teenager who spends his summers in Sag Harbor with his family. Whether teasing his friends, working at the ice cream shop or having his first kiss, Benji is portrayed as sweet, kind and clever, without ever being too sentimental. Refreshing and great. Dag, it's good.



by Mary Roach

A book about death shouldn't be this entertaining, but Roach's narrative is a scream and the chapters are fascinating, from a plastic surgery class to a trip to the Body Farm.

I thought this book was much more interesting that 'Bonk,' Roach's book about sex. I don't know what that says about me.


Agent Zigzag

by Ben Macintyre

Eddie Chapman was a no-good husband, a menace to the crown of England and a pretty inept criminal. But it was all these qualities that made him a great double agent. Lying and cheating was second nature to him and 'Agent Zigzag' is a fun book full of adventure and seemingly improbable scenarios.


A High Wind in Jamaica

by Richard Hughes

THIS BOOK IS SO GREAT! These children may have been taken by pirates, but it's the pirates who are in for a hellish time.

A fantastic telling of the cruel, unsentimental ways of children. Awesome awesome awesome. 


The Gone-Away World

by Nick Harkaway

THIS BOOK IS GENIUS FUN! Gonzo and his best friend are fighting a war against a new weapon - one that actually makes whole parts of the surface of the Earth "go away". Jam packed with humor, heroism, romance - and kung fu!

If you love (and miss) Kurt Vonnegut, this will assuage the pain a little.



Mister Pip

by Lloyd Jones

It is always amazing when such beauty comes out of so much horror.

The children of a small village come under the thrall of their teacher, and by proxy, Charles Dickens, as rebels close in on their piece of paradise in Papua, New Guinea.

Sweet, sad and marvelously executed. 


Bel Canto

by Ann Patchett

The story of people taken hostage by terrorists during a birthday party for a South American politician. Possibly one of the most perfect, breathtaking novels ever written. It's like reading music, it flows so seamlessly. I passed this over a dozen times, thinking it was a political thriller - what a mistake!

It is an amazing story of love and perserverance. BEAUTIFUL. 


Cannery Row

by John Steinbeck

This is my FAVORITE book. But I've been so intimidated by the idea of trying to express why that is in words, that I have yet to write a coherent staff pick for it. WATCH THIS SPACE. 


Cat's Eye

by Margaret Atwood

Everything that Atwood writes is BLOODY BRILLIANT! 'Cat's Eye' is one of her earlier books, a razor-claw-sharp observation of how females treat one another.

Contains a few of the most incredible sentences I have ever experienced while reading.

Gorgeous and deliciously awful (in a fantastic way). 


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is such a fun character! Part Ramona Quimby, part Wednesday Addams, her naturally inquisitive nature and vast knowledge of poison makes her perfect for investigating a murder.

When a body turns up in the family's garden, all eyes turn to Flavia's father as a suspect. It's up to her to prove his innocence.

Super fun! 


The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag

by Alan Bradley

Rarely are sequels as good, or better, that the first effort. "Empire Strikes Back." That's about it... until now! Precocious, eleven-year-old, poison enthusiast Flavia de Luce is at it again, and she's smarter, funnier and sassier than she was in her first fabulous book, "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie."

A delightful mystery in the Agatha Christie vein. If only Bradley would come up with shorter titles! 


The Infinities

by John Banville

I would take a bullet for John Banville. I think he's one of the greatest living fiction writers. This tale of gods meddling in the affairs of one family's day is funny, smart and lovely. Banville writes the most eloquent sentences about the most ordinary things. 

And, good news! For Banville fans that don't already know - he writes amazing mysteries, too, under the name Benjamin Black.




by Roberto Bolaño

Bolaño pulled no punches with this epic. It's brilliantly crafted, gorgeously written and remarkably disturbing. The book is a series of five interconnected tales, centering around hundreds of murders in a Mexican border town.

Make no mistake - this book is not for the faint of heart. But those willing to take the dark journey will be rewarded with a masterpiece. 


The Anthologist

by Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker is AMAZING. He has this ability to take the tiniest of thoughts - a thought you weren't even aware you had - and get it out onto the page. So that when you read it, you go "Holy cats! I've thought the same thing, but have never been able to articulate it!"

He is a word magician and "The Anthologist" is near-perfect. I wanted to sleep with it under my pillow for weeks. 


Notes From the Underwire

by Quinn Cummings

This is the most hysterically funny collection of essays I’ve read. Quinn Cummings can’t help but be funny, whether  talking about her pets, her daughter or her house. Even when tackling more serious subject matter, she knows laughter will get you through the tears. I laughed out loud through the whole thing. 



And remember: “We don’t use Mommy’s toothbrush to get the cat looking her best.”


Let the Great World Spin

by Colum McCann

This book is simply gorgeous. McCann tells intertwining stories revolving around the day Philippe Petit walked between the World Trade Center towers.



Beautiful tales, full of love, loss and anguish. This is my favorite book of 2009 (so far).


The Forever War

by Joe Haldeman

Fans of old-fashioned hard science fiction will love Haldeman’s 1974 classic, finally back in print.

Private William Mandella is sent back into space to help head off a possible alien attack. What follows is a a war that takes him through space and time, spanning thousands of years.

A brilliant commentary on war and the repercussions of fear and ignorance. 


The Little Stranger

by Sarah Waters

I think Sarah Waters is the greatest living historical fiction writer, and with “The Little Stranger,” she has outdone herself.



Not only is it a wonderful period piece about war, class and privilege, 




500 fantastic pages of simmering terror that will have you sleeping with the lights on.



by Colm Tóibín

What is it about books written about NYC by Irish authors in 2009?* They’re all fantastic!

“Brooklyn” is the sweet tale of Eilis Lacey, an Irish immigrant living in Brooklyn in the 1950s.

Working in a department store to send money home to her family, Eilis is just getting over her homesickness and finding love in the States when tragedy strikes at home.

Tóibín’s writing is precise and lovely, and “Brooklyn” is a masterpiece.



*See “Let the Great World Spin”


Fifth Business

by Robertson Davies

Want to read someone crazy-influenced by Charles Dickens who is not John Irving? Take a deep breath and read Robertson Davies’ refreshing classic about the little things in life and how the smallest of actions can bring the entire course of you life crashing down around your ears.


Funny and wonderful,  wonderful, wonderful.



by Laurie Halse Anderson

Before you buy this book, there are a few things you should know: this book is not easy. It is ugly, often disturbing and quite shocking.

That said: this book is amazing! It is haunting and brave, and Anderson gives Lia an incredibly powerful voice. 

Raw and unforgettable.



by Julia Leigh

120 pages of gorgeously written,










I loved it.


Leigh cannot write fast enough for me. This is only her second book in ten years. I WANT MORE!!



Emmy & the Incredible Shrinking Rat

by Lynne Jonell

Unlike Harry Potter, Emmy still has parents—it’s just that they stopped noticing that she exists. Could this be the work of her evil nanny? With the help of her new friend Joe and an incredibly sarcastic shrinking rat, Emmy sets out to solve the mystery and win her parents back before it’s too late.



by Kurt Vonnegut

When people ask “What book do you wish you could read again for the first time?” without a doubt, it’s “Slapstick.” Vonnegut is my favorite, and to be able to experience his genius anew would be mind blowing.


“Slapstick” tells the story of freakishly large twins who embark on a campaign to end loneliness in America.


Bizarre, sad and sweet. Not necessarily his best, but certainly my favorite. You never forget your first.


Nobody Move

by Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson is one of the most incredible living American authors—and “Nobody Move” doesn’t disappoint.


Think “No Country for Old Men” meets “The Sopranos,” as imagined by Raymond Chandler.


Funny, vicious and ridiculously fast-paced, like a really awesome punch to the cerebellum. 


The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

A post-apocalyptic “Survivor” television show, where children from twelve different villages are chosen once a year to compete in a battle to the death. The victor’s village is then showered with food for a year. Food, which is scarce, hence the title.


Action-packed with non-stop thrills! (And the sequel, which comes out 9/09, is just as awesome!)


The Sorrows of Young Werther

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I love love love this book. For anyone who has ever experienced unrequited love. Or had their hearts torn from their chests still beating. And then run across with a cheese grater. And set on fire. You get the picture.

Werther wanders the countryside, awash in misery as he pines for Lotte, his (unattainable) heart’s desire.

Goethe’s tale of young love and torment made Goethe one of the first literary rock stars, and compelled dozens of young men to emulate Werther’s actions.

I cannot stress enough how much I love this book. It's comfort food for a wounded heart, delicious disturbedness for a weak spirit. It's gut-achingly wonderful.

Did I mention how much I love this book?


The Forest of Hands and Teeth

by Carrie Ryan

Love means never having to say you're sorry… for trying to eat your brains.

Mary is a young woman growing up in a fenced-in village surrounded by zombies, never having known life without them.

Her attempts at love and normalcy are thwarted when the fence is breached, forcing her and others to flee.

Awesome - part “Handmaid’s Tale,” part “28 Days Later.” Action- packed and tons of fun!


Darling Jim

by Christian Moerk

Think “Grimm Fairy Tales” for adults. A postman in Dublin realizes he hasn’t seen one of the women he delivers mail to on his route for a while, so he goes to investigate.

What he sees when he peeks through the mail slot in her door had me sleeping with the lights on!

But don’t worry—it’s not all scary. Moerk has woven a spellbinding tale of three sisters and love, lust and revenge.

Be wary of handsome strangers.


Cutting for Stone

by Abraham Verghese

The story of twin surgeons, born in Ethiopia to an Indian nun and a British doctor.

Rich with history and amazing medical details (Verghese is himself a doctor), “Cutting for Stone” is a love story to the beauty and horrors of human nature.

Simply marvelous.


Still Life with Woodpecker

by Tom Robbins

Robbins is at his finest with a tale of redheads, aliens and mad bombers. Leigh Cheri, a deposed (and scandalized) princess, falls in love with eco-terrorist Bernard and meets aliens, while on vacation in Hawaii.

As her mother, Queen Tilli, would say: uh oh, Spaghetti O’s.

Fabulous fun and highly recommended reading for redheads.


84, Charing Cross Road

by Helene Hanff

What a delightful little book!

The real-life correspondence between an American woman searching for a rare book and a bookseller in London.

A simply lovely, uplifting, little slice of life


The Silver Swan

by Benjamin Black

Like “Christine Falls,” its predecessor, “The Silver Swan” is so lovely and beautifully written, the book becomes less about the mystery and wraps you up in the setting and time period.

You can almost smell the scotch and hear the rasp of nylon stockings as you read it.

(Benjamin Black has other amazing books under his real name, John Banville.)


Hello, Cupcake!

by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson

Whoever put “creations anyone can make” on the cover has never met me. I attempted the puppy cupcakes—they came out looking more like water buffalo in heat.


this book is so colorful and fun and filled with great ideas, I can’t help but still look through it al the time. The cupcakes are AMAZING!



by Patrick Suskind

A serial killer on par with Hannibal Lector!

Super-creepy Jean-Baptiste has the ability to capture people’s essence—but how he goes about doing it is not very nice…

Whip-smart and wild!


Dating Your Mom

by Ian Frazier

Ian Frazier is so funny (and I’m not just talking about his ponytail.)

From discussions on the Bloomsbury group to, yes, dating your mom, Frazier’s essays are snort-inducing.

And watch out for the poisonous Mexican spitting mice!


Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

by Mo Willems

Who says mole rats have to be naked? Wilbur likes wearing clothes, much to consternation of the other naked mole rats in his den.

The pictures are so cute! And of course, there’s a lesson about being yourself. But mostly, it made me think of the age-old question: why didn’t Donald Duck wear pants?



The Eyes of the Dragon

by Stephen King

Forget everything you know about Stephen King—this is a dark, magnificent fantasy of love, betrayal and revenge.

An almost-fairy tale he wrote for his daughter when she was young, it’s fast-paced, imaginative and so descriptive you can practically smell the castle walls.


Duma Key

by Stephen King

My interest in King’s recent books has waned, but this book has shown him to be 100% back to his fabulous old self.

Interesting, scary and fun - possibly the first time I read a King book and found it to be the perfect amount of pages.


Let the Right One In

by John Lindqvist

Twilight,Schmilight—   want an original, SCARY story for grown-ups?


Creepy, creepy, creepy and super smart, it’s as chilling as the Swedish winter where it takes place.

Plus, it will make you miss your Rubik’s cube.



by J.M. Coetzee

I love books that bloody my lip, and this one tops the list—it’s a full-on head butt to the frontal lobe.

A disgraced teacher moves in with his grown daughter in Africa. It’s the gutwrenching and beautiful story of the wonders and horrors of humanity and how he tries to make sense of it all.


The Plague Dogs

by Richard Adams

Fascinating fantasy tale of two dogs that escape a science lab (sporting the wounds of the experiments) and strike out across the countryside in search of a better life.

Heartbreaking, in a really good way.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz

Incredibly original and wonderfully realized. Diaz does an amazing job bringing geeky loner Oscar and his family to life. Simply magnificent.


Tepper Isn't Going Out

by Calvin Trillin

Can’t a guy just sit in his car and read his newspaper in peace. That’s all crumudgeonly Tepper wants.

Love, love, love this book—completely harmless fun!



by Neal Stephenson

Brilliant fun!

If you love insanely smart, funny writers, and can trust them to drop you into an alternate world with strange customs and words, this is the book for you.

Stephenson once again shines with his brilliance. So smart it makes my brain hurt.



by Richard Price

Fans of HBO’s The Wire are sure to love “Samaritan,” a fast-paced, gritty whodunit.

Price’s attention to detail, from police procedural to people’s last grasps at hope and humanity, are jarring and beautiful.


The Lost City of Z

by David Grann

Holy smokes, this book is exciting! Bugs, snakes, crocodiles, piranhas, cannibals—adventure galore!

David Grann has done an amazing job reconstructing Percy Fawcett, a real-life Indiana Jones. His extensive research really paid off.

This is going to be the Into Thin Air of 2009.



Close To Shore

by Michael Capuzzo

Need another irrational fear? Read Close to Shore, about the 1916 shark attacks that Peter Benchley based “Jaws” on.

Not only incredibly scary, but also amazingly rich with history.
And, again,


Bathtubs are now the only safe bodies of water as far as I’m concerned.


The Executioner's Song

by Norman Mailer

A fictionalization of the life of Gary Gilmore, the last man to be executed by firing squad in the United States. Mailer did such an amazing job with this story, it is impossible to think that this is a work of fiction. (The book received the Pulitzer.) Fierce and haunting, cruel and breathtaking, you can almost imagine Gilmore is a character Mailer made up. The fact that he was real will make your blood cold.


The Wasp Factory

by Iain Banks

A young boy lives in seculsion with his widowed father, where he lives in his own little fantasy world, blowing things up and tormenting small creatures. Meanwhile his (also) disturbed older brother has escaped from an institution and is making his way home. Delightful, deeply disturbing deliciousness.


In Cold Blood

by Truman Capote

This is the scariest book I have ever read. The true story of the murder of a family in a small town. This chilling classic is flawless. Lock all your doors and turn on all your lights before you hunker down to read Capote's masterpiece (that haunted him the rest of his years.)


Downtown Owl

by Chuck Klosterman

Inertia and apathy in the early 80s' Midwest. A cross between early Douglas Coupland and Tom Drury's The End of Vandalism (another staff favorite). The reconstruction of the time period is spot on, the town of Owl is brilliant and the characters are wonderfully developed, living lives as white and cold as the approaching snow storm. A lovely little sleeper.



by Chuck Palahniuk

A young man swindles everyone around him as he tries to find money to care for his ailing mother. This is my favorite Palahniuk. Victor is a despicable deviant and the situations are ludicrous, but, boy, is it FUNNY. And the ending is fabulous. Proves that the protagonist doesn't have to be a good person (or even mildly well-behaved) to make a book great. Super twisted fun!


We Have Always Lived in the Castle

by Shirley Jackson

Merricat lives in seclusion with her sister, Constance and her uncle Julian. A few years before, Constance poisoned the rest of their family, and now they live in their big house, hiding from the judgemental eyes of the neighbors and trying to keep the world from getting in. Jackson is the queen of creepy, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is her best.


Heart-Shaped Box

by Joe Hill

Give the new name in horror a big wet kiss: Aging rock star Jude Coyne purchases a 'haunted suit' over the internet to add to his macabre collection. What he also gets is a vengeful ghost who begins to wreak havoc on his home, making for good, bloody fun. Or, bloody good fun. Either way, the operative word is fun.


The Secret History

by Donna Tartt

A close-knit group of classical Greek students, most of them living the high, privileged life, get involved in a murder. One of those great books where they tell you what happens on the first page and proceeds to describe the events leading up to that point. Chillingly wonderful.


The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

by Pablo Neruda

Reading Neruda makes me wish I knew Spanish, his native language. If his poems are this magical and wonderful in English, they must by twice as fantastic in Spanish. Be sure to check out what I am certain is the greatest poem about socks ever written.


Deadeye Dick

by Kurt Vonnegut

It's hard to pick just one Vonnegut - they're all fabulous- so I'll go with the one I re-read most recently. Nuclear annihilation and murder spearhead Vonnegut's usual 'laugh while you can, we're beautifully doomed' narrative.



As She Climbed Across The Table

by Jonathan Lethem

Fresh, inventive love story. Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl to a void. A romantic triangle between a boy, a girl, and ...nothing. Lethem is wonderful, and this is tops.



by Matthew Sharpe

Delicious and inventive settling-the-country, post-apocalyptic, weirdness. It's the settling of Jamestown in the future, where everyone has a cellphone and Pocahontas's onscreen name is CORNLUVR. Fantastic, bizarre fun.


A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor

by Flannery O'Connor

Every word in these stories is perfect; painstakingly chosen and stunning. Reading the title story made me feel like all the blood drained out of my body and was put back in with a shovel. (That's a good thing.)


Snow Crash

by Neal Stephenson

One cannot read this and not realize that this book actually influenced our future. Hiro Protagonist, the, um, protagonist, is a pizza delivery boy by day, virtual world hero by night. Stephenson pretty much predicted Second Life and Google Maps back in 1992. So much fun (and funny.)


The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski

I cannot rave about this book enough! A retelling of Hamlet, with a mute boy who grows up on a dog farm. Pure, achingly beautiful, heart-wrenching genius. My prediction for the 2008 Pulitzer--it's THAT good.

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