The Reading List: 10 Great Book Reviews

Looking for the perfect holiday gift? Or maybe just looking for a good book to snuggle up with this winter? Whatever your needs, don’t head to the bookstore without consulting writer Emily Landau’s list of 10 great reads.

1 / 10

by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad

This story cycle has been showered with awards, including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. It's easy to see why. Egan plays with time and perspective like putty; she throws linearity to the wind, tracking her ragtag crew of music industry misfits and posers as far back as the 1970s and as far forward as the 2020s.

 

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2 / 10

by David Grann

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes

As the title suggests, New Yorker staff writer David Grann is more detective than journalist, and these stories, culled from articles published in the magazine, are as riveting as any mystery novel. Grann's probing pieces go beyond reporting-he unearths the unexpected and sometimes chilling secrets of his subjects: a man executed for murder in Texas who may not actually have been guilty, and the French con artist who impersonated young boys for sport.

 

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3 / 10

by Sándor Márai

Embers

Hungarian writer Péter Nádas's new novel, Parallel Stories, is being touted as one of the best books of the year, which brings to mind another great Hungarian literary treasure. Márai, who wrote between the world wars, was mostly forgotten until 1992, when his 1942 masterpiece, Embers, was rediscovered. This gloomy, atmospheric novel has it all-friendship, lust, betrayal, murder-masterfully plotted with taut, piercing tension.

 

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4 / 10

by David Rakoff

Half Empty

David Rakoff is the funniest writer you've never read. His comical essays-on the idiocy of the musical Rent, on the bright side of pessimism, on the experience of being an extra in The First Wives Club-are deceptively complex. Brilliant social insights and a deep sadness lurk beneath his rip-roaring reflections.

 

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5 / 10

edited by Kate Bernheimer

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me

Fractured fairy tales are all the rage right now, and this collection offers a smattering by some top contemporary writers. Certain stories celebrate imagined worlds, while others call them into question. Highlights include Aimee Bender's "The Color Master," a heretofore unexamined character from Charles Perrault's "Donkeyskin" and Kevin Brockmeier's hilarious free-form glimpse into the twisted mind of Rumpelstiltskin.

 

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6 / 10

by Dominique Fortier

On the Proper Use of Stars

The doomed Franklin Expedition is still in the news over 160 years after its demise, as researchers and historians continue to search for remains. This lovely novel frames the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew with a tapestry of documents: diary entries, maps, poems and recipes. Even if we know the outcome, Fortier's sharp, witty book is a pleasure, casting a shrewd eye on the way we document history.

 

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7 / 10

by Alexi Zentner

Touch

This hypnotic Giller-nominated novel is the multi-generational saga at its best. Zentner's prose is simultaneously economical and epic, as the tale follows the members of a logging family in Sawgamet, an abandoned gold-rush town in Western Canada.

 

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8 / 10

by Steven Millhauser

We Others

Steven Millhauser is one of the finest living fiction writers, employing a particular brand of magical realism as charming as it is intricate. The stories in this collection recall Vladimir Nabokov and Italo Calvino in their clever manipulation of the short-story form, bringing extraordinary detail to "Visit," about a man married to a giant frog, and "The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad," which revisits the famed Arabian Nights sailor in his old age.

 

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9 / 10

by Mark Helprin

Winter's Tale

An ideal pick for blustery December nights, this novel is sprawling yet cozy, and full of magic. Helprin's hero, Peter Lake, is a Dickensian orphan-turned-pickpocket in belle époque New York who falls in love with a consumptive heiress. From there, the book (and Peter) jump forward through the 20th century, landing in a future Manhattan plagued by unending winter. This rich, engrossing book-almost Victorian in scope-takes hold of the reader the way winter takes hold of the city.

 

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10 / 10

by Max Beerbohm

Zuleika Dobson

All but forgotten, this delicious satire hits 100 this year. A smirking spoof of the British campus novel, it tells the story of an Oxford warden's beautiful granddaughter, whose mere presence causes every man she meets to fall in love with her-with deadly results. Beerbohm's droll Edwardian prose plays against the outrageous subject matter, creating a macabre fantasy that ranks up there with Oscar Wilde and Mikhail Bulgakov.

 

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