December 28, 2009 12:00 PM


by Andre Agassi

There were the headlines—He used crystal meth! He really hates tennis! That George Michael hair was a wig!—and then there was the thoughtful, well-crafted narrative behind them. Cowritten with J.R. Moehringer (author of his own 2005 memoir The Tender Bar), Agassi’s Open digs deep, exploring the triumphs and heartaches of one tortured, unexpectedly appealing champion’s road to tennis fame. Sports memoirists of the future, take note: The bar has been raised.

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

What happens when a young Junior Leaguer in pre-Civil-Rights-era Mississippi decides the local black maids need a voice? All kinds of trouble, of course. Stockett’s winning debut novel, published in February, became the year’s must-read and is still riding high on bestseller lists. Not bad for a beginner.

Somewhere Towards the End

by Diana Athill

“Once past eighty one has no right to complain about dying,” writes no-nonsense British editor Athill, now 92, in this memorable look back at her life, and ahead toward the inevitable. There’s little complaining here, but no sugarcoating about aging either. The effect is oddly exhilarating.

Under the Dome

by Stephen King

When a clear dome settles like some extraterrestrial chafing-dish cover on Chester’s Mill, Maine—trapping the townspeople and severing a gardener’s hand as it lands—you know you’re deep in King country. The horror master’s gripping latest has all the complex characters, captivating action and food for thought we’ve come to expect.

The Girls from Ames

by Jeffrey Zaslow

Wall Street Journal columnist Zaslow, who cowrote Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, tugged heartstrings once more with this true tale of 10 women from Ames, Iowa, whose friendships began in high school and remain sustaining 40 years later. Something to shoot for.

Wolf Hall

by Hilary Mantel

It takes chutzpah to reimagine the story of one of history’s most chronicled kings, but Mantel pulled it off brilliantly in her Man Booker Prize-winning novel about the court of Henry VIII. Told from the point of view of his advisor Thomas Cromwell (and including a five-page Who’s Who to help you sort out the many players), her 532-page tale is edge-of your-seat dramatic, meticulously researched and unforgettable.

Cutting for Stone

by Abraham Verghese

The author of a previous memoir, My Own Country, Verghese wowed the literary world with this incandescent debut novel. Spanning decades and generations, the narrative moves from India to Verghese’s native Ethiopia to New York City, following the lives of once-conjoined twins locked in a perpetual struggle that mirrors their country’s political turmoil. A tour de force.

Catching Fire

by Suzanne Collins

While teenage girls devoured the Twilight series, this is what their little brothers—and not a few sisters and grownups—were reading. The second book of the hugely successful Hunger Games trilogy, Fire returns to the dystopian nation of Panem, where unrest is brewing after the hero and heroine’s defiance of the state’s order that they fight each other to the death. Collins expertly blends fantasy, romance and political intrigue (so who needs vampires?). Stay tuned for book three, coming this summer.

Too Much Happiness

by Alice Munro

A novel has pages and pages to make you believe in its world; stories have to grab you from the start. In her latest collection, as always, Alice Munro proves she’s the master at that. “I am amazed sometimes to think how old I am,” begins one tale. Or: “I am convinced that my father looked at me, stared at me, saw me, only once.” You’re hers until the last sentence—spellbound, more often than not, by the deep strangeness within the ordinary. Is the short story dead? Not a chance.


by Dave Eggers

Arrested in New Orleans as he tried to rescue stranded citizens post-Katrina, a Syrian-born contractor named Abdulrahman Zeitoun was locked in an outdoor cage and then spent three weeks in a maximum-security prison, charged with looting and suspected of terrorism. Eggers, who wasn’t in New Orleans at the time, reconstructed this shocking chain of events through interviews. His quietly powerful book lets one man’s story speak volumes.

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