December 30, 2013 12:00 PM

1. Tenth of December

By George Saunders

“Err in the direction of kindness,” Saunders told students in a commencement speech that went viral. His stories are somber, funny and bracingly strange, but that decency always shines through.

2. The Goldfinch

By Donna Tartt

No, it didn’t need to be 770 pages. But Tartt’s bildungsroman about a boy who loses his mom, steals a painting and is haunted by both is still the year’s greatest literary escape.

3. Going Clear

By Lawrence Wright

Wright’s history of Scientology reads like science fiction—with Tom Cruise in a starring role. A book that’s both captivating and necessary.

4. The Interestings

By Meg Wolitzer

United by artistic ambition, a group of camp pals meet wildly differing fates in this novel about talent, envy and the limits of friendship.

5. The Lowland

By Jhumpa Lahiri

One Calcutta-born brother chooses scholarship, the other revolution, yet their destinies remain entwined. A masterful family drama from the brilliant Lahiri.

6. Johnny Carson

By Henry Bushkin

The fascinating, philandering, fiercely private star comes alive in Bushkin’s bio.

7. The Husband’s Secret

By Liane Moriarty

Who says beach reads can’t make you think? This classy romance does.

8. Wave

By Sonali Deraniyagala

From the horror of her losses in the 2004 tsunami, a memoirist fashioned grace.

9. Manson

By Jeff Guinn

Monsters can never be fully explained, but Guinn’s insights shed light.

10. The Engagements

By J. Courtney Sullivan

A canny, engrossing novel about marriage and marketing. Read it before you slip on that ring.