Friday, December 23, 2005

Everybody else does it ...

… so why not me. Here are my picks out of the books I reviewed this year in my “Editor’s Choice” column:

The Society of Others by William Nicholson. “If you want a name, use your own,” the protagonist of this enigmatic novel by the author of Shadowlands tells the reader as he refuses to divulge his name. Which is just as well because The Society of Others ultimately leaves the reader at the center of its mystery.

Sophia House by Michael D. O'Brien. A harrowing account, set in Warsaw during World War II, of the relationship between a bitter bookseller and the 17-year-old Hasidic boy he shelters from the Germans, a demonstration that genuine sainthood costs, in Eliot’s phrase, “not less than everything.”

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice. Told in the voice of the divinely precocious Jesus, this is a remarkably effective fictional presentation of the figure millions continue to regard as their Savior.

The Sea by John Banville. Perhaps the greatest sustained bit of onomatopoeia in the language. The sea of the title resonates in practically every sentence. A tale of loss, not only of a wife, but of meaning, it is stunningly written and quite moving.

The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil. Simply an important book, crammed with ideas and information. The book you have to read if you want to have some idea of what is happening technologically.

William Pitt the Younger by William Hague. The former leader of Britain’s Conservative Party has written an extraordinarily lucid and compelling biography of the man who was the youngest prime minister ever and the longest-serving prime minister in war time. An enigmatic, but strangely tragic figure.

Makes You Stop and Think by Daniel Hoffman. The former U.S. poet laureate’s sonnets are masterfully crafted, utterly accessible, often funny, sometimes heartbreaking. If you think you don’t like poetry, try these.

The Niagara River by Kay Ryan. Ryan’s short, wry, thoughtful poems are as concentrated as diamonds. They make you reconsider not only the world but the words we use to talk about it.

Pure Pagan Seven Centuries of Greek Poems and Fragments Selected and translated by Burton Raffel. Want to know how people who believed in life after death but didn’t think it amounted to much looked at the world? Read this book.

Telegrams of the Soul Selected Prose of Peter Altenberg Translated by Peter Wortsman. Short, quirky pieces by a classic romantic bohemian who paid a higher price for his carefree persona than anyone suspected.

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